Never has there been a character I could relate to more than Natalie Portman's in Black Swan. I left the theater in a daze of amazement and slight discomfort. A. quickly picked up on the parallels too and the more we discussed it, the more we realized that Nina's story was very much like mine.
Early in the film we meet her mother, an overprotective single parent who was forced to give up her ballerina dreams due to an unplanned pregnancy. She's nurturing, caring and completely suffocating. Nina knows no privacy in that house, none of the doors lock and her room resembles a child's. I know the frustration of not having a single square foot to call your own and to feel like your parent will never respect you for the adult you are. At least Nina's mom never barges into the bathroom and jumps into the tub with her full-grown daughter.
She (and I) have a hard time being social and tend to hide behind the mask of work and goals, unable (and slightly unwilling) to relate to those around us. We can face an audience when our profession calls for it, but can't seem to break through the bubble in a social setting. Instead of a strong woman, the excessive sheltering has yielded a fragile one, incredibly talented yes, but much too insecure to flourish under the spotlight. The paranoia and fear of failure soon prove too much to bear for Nina and the self-doubt becomes a stunt. My own inability to make a decision or trust my own judgment is enough to make my brain schiz out at times. The constant inner battles between my shy heart and over-active mind are exhausting and realizing that I'm the one who's keeping myself from greatness has been difficult to break through even though the truth is nothing else has been a stronger barrier.
Once we finally do achieve success, it's still not enough proof for us to believe in our talent. We slipped through the cracks, we tell ourselves, and it's only a matter of time before someone better replaces us. In the movie, Lili (played by Mila Kunis) is the source of Nina's anxiety. Lili embodies everything Nina lacks: confidence, effortless sensuality. She lives unapologetically while Nina practically excuses herself for each breath she takes.
Lili also represents a part of Nina that she's never allowed herself to explore: sexuality and pleasure. Therein lies another parallel between us two. Even though the wish to explore certain fantasies are there, we're too timid to give in to those curiosities. Merely admitting that those thoughts are present leave us feeling flustered and clutching at denial. I imagine our insecurity and fear of being judged is what keeps us from finally letting go and doing whatever the hell makes us feel good (or at least figuring out what that is). Before Nina discovers what sets (and gets) her off, her attempts at playing the seductive Black Swan fall flat. They come off forced, like an inexperienced girl pretending to be something she knows nothing about, but once she finds her spark, that inner rebel lets loose. Unfortunately, she wasn't ready to control the demons within.
There's one major character flaw in Nina that made me relate to her immediately, the first clue that she and I were freakishly alike. When stress and anxiety hit, we become destructive and turn on ourselves; we scratch until we bleed.
When her mom discovered her new wounds and forcibly grabbed her hand to cut her fingernails short, I looked down at mine, freshly clipped and painted from the night before. It'd been a rough week. I say long nails would get in my way when the truth has always been that I'd hurt myself more with them. I've done it for as long as I can remember, never realizing just how serious the situation is. In fact, I didn't think it was until T (remember her?) explained how I was cutting myself to deal with my issues. I don't slit my wrists, but I still used that tactic to control pain when chaos surrounded me. Within my family, it's still seen as a "bad habit" and perhaps that's why it's continued for so long. Up until now, one friend and two boyfriends have been the only ones to hear me talk about this. It's embarrassing, shameful and something that seems beyond my control.
As with Nina's, my fingers seem to take a life of their own, causing damage until they've had enough and then retreat - for a quick moment - leaving me feeling sick and disgusted with myself, wondering why I can't simply stop. So I focus on keeping it hidden, only hurting the skin covered by my long, black curls. If no one can see the scars, then it doesn't exist. It remains a "bad habit" and everything's okay. But Mr. First couldn't handle my self-destruction and A. has forbidden me to hurt someone he loves. If it were only so easy. This is just as bad as a toxic addiction, but while smokers can resort to a patch, I only have my mind.
Right now I'm on some uneven path to recovery, but I needed to remove myself from an unhealthy environment first to stand a chance. Luckily, I've been able to seek and receive support from those around me before I spiraled out of control. Nina, on the other hand, tragically crashes and burns, consumed by darkness, before she's able to escape and fly away.