Black Swan and the Manipulation of Sound

In Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan (2010), sound became a pivotal part of communicating to the audience the state of mind of Nina (Natalie Portman). As Nina becomes more and more engrossed into her obsession of becoming the Swan Queen, she quickly becomes aware that she must complete the dance of the Black Swan equally as well as the White Swan. Nina is pressured by her mother, her director, and Lily (Mila Kunis). Her obsessive delusions are accompanied by the rather visceral sound design. The sound is most noticeable when Nina seems to be slipping into her delusions. For example, when she begins to see hallucinations, the song “Swan Lake” becomes audible. This of course reminds the audience of what is seemingly driving Nina slowly insane. This is also an indicator to the audience that there is something clearly wrong with Nina, and what she is seeing can not be real. Certain physical motions and aspects of Nina’s delusions and hallucinations contain sounds which are extremely exaggerated over the rest of the sound design. For example, when Nina finds the first feather on her back she pulls it out, the sound of the feather is excruciating; creating a blood curdling effect. The sound is drawn out, as opposed to making a clean quick sound. The scene in which Nina is practicing her turns in her living room is another clear example of how sound exemplifies what is important to Nina. After taking numerous turns on her point shoes, Nina hurts her ankle. The sound from this becomes louder than the other sounds in the scene and is also extremely over exaggerated. This over exaggeration of Nina hurting herself shows the audience the horror Nina would face if she would be physically incapable of performing in Swan Lake. Sounds such as eating are also emphasized, for example in the scene where Lilly takes Nina out for dinner, Lilly digs into her dinner, unafraid of her surroundings. This is a stark contrast from Nina who timidly eats her hamburger with a knife and fork. The sound of the audience seems to become drowned out by the crunching and chewing of Lily gnawing on her hamburger. This gives the impression that we are not only seeing what Nina wants the audience to see, but also what Nina wants us to hear. Additionally, as Nina rides the subway a strange man, which seems to be completely in Nina’s sexually repressed imagination, begins making sexual gestures towards her. He begins making a noise with his mouth which becomes louder than the sound of the subway car. This not only creates a sickening feeling within the audience, but also reflects Nina’s thoughts and feelings. The sound of the man making sexual nuances towards Nina enhances the audience’s notion that Nina is extremely sexually repressed. In this way the sound and the visual aspects of the film work together to show events which Nina’s mind has manipulated. This manipulation becomes apparent through the sound design.

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