In The Black Swan, Nina’s distorted perceptions based on fantasies and limited vision become hallucinations she believes. Brain cells deprived of nutrition do not function normally. Nina believes perceptions that take her deeper into her hallucinations and guide her behavior.
The end of the film shows the extremes of glorified and malignant romanticism based on the unrealistic definition of personal perfection. Nina glorifies meaningless death and destruction.
A population of women with anorexia and bulimia exists who support each other’s illness flagrantly on pro-ana and pro-mia sites. They glorify and raise their wasting away to death and their belief in the worthiness of their goal. They see their lives as being lived in pursuit of ultimate perfection. They are Nina's in real life.
This malignant romanticism could come from distorted thinking of a malnourished brain. It also can come from an attempt to compensate for a poorly developed identity with massive gaps that leave her bereft unless she fills herself with fantasy. Either way or both, the person denies herself the physical and psychological nourishment she needs to feed her brain and move on with her core and much-needed human development.
In the film, Nina’s life force explodes out of her as she exerts herself beyond her limits, beyond anyone’s limits in her final dance as the Black Swan. That force coming out is thrilling for the audience. She’s a cataclysm of grace and energy supplying others with sensation and life experience as her own life drains from her body.
This too is anorexia. I think of the life force of Karen Carpenter, pouring through her voice and out of her body completely. It’s difficult for me to hear her beautiful singing without thinking that I am listening to a life force hemorrhage that will leave her dead. That is indeed, anorexia.
The film ends where it does. I invite you to take it further.
What are the consequences of Nina’s final action where she smiles and happily murmurs, “I was perfect.”
What happens to the members of the troupe? What happens to the investors? What happens to the friends and families of the people involved who certainly will need support, caring and healing after the tragedy?
What happens to all the teachers and musicians and choreographers in any way connected to Nina’s career at any time?
The swath of destruction is vast.
And what happens to the mind, heart and soul of everyone in the audience who applauds as she kills herself before their eyes?
This is another discussion entirely. It goes into the human fascination of watching death-defying action. This includes stock car and sports car racing, dangerous sports, bullfighting, duels, trapeze artists working without a net, circus lion tamers and Las Vegas tiger tamers.
The activity has to be real with occasional deaths to prove that the activity is truly death-defying. And humans watch with fascination, hearts in throats, breathless.
I hope the thrill of watching a person come close to death is not part of what seems to be a cultural fascination with eating disorders.
I hope the person with an eating disorder doesn’t mistake that fascination for caring and praise.
What do you think?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.
She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder
Appointments are virtual.
For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at