We don’t tend to think of the fragile and delicate as violent and dangerous. We admire the grace and beauty of the butterfly with no fear. We see the white swan, fluttering beautifully or the sweet gossamer-like beauty of Nina at her minimal breakfast, and we don’t fear them. We might even say that one egg and half a grapefruit is a normal and appropriate food for such a light and delicate being.
The enormous range of violence, cruelty, abuse and exploitation present doesn’t seem apparent. But Nina knows this aspect of herself and the filmmakers show us. She sees as reality her distorted perceptions as she pulls her skin off her body or when she sees her toes fused or the black barbed and bloody feather she pulls out of her abdomen.
We see her slash at what and whom she perceives as a threat to her obsession. She will fight to the death to pursue that obsession.
The brief moment showing Nina on the bathroom floor vomiting into the toilet bowl was a romanticized image. Perhaps the Black Swan filmmakers shot the scene this way as an artistic gesture to show the anorexia or bulimia in Nina’s Life.
But then I wonder why they show graphic violence fueled by passion and obsession in this film when the violence is directed at people or objects. The screen images show us blood, gore and lustful sex.
Yet the violence of a bulimic or anorexic purge, with spewing vomit, poor aim, agonizing retching, and, at times, blood pouring out with the vomit, stains, and spatter on clothes, wall and floor are not on the screen. Purging is not the dainty activity we see when Nina is on the bathroom floor.
Perhaps even the filmmakers were seduced by the image of the white swan and couldn’t bring themselves to unmask the ugly and messy violence inherent in eating disorders. Yet the filmmakers do show you that Nina can look fragile and lovely and still be a thief, a user, a people pleaser for her own purposes and a killer.
The anorexic woman has little appreciation for who she is as a full human being. Her awareness is limited to only a slim and partial view of herself. Most of her humanity is forced into a locked prison where it is deprived of nourishment and wastes away.
She doesn’t know she is being heartless and cruel to herself and others. She doesn’t understand the meaning of these words. She behaves in a way she believes will honor and care for her fantasy of who she is. She believes her fantasy and doesn’t see the reality of her life.
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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