Ingenious Double Duplication

Black Swan, dir. Darren Aronofsky, comp. Clint Mansell

  • Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky, composer Clint MansellStory is about the girl from ballet ensemble whose dream (or better: whose mother’s dream) finally comes true while she gets the leading role in the ballet Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In film’s story, of course, there is lots of musical potential. Before all, here is the famous music by the Russian composer from the 19th Century, which is – if you listen to film music carefully – the foundation of many passed and contemporary film scores. Anyway, the music is so famous that it overcomes its ballet (and even film’s) function: this is the music which everybody knows and is so much loved that it got its place amongst popular arrangements, in the songs of famous singers and bands.

    The story of Tchaikovsky’s ballet is, however, not so well known, but the movie by Darren Aronofsky revives it and shows it in a new way: White Swan (synonymous for good) is bewitched princess whose place is taken by Black Swan (synonymous for evil) which seduces the prince and causes death of White Swan. In the movie, ballet’s story (similarly to Carmen by Carlos Saura which relies on Bizet’s opera of the same name) is intertwined with real life. But, this is not the story about Natalie Portman going crazy, as someone (rather vulgarly) wrote; this is the story about inner fight of ego and alter ego, good and evil inside one person – leaving us all knowing that outside the fantasy good is never completely good as evil is never completely evil.

    Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky, composer Clint MansellIf we put aside ingenious double duplication – in Natalie Portman (as ballet dancer Nina) herself, who is the white and the Black Swan in the ballet and in the real life simultaneously; and in doubling two different persons (Portman-Kunis, where the other girl is better Black Swan and also Portman’s alteration) – the same idea is to be found in the musical concept of the film. The composer in Black Swan was Clint Mansell who is known by his score for Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Critics and reviewers of the film often mention Mansell’s musical solution since it directly reflects what is happening in Nina’s head.

    On the soundtrack, the first place was given to Tchaikovsky, but his music is adjusted to the movie (where it was necessary), or Mansell occasionally composed some musical numbers á la Tchaikovsky. At the end, it is difficult to recognize (for some numbers) who composed what. But, for the movie is much more important the other side of the score – Mansell’s original score which is completely different from the Swan Lake. This music is composed with electronics and in the most occasions sounds as noise or sound effects which suddenly disturb the beauty of Tchaikovsky’s musical parts.
    Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky, composer Clint Mansell
    These unexpected intrusions could be called synonymous for the Others (they are comparable to strange things which happen to Nina and which show that there is a lot of her inner life which she carefully hides). Mansell uses Tchaikovsky with utmost consideration, but he also changes and, at the same time, destroys his music. This doesn’t happen in the way which shows Mansell pushing Tchaikovsky away, but shows Mansell parallel and simultaneously with Tchaikovsky’s music brings up his own, completely different, from the other world and other time (which is, again, comparable with Nina, who also doesn’t live in Tchaikovsky’s time, but who lives his characters and his music).

    While the album clearly shows main character’s double personality, the soundtrack heard in the film brings much more. Impressive finale, in which one loses sense for real and not real, shows the performance of the ballet Swan Lake (on and off the stage) by using Tchaikovsky’s but also with a big help of Clint Mansell’s original music. On the soundtrack Tchaikovsky’s ballet is mixed with Mansell’s electronic sounds. In this way, public can see and hear things in Nina’s confused head (film’s soundtrack also brings up sounds of public’s reactions when Nina falls during the dance and ovations after her performance of Black Swan – but these sounds are little bit lower than usual because they are not important to Nina – not in this moment).
    Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky, composer Clint Mansell
    It is also important to bring up less obvious usage of ballet music which perfectly follows drama on and off the stage. This part of soundtrack – its functionality in the film – can be only loosely smelled on the album. Namely, it shows perfect coordination between two completely different musical styles, two completely different musical compositions and two completely different composers which were – obviously – conducted by one person, the director. Combinations of putting one music into the other and their binding with diegetic and nondiegetic sounds are stopped right at the very end where the death is underlined with the ingenious move – by endless ovations of ballet viewers which are spread out deeply in the film’s end credit. And after the ovations there is a beautiful piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in which the two compositional styles finally find their peace and bind each other together in one logical whole.

    © Irena Paulus,, 5 February 2011