The main character Nina is preparing and stretching for the dress rehearsal. This particular shot follows another shot where she is throwing away her stuffed animals. Her foot crushing the sand is almost like her literally "putting her foot down" on her childhood. It is over, and she no longer wants to live with it any more. She wants to become the black swan. She is choosing her career over her being stuck as her mother's little daughter, hence why she is in her ballet slipper crushing the sand down.
This shot asserts her authority as destroying her childhood. Yet, with a high angle such as this, it also makes her small. She is still battling with what to choose: to be good or to grow up. Her foot is the only thing in this shot that has extreme light to it. Your eye is drawn directly to it. It is emphasizing the fact that her childhood is going to be over, and she is the one that will destroy it, which will in turn destroy herself. There is also coloring to be dealt with. She is wearing a black leotard, a gray tutu, and a gray armband with feathers on it. Her ballet shoes are pink surrounded by yellow light and sand. Now, her outfit symbolizes the fact that she is still in between and still in her struggle. However, her slippers suggest that she may never truly escape it, and she will never change, despite everything. This is what may drive her insane in the end.
The fact that the high angle is followed by a low angle, both very extreme, again emphasizes the in between stage she is in. Her shadowing on her face suggests this as well. Half of her face is light, while the other is not. The side that is not light has the most light on it. The fact that is lighting is equal to yin-yang is because she has both good and evil inside of her. They are fighting to get out. This particular shot is a precursor to Shot 19.
This is basically a master shot establishing the audience is in an auditorium. What is most interesting is where the camera is placed, within the seats. It is almost like the static camera capturing the rehearsal to be reviewed later. This establishes the since of being judged. Nina constantly struggles with having to be judged all the time in order to get the performance that the choreographer wants. She is center of the frame, confirming this is exactly what is desired by cinematographer Matthew Libatique. He wants you to judge her. It is simply becoming more and more about the guilt to grow up and choose between good or evil, being naive or experienced.
Shots 5 and 6
The next two shots are closer, continuous shots of Nina and the company dancing. There is so much movement as the camera dances with them. Libatique wants to put right in the action right after you have judged her. He wants you to see the up-close struggle and make you wonder why you ever judged such an innocent thing. This again shows Nina struggle. The need for a continuous shot here actually foreshadows what will happen on stage in the last scene of the movie. There is so much chaos, and her dancing is what triggers it all.
This MCU does not look like much, but it holds so much significance as he tells Nina, "The black swan stole your love." He is stating exactly what will happen to Nina in the end. The choreographer is used as a tool to deliver the whole message of what will happen in the end. And the lighting in this shot confirms it. He is in light, most of his face evenly light while the background is completely dark, save the lights on the wall. It makes him so significant, which emphasizes what he is actually saying to the audience.
The attention is drawn straight back to Nina after he says this. It is confirmed that it will happen to her. The fact that she is surrounded by the dancers shows that dancing is what triggered Nina's slip into insanity, especially since most of them are white, the color of innocence, the color that Nina no longer wears or represents, as seen by the choice of color in her costume.
This shot, as does the continuous shot before, alludes to what will happen in the end. She is practicing her final descent, literally and figuratively. Unlike what in the last scene, she is doing as she is told by the choreographer who is almost in the middle of the frame with her. He is behind her, though, showing he is stepping back and allowing her to make her own decisions. She is middle of the frame, with a steady camera. Although the handheld throughout the film represents the psychological warfare, this steady camera says that this is the only way Nina will feel sane again. She must fall. Also, another element to notice is where the black prince and the white prince are. The black prince is behind her, while the white prince is not in the frame at all during her practice ascent. She is will fall into this darkness, and she will not be able to get out. The white prince not in frame shows that there is no hope, no turning back for her when she finally makes the decision death is the only way out.
While she is on the top of the ramp, the first thing to notice are the amount of shadows on the wall. Every single one of them is doing the same exact thing. The definition of insanity is to keep trying one thing over and over again expecting different results. This is exactly what is happening here: there is insanity. They are trying to be different with different proximities of the shadows, but they all still look exactly the same. Nina is going insane, and she is falling into the darkness of the shadows. She is completely surrounded by them. There is no way out for her.
This shot is a shot of reality. It brings back to the audience the origins of the shadows being the different dancers. A person can tell from this angle they are all different, because they are all wearing different colored things. They are also in complete light. They are sanity, unlike their shadows. However, Nina is kept in black with no light. She has already fallen into the shadows, becoming a shadow herself. You can see the different stages of her fall from grace from right to left, which follows with that of a religious sense of Jesus picking the sheep from the goats, sending them right to live with Him, or left to live with the devil. This shows the Final Judgement, her final judgement. There is the white prince, the gray of the choreographer and then the complete black. Her matching his black confirms she will evolve to become evil.
These series of shots are quick and show the mind of Nina. It is working to decide fast whether she actually wants to jump or not. She is also being told to convey different emotions. I want to draw the most attention to the difference between Shots 14 and 16. They are the exact same shots, but people movement has changed. In Shot 14, the white prince looks over the choreographer's shoulder to see what is happening. Again, the element of judgement has come into play. They judged Nina in her first stages of becoming the black swan. She was innocent and, like a child, wanted to see everything, to have control. Shot 16 explains a different story. The choreographer hides the white prince, which means the middle stages hide the innocence instead of getting rid of it completely. The dancers have also all turned around, yet they are not looking in Nina's direction. She is not being judged as much as she begins to fit into her role, to make her change. Shots 13 and 15 are the same, and again show the shadow play on the background. However, Shot 17 has added difference. The camera has zoomed in on Nina with the shadows still in the background right before she faces her decision to jump. It shows the agony of what is about to happen to her. She must make a decision and soon.
One particular element in this movie is space. There is a lot of space to emphasize the vastness of rooms and relationships. Here, we are met with a space between the ramp and the mattress that Nina must fall on. The fact that the dark is surrounded by white shows the black space that Nina will fall into. She cannot find the middle between the two, innocence and experience, good and evil, good and growing up. What she sees in the middle is the black vastness. She isn't making the decision to land on the mattress. She's making the decision to fall into the dark below.
This is Shot 3's almost mirrored image. This time, the shadowing has been flipped. The dark side is now on the right, not the left, and the light is on the left, not the right. The lighting is exactly the same in terms of where the lights are. But this time, the background is more black. She is being swallowed as she debates on what to do. The low angle shows she is the only one with the authority to make the decision to fall. But the black surrounding her suggests she cannot see the small sliver of light behind her, literally and figuratively.
Shot 20 and 21
Shots 20 and 21 only repeat exactly what Shots 13-17 are saying. The cuts are quick, Nina must make her decision fast, because the middle stage of her change will not wait any longer. Shot 21 is a little tighter than Shot 17, which shows her time is running out. It also states she is feeling the pressure.
The fact that this is Shot 11, yet with Nina falling, shows her final decision. Not only this, but she falls to the left, which is where the black prince is located. She has chosen the side of darkness. She has chosen to turn evil, to be experienced, to grow up. This starts her descent which all builds up to the final act of the film.
She is falling with straight legs. She is not ready to make this decision for real. The reason why this inference can be made is her legs are put in the center of the frame. You see her unwillingness to fall. In the end, she will be unwilling to fall but knows it is what she must do. The framing is also slightly awkward, showing again her unwillingness to fall completely just yet.
As she falls onto the mattress, she falls straight, without moving, again unwilling. Her face is what draws the audience in in this shot. After the fall, the audience needs to notice her emotion, her struggle to know whether she did the right thing or not. Also, the lighting is low key, with half of her face lit. She is still struggling with the decision, although it has already been made.
The damage has been done, and you are witnessing the aftermath. Hence why we are brought back to the static camera. It re-establishes the location while also showing you it isn't completely over yet. She may have made her decision, but we are about to witness the consequences.
These shots again show the back and forth between Nina and the choreographer. She is unsure of how she did, meaning she is unsure of her decision still. She needs approval, hence why they still go back and forth. Nina is placed in between the gray choreographer and the black prince yet again, showing exactly where she is in her stage of transformation. She is still closer to the middle stage as seen in Shot 27, but she is closer to the black prince than she was before. This is confirmed by the mirror of the shot before on top of the ramp. The camera is behind her, she is in darkness, a shadow still. The background is gray, however darker, emphasizing the stage she is in. As she awaits her final outcome, the camera pulls in tighter. Finally, she is given the thumbs up.
And finally she is given relief. If one looks closely, there seems to be a slight lighting change. In this shot, the lighting is brighter on her face. She has found what she is looking for, which is the light. The light is only seen at death, which she experiences in the end of the film.
All of these scenes are a precursor of what is to come in the final scenes. This is also where she makes the decision to jump. She will fall into the darkness and allow herself to be swallowed. She will become older, experienced, evil.