This month I was drawn to women who earned their badass status through hard-working, intensely focused work ethic. Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods was an apt first choice, but to follow her up, I selected a very different kind of woman, one who literally dances on the darker side and pushes the boundaries of what’s humanly possible. That woman is Nina Sayers from Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. As the flip side of Elle Woods, Nina finds herself consumed by her goal and will stop at nothing (to her detriment) to succeed. Bringing Nina to life, Natalie Portman’s bone-chillingly nuanced performance is the embodiment of what happens when you let your passion bring out the worst in you. Channeling her fragility into strength, Nina’s intense goals threaten to ruin who she is, and it’s this struggle that the character illuminates so well.
People always say that you’re your own worst enemy, and that phrase is no truer than in Nina’s case. She’s the most skilled and dedicated dancer in her company, but her journey to pulling off the perfect Black Swan is one filled with paranoia, repressed sexuality, and strife. In attempting to become the dark creature, she allows it to manifest in herself, and shines a light to our own innate fears as flawed, anxiety-ridden people struggling to cope with the pressure of perfection or complacency. Adding to this, is the toxic self-image enabled by her mother who feeds Nina’s ever-growing insecurity and infantile tendencies.
Through all of these negative aspects however, Nina slowly transforms into a new person, giving herself completely to her art to transcend the ultimate state of being. Nina fails so many times on her journey and the film ends on a duplicitous note, but the sacrifices made are hard to ignore and easy to admire. There’s a fearlessness and fierceness that she inhabits to perpetually overcome her anxiety, and it’s this dedication to her craft that is blinding, even if it leads to something terrifying.
Naturally, I see my own timid self through Nina, as a fellow artist who uses internal struggle to help my own art, and through her, we realize that doing so is a two-edged sword. Nina’s tale is a cautionary one, urging that talent and dedication mean nothing if we don’t nurture them right and instead feed the vicious monster within. Nina may have faults, but what resonantes is that she’s rendered with the depth of a real person, someone who wants to try and be the best version of themselves, and there isn’t anything more badass than that.