Journey Joseph Campbell mono-myth, as first presented in his book A Hero with a Thousand Faces, is perhaps not a storytelling model that one would immediately associate with the film Black Swan. Dearer Ironwork’s thriller set in the world of New York City Ballet is not a prototypical hero’s Journey, mostly because it simply doesn’t involve a physical Journey into an unknown land. However, as we further examine the structure imposed by writers Mark He-man, Andrea Heinz, and John McLaughlin, we can find many of the plot points present in the hero’s Journey also present in Black Swan.
The Journey is clear, as is the transition into an unknown land; the key difference being that the character’s Journey is an interior one, not one of physical distance or transportation. Marcel Porous was once quoted as saying, “My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing,” and that goal of internal transformation applies perfectly to the hero’s Journey in Black Swan. Using Christopher Voyager’s The Writer’s Journey, a contemporary guide to the mono-myth structure, this essay will highlight the Journey present in Black Swan and clarify, through the acknowledgement of every plot point, Nina Sayers arc and ramification.
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The first stage of the hero’s Journey, according to Boggle, is the establishment of the Ordinary World. Boggle explains this stage by saying “If you’re going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter” (15). The first twenty pages of the Black Swan screenplay are used for this same effect. As the reader/viewer, we are introduced to Nina, our hero, and her home life. She has a rehearsal space and mirror set up in her apartment, so we can see that she is dedicated and hardworking.
On pages 2 and 3 we learn of her close relationship with her mother, and her mother’s vested interest in Nana’s success. On page AAA, Nana’s mother, Eric, says mire’s the most dedicated dancer in the company. ” Nina then proceeds to ride the subway, walk through Lincoln Center, and warm up for her dance rehearsal. In the dressing room, Nina is set apart from the rest of the girls when she defends Beet’s status as a dancer (6). Nana’s soon-to-be mentors, Leroy, is introduced, as well as Lily;Nana’s ally AND competitor.
Ultimately, in the first twenty pages, an extremely large amount of information is conveyed, and the overall robber, which will soon be called to change through her quest, is established: she is tells Nina “It needs to be looser. Relax. Let it flow. ” This is the ordinary world of Nina. She is unable to relax and let go. The next stage of the Journey is known as The Call to Adventure. This is described by Boggle as the stage where “the hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake… She can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary World” (15).
In Black Swan, this moment occurs on page 20, when Nina is assigned the role of The Swan Queen. I use the word sign, however, because it is not an award or a gift; in order for Nina to succeed, she must embark on a Journey of transformation and learn to let go of herself and relax, let out a dark and seductive side of herself, as emphasized so many times by Nana’s director, Leroy. This call to action is the catalyst for Nana’s transformation. 2 Voyager’s third stage of the hero’s Journey is the Refusal of the Call. “This one is about fear,” Boggle writes. The hero has not yet fully committed to the Journey and may still be thinking of turning back” (17). As soon as Nina is assigned the role of the Swan Queen, she begins to feel threatened by Lily/The Black Swan, who represents all that she is not. This specific moment of fear and insecurity is marked on pages 25-6, when Nina and Leroy watch Lily dance. Leroy says, ” Watch the way she moves… Lamaseries, but sensual. She’s not faking it. Pay attention. ” Nana’s response is described on page 26: “Nina stares at her, attracted and threatened. While this is not a blatant refusal of the call, this moment is about reluctance and fear, and it instills a certain vulnerability in the hero that she will have to overcome in order to succeed in her guest. The fourth stage of the Journey is the Mentor stage. The function of the Mentor is “to prepare the hero to face the unknown. They may give advice, guidance or magical equipment” (18). This moment in Black Swan can be found on page 36, when Nina visits Leroy in his apartment after the gala. Here, Leroy nudges Nina towards a bit of sexual play, and ultimately tells Nina to “go home and masturbate.
Live a little” (36). Previously, we’ve established that Nana’s need is to loosen up and let go, if she is to succeed. Thus, this moment establishes Leroy as the Mentor in Nana’s Rooney, pushing her towards sexual (physical) liberation, a necessary step in her transformation. Stage five is described by Boggle as the stage where “the hero finally commits to the adventure and fully enters the Special World of the story for the first time by Crossing the First Threshold” (18). This is the turning point between Acts 1 and 2, where the hero steps into unknown territory.
In Black Swan, this moment occurs on page 38 when Nina, following her mentor’s advice, “slowly reaches down under the covers, down between her legs, to complete Lorry’s ‘homework assignment. ” This is an extremely crucial moment in the story because it marks a clear decision by the hero to move forward on her own. She has been assigned the role of the Swan Queen, and she has been pushed and provoked by Leroy, and now, she is consciously deciding to take action, and she does so. As Boggle writes, “She is now committed to the Journey and there’s no turning back” (18).
The next step in the hero’s Journey is a broad one; it is what Boggle refers to as the Tests, Allies and Enemies stage in the Journey. This typically encompasses a large portion of Act 2, and is intended to show the way “the hero naturally encounters new halogens and Tests, makes Allies and Enemies, and begins to learn the rules of the Special World” (19). This stage occurs between pages 43 and 58 in Black Swan. In this section of the screenplay Nana’s primary tests are presented by Leroy, who was previously established as her mentor.
In the rehearsal process, Leroy pushes and challenges Nina to further her transformation: “Nina, your Black Swan still looks no different than your White Swan. She’s Just as… Frigid” (43-46). Later in the rehearsal, Leroy comes onto her in the empty studio and begins kissing and groping her. After arcing himself upon her, he pulls away and says, “That was me seducing you. It needs to be the other way around” (43-BIB). Leroy is providing the obstacles for Nina to overcome in order to let go and transform and reach the ultimate end of her journey.
The other importance of this stage in the story is to establish Lily as Nana’s ally. On pages 478, Lily Joins Nina in the empty studio and comforts her after a challenging rehearsal with Leroy. This allegiance is marked by Lily offering to share a cigarette with Nina, and then saying to her, “I won’t tell if you won’t tell. ” A bond is established here that is ultimately furthering her transformation. The third term in this stage is “Enemies,” and what’s important to acknowledge here is that Nana’s enemy is herself.
The only enemies are the confines of herself, which are emphasized and reminded by her Mentor (Leroy) and her Ally (Lily). Now that we’ve gotten through a majority of Act 2, our hero reaches the seventh stage of the Journey: the Approach to the Inmost Cave. Boggle writes, “The hero comes at last to the edge of a dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden” (20). In Nana’s Journey, the object of her quest is not a hysterical object, but a self-transformation that she is seeking. Thus, the approach to the cave is marked by Nana’s submission to Lily as she goes out with her one night. Important;as she is preparing to risk all of her pre-conceived self in order to open up, let go, and ultimately become one with the Black Swan (Lily); or, in other words, in pursuit of her ultimate need. The eighth stage is known as The Ordeal. The Ordeal is quite frequently referred to as the Belly of the Beast moment, which Boggle describes as “a black moment for the audience, as we are held in suspense and tension, not knowing if he will live or ii” (21). Ultimately, he says that “this is a critical moment in any story, an Ordeal in which the hero must die or appear to die so that she can be born again” (22).
This stage of the story can be identified on page 85 of Black Swan; the night before the show, when black feathers begin to poke out of Nana’s skin, and her eyes turn a furious red, and she violently blocks her mother out of her room by slamming the door on her hand until she removed it, screaming. Here, Nana’s mother represents the old Nina, the White Queen, 5 which Nina is blocking out, but at her own self-sacrifice. As a result, “She looks down, sees one of her knees SNAP backwards, like that of a bird. Then the other knee SNAPS back. Nine stumbles and falls.
And SLAMS her head into the radiator” (85). This is the moment where Nina has seemingly been defeated. She has lost herself entirely but to her own defeat; we don’t know if she will be able to press on. Yet, the eighth stage of the story comes around, and our hero is back up on his or her feet. Boggle calls the eighth stage Reward (Seizing the Sword) and describes it on page 22: “Having survived death, beaten the dragon, or slain the Minotaur, hero and audience have cause to celebrate. The hero now takes possession of the treasure she has come seeking, her reward. This moment occurs on pages 89-90 of Black Swan, when Nina bursts backstage before the show, after being called in sick by her mother, and confidently claims her roles as the Swan Queen. She proclaims to Leroy “I’m here… Lam doing it,” and “Leroy smirks at her directness” (89). This gives us re-invigorated hope in our hero, and launches her into the final showdown/obstacle to overcome. At the tenth stage, “we’re crossing into Act Three now as the hero begins to deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the Ordeal.
If she has not yet managed to reconcile with the parent, the Gods, or the hostile forces, they may come raging after her” (23). This stage is referred to as The Road Back. While not a specific moment or beat in Black Swan, this stage is the section of the story where the first part of Nana’s performance takes place (pages 91-94). She is directly dealing with the consequences of her training and actions leading up to this moment, and we as the audience are waiting to see how it will pay off. She is embarking on the final stage of her 6 Journey, and, Boggle reminds us, “there are still dangers, temptations, and tests head” (24).
The second to last stage in the hero’s Journey is his or her Resurrection, where “the hero is transformed by these moments of death-and-rebirth, and is able to return to ordinary life reborn as a new being with new heights” (24). In Black Swan, this moment occurs on pages 95-6, when Nina fights with Lily/The Double, and ultimately kills her, thus completing her transformation into the Black Swan. The resurrection can also be looked at as a second life-and-death moment, and this scene is set up by Nana’s previous life-and-death moment (The Ordeal), when she first sprouts feathers ND experiences her physical submission to the Black Swan.
Ultimately, this moment of resurrection marks the conclusion of her transformation. It is the completion of her goal, as she finally destroys her old self (the White Swan) in order to become something different. Our hero is reborn. The twelfth and final stage of the hero’s Journey is known as The Return with the Elixir. Boggle writes “The hero Returns to the Ordinary World, but the Journey is meaningless unless she brings back some Elixir, treasure, or lesson from the Special world” (23). In other words, this is where she applies what she has learned to the ordinary world.
This moment is found in the final two pages of the story, pages 101-2, when Nina steps back on the stage, transformed into the Black Swan, and she climbs the ramp, stands at the top, taking her place as the queen, and then falls to the matt, letting go. Her final utterance marks the completion of her Journey, when she looks at Leroy, right before she dies, and says, “l felt it” (102). Her Journey is complete, she has achieved her goal, and she has emerged utterly transformed. 7 While The Hero’s Journey, originally defined by Joseph Campbell in his book A Hero
With a Thousand Faces, is often best suited for action and adventure stories and tales of physical distance and transportation, Dearer Ironwork’s Black Swan is an example of the hero’s Journey being applied to the internal venture and transformation of a character, as we observe Nana’s transformation from the White Queen to the Black Queen, and her Journey, step-by-step. Works Cited He-man, Mark, Andrea Heinz, and John McLaughlin. Black Swan . Los Angles: Fox Boggle, Christopher. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd De.. Studio City: Michael Wises Productions, 1998. 15-25. Print. 8 9