Thursday, January 27, 2011

Black Swan - Script vs. the film - Part IV: The Natalie Portman/Mila Kunis sex scene

Part I: Lily
Part II: Nina
Part III: Beth

Now let's get to what Natalie Portman herself admitted might have been the marketing masterstroke of Black Swan - the scene where Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have sex.

(Oops! Surely I meant "Where Nina and Lily have sex." I wouldn't have made a typo like that purely for the purpose of attempting to goose the Google hits to my site. Trust me.)

I'll be honest, this is one of those scenes where the writing confused the hell out of me on a first read. I just couldn't see how they were going to commit this to film and not have it come out like a chaotic mess.

The scene starts off with the two of them pawing each other and Lily throwing Nina onto the bed and straddling her. Lily takes off her top and kisses Nina and when Nina opens her eyes "Lily now looks identical. Her DOUBLE. (She goes in and out of looking like her double and like Lily as they continue to make love.)"

Then we're told "Nina flips Lily over, becomes the dominant one (though who is whom becomes very confused.)" After a few agressive moves, there's a brief moment where Nina is alone in bed, masturbating. Then suddenly, Lily is back. Nina climaxes and then two kiss lying side by side, "almost like Nina is kissing a mirror" the script says.

Recall what I said on Monday about Lily's entrance into the film. If you start with the earlier indicators that Lily might be just an aspect of Nina, and then add in the fact that Lily not only turns into Nina in this scene, but then briefly disappears as we see that Nina is merely gratifying herself, you likely draw some conclusions about this scene. Namely, that Lily isn't real at all.

It plays out slightly more simply in the finished film. Nina and Lily go back to the bedroom, but the film restrains itself to just one moment where Lily looks exactly like Nina. I think that's a better shock/scare than if they were constantly switching back and forth, which could be a little too visually busy. Also, removing the jump cut of Nina alone in bed was also likely a wise move. With so much going on in that sequence already, the audience might have trouble processing it, even if it was shot in a way that eased the transition.

The way it plays on screen now, we're left with the impression that Nina might be hallucinating from the drugs that Lily gave her earlier. The brief instant where Lily looks like Nina could just be an expression of her fear that Lily will replace her. It's not until later that it's suggested that the entire sex scene itself was an hallucination, and that feels like better pacing for the clues that Nina isn't all there.

Interestingly the masturbation scene that's in the film isn't in this draft. I have my own theories about why they made it a sequence on its own, but I'd like to see what you guys think. Did you think that scene was gratuitous? Did you think the girl/girl sex scene was gratuitous?

My own summation of the differences between this draft of the script and the finished film would be: "Minor changes, major impact."


  1. Another great post.

    As I mentioned in your earlier post I thought at first that the masturbation scenes were gratuitous but I now think they do add to the story as they highlight Nina's sexual repression.

    As for the sex-scene, personally, I kind of thought it was overhyped -- from all the attention it was getting I was expecting Bound II. I think from the differences you've highlighted so far the script and the film are telling slightly different stories. Both are about Nina losing touch with reality but in the script it seems to be caused by Nina finding her Black Swan while in the film it comes from her struggle to play the role.

  2. Gratuitous? No, not at all. I guess I just don't really get bothered by that content and I say this as a guy that never even anticipated watching that specific scene.

    I feel as if a lot of the same could be said if it were Nina thinking she were watching a movie with Lilly rather than having sex with her. Obviously, I realize the message is stronger as it is on film and I'm not going to complain that I had the chance to watch it.

    Perhaps, it's going over my head, but is there a real reason for the sex scenes? I realize you didn't mention Erica in the draft vs. the film (not sure you're going to do this on Monday?). There are some minor changes there including Nina's behavior towards her. The film's version almost makes you feel as if there is a sexual conflict between the two (not saying there is, but I can understand why some have mentioned it). Whereas the script makes Erica appear less domineering and more the abused than the abuser.

    I bring that up because there is obviously an issue with Nina being an independent adult in the film version. I guess I can see the sex scenes being the leak into adulthood, but it still makes me wonder about the relationship between Nina and Erica which is equally confusing in both the script and film.

  3. David - Thanks for commenting all week, and I agree that the script and film are telling subtly different stories.

    Carlos - I decided against mentioning Erica because the biggest difference I noted was that the infamous "cake" scene wasn't in the draft I had. I kinda felt the script portrayed the same thing with regard to Nina not really being an independent adult, so I had the same feeling from both. I think Erica's somewhat underwritten in both versions, so there are probably multiple valid interpretations.

  4. I've really enjoyed reading these posts on Swan. Do you think Aronofsky intends the film as camp, or some kind of sumptuous tragic melodrama?

  5. I thought that showing her mother's deliberate and constant presence in her bedroom -- so to speak -- was very well done, and said quite a bit about the past, present and future of Nina's sexual and emotional development.

    It also added a weird undertone of the mother's sexuality and obsession with Nina a doll to her, an object to be lusted after, herself in a younger, more virile form that she wished to preserve?

    It was one of the most uncomfortable scenes of the film, right up there with the feathers, face-stabbing, finger-crunching, etc.