I’m sure you are aware that different colors evoke different feelings on people. Like, for instance, orange looks warm and perhaps aggressive, while blue is cold and calm. Green is the color of hope and also envy, whereas red is passion, white means purity, black can represent death… and so on.

For a more technical approach on color, I wrote about it here (Color Teories), and here (Digital Representation of Color).

In film we are constantly being bombarded with arrangements of carefully composed and colored frames. But have you stopped to think up to what extent the director and cinematographer are purposely sending a message through the use of color? Any given production has a thought behind it and most of the times nothing is casualty. Let’s go on and analyse Black Swan.

Black Swan (2010)

Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

What are the main colors in this film? Clearly Black and White, but also Pink and Green. Here are examples of how these colors are being used.


White is clearly meant for purity and virginity. That is why Natalie Portman’s Nina dressed in white for most of the film, right until the climatic point after her false encounter with Lily (Mila Kunis).



Nina’s past looks pink. References to her childhood and her upbringing are pink. Its girly and childlike allure points out her naivety, and how she is a child inside that has grown up but is still totally immersed in the small inner world of her and her mother, unaware of other world problems or issues outside her close surroundings.



But the story is not all about Nina and her psychological derail. It’s also about her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) as a narcissist force that abuses her daughter. The envy on the part of the mother plays a huge part in the process, especially in view of the fact that Erica, who was also a budding ballerina, never made it to soloist status. We see evidence that the mother uses Nina to meet her own needs both in her attempt to live vicariously through Nina’s dancing but also in her undermining of Nina becoming too successful.

Nina needs Erica to function and to be a ballerina; Erica needs Nina to live. It’s a symbiotic relationship. When Nina masturbates as “homework” to try to access her inner passion, she sees her mother asleep in her bedroom. This was a metaphor for her mother being connected to her sexuality, and Nina’s attempts to awaken her passion would also awaken her mother. In fact, the mother is the focal point in the audience when Nina takes her suicidal plunge as the White Swan at the end of the ballet. Fellow ballerina Lily tries to befriend Nina, which connects Lily to Nina’s mother in Nina’s head. Seduction must be followed by betrayal in Nina’s head, which causes Nina to view Lily as a rival trying to take away her role in the ballet. Nina can only become the Black Swan (again, in her own head) by killing Lily, which by extension is killing her mother.



Black is pure evil, represented by the mother’s clothing, but also in Lily’s, who is, in fact, a representation of Erica in Nina’s mind.


It’s only after the climax, where Nina finally lets her sexuality free, that we see her dress in Black. Also, during that night, when they are still at the club, light purposely changes from pink to green as Nina battles her way through her repressions and mother issues.


Check out Evan E. Richard’s shot by shot breakdown here: http://evanerichards.com/2011/1898

Author: Bea Cabrera

Freelance Filmmaker with a passion for big cities, snowboard, cinema and a weakness for the smell of freshly ground coffee. Engineer & Graphic Designer in a previous life, loving and living both: art and technology.  

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