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An overview of Black Swan

Black Swan was directed by Darren Aronofsky, and released in 2010. It stars Natalie Portman who won an Oscar for best performance by an actress in a leading role.

Black Swan is a psychological thriller about Nina, a fragile yet highly competitive ballet dancer from New York. After the veteran star of the ballet company is forced into retirement, Nina lands her dream role in Swan Lake.

The ballet director Tomas is charmingly sly and absorbed by Nina's innocence as Odette, the white swan, but feels she lacks the seductive heat required as Odette's alter ego, the black swan. Nina begins to crumble under this professional pressure. Her life is tense professionally, and personally, with her controlling mother, an ex-ballerina, watching her every move at home. As the pressure on Nina mounts, the line between reality and Nina's delusions blur. She becomes obsessive and paranoid and suffers from psychotic hallucinations.

Natalie Portman as Nina, hallucinating that as the Black Swan character she is sprouting feathers

Black Swan was submitted to the Classification Office because of its content

As Black Swan was restricted in Australia (MA15+) and the United Kingdom (15), the distributor submitted it to the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB), who forwarded it to the Classification Office for examination and classification.

The film was examined by Classification Office staff

When a film is submitted on 35mm or digital print, it is screened in a cinema and viewed by a group from the Classification Office usually made up of the Chief Censor, the Deputy Chief Censor, Senior Classification Officers and a Classification Officer. It is viewed by a group because we can't rewind or re-watch parts of a film in this format. The Classification Officer notes down plot points and content in the film as it is viewed. These notes form the basis of the classification decision-making process.

During the examination of a publication, Classification Officers weigh up what is presented in the publication against the criteria in section 3-3B of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. The criteria must be used to determine what classification a publication should have.

The classification criteria

Nina sits alone in a corridor while the other dancers socialise together

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The Classification Officer identified content relevant for classification

When considering what content in Black Swan would be relevant to the classification decision, the Classification Officer decided the film dealt with the following:

  • Sex
  • Crime
  • Horror
  • Cruelty
  • Violence
  • Self-harm

In deciding what classification to give a film, it is not just a matter of whether or not the film contains certain things - what is important is how these things are presented, or the context in which they're presented.

The Classification Officer observed that in most of the scenes dealing with sex in Black Swan no nudity is depicted and the scenes are brief. In some cases horror elements come into play, for example during one scene where the disturbed main character, Nina, sees a vision of herself looming over the top of the bed.

In terms of horror and crime, Nina's hallucinations are often dark and horrific. She is also treated cruelly in the film by two significant people in her life - her mother and her ballet director Thomas.

Violence is presented throughout the film, often perpetrated by Nina towards other characters, and towards herself. At times this is presented in detail, with a lot of blood and gore.

Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis) fight to the death

The Classification Office is required to examine the entire film

The Classification Officer determined that the film's dominant effect is of a sophisticated psychological thriller/drama with elements of horror. The tone of the film is tense and dark throughout. It is well made and shot, with an extensive soundtrack.

Lily murdered by Nina

Black Swan was classified 'R16: violence, sex scenes and content that may disturb'

The purpose of assigning a restricted classification is to prevent injury to the public good that may come from the film being made available without restriction (for example, to anyone of any age).

Black Swan was classified R16 because the unrestricted availability of the film was likely to be injurious to the public good due to its treatment of matters of sex, horror, crime, cruelty and depictions of serious physical harm and self harm. The summary of reasons for the classification decision concluded:

The feature has a particularly intense atmosphere, and the horror elements take on a complexity which children and young persons would find difficult to follow and understand. Some images in the feature would disturb and shock younger viewers. Adults and older teenagers are able to put the images and themes of the film into the context of the story and treatment. Therefore the publication is restricted to the likely intended audience - persons who have attained the age of 16 years.

Office of Film and Literature Classification summary of reasons for the decision for Black Swan

Black Swan's descriptive note, 'violence, sex scenes and content that may disturb' is intended to give further information about the content of the film to help people make informed decisions about whether it is something they want to see.

The R16 classification means it is illegal for anyone to make Black Swan available to someone under the age of 16.

R16 classification label
R16 classification label