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Risqué Natalie Portman film “Black Swan” gets hype, but what “swan” does the title refer to?

Every so often, a film picks up buzz before its release. Rumors of Natalie Portman engaging in lewd behavior and painted in flamboyant makeup have propelled the new picture “Black Swan” into gossip territory.

Internet searches reveal that people want to know about the title as well as the purportedly licentious scenes involving Ms. Portman’s character. Beyond the movie, “Black Swan” has a number of remarkable meanings that we now present for your edification and amusement.

(If you saw “Inception,” do you know what the word actually means? Here’s the answer.)

First of all, swan ultimately derives from the Indo-Eurpoean swen, “sound.” Black swans are relatively common in New Zealand, but in parts of the world they denote a rare occurrence. This perception is partially responsible for the sense of black swan as “a phenomenon that occurs even though it had been thought to be impossible.” Two fascinating notions emerge from this concept.

In philosophy, a black swan is used to discuss falsifiability, to the difference between an observation and a universal generalization of the observation. A modus tollens (Latin for “the way that denies by denying”) works like this: “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium and this isn’t Belgium so it’s not Tuesday.”

The mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb came up with the Black swan theory to address when rare and improbable events have a huge impact on people’s lives and the world in general. The September 11 attacks and the rise of the Internet are considered exemplary “black swans.”

But these fascinating diversions don’t seem to have much to do with the title of Natalie Portman’s film. That swan is an allusion to the ballet “Swan Lake,” which involves two female roles that mirror each other except that one character wears black while the other wears white. A production of “Swan Lake” forms the backdrop for the psychological drama of the film. Until the release, we can only infer that the “black” suggests psychological darkness.  

Are there are any phrases floating around in popular culture you would like to see deciphered here? (Such as “What does the ‘i’ in iPod stand for?”) Let us know.

29 Comments

  1. AMY-LOU -  September 10, 2010 - 6:42 am

    Well 7% solution you can be in two places at once, but you do make a good point about how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  2. I got promoted! -  September 9, 2010 - 3:33 pm

    “if it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium and this isn’t Belgium so it’s not Tuesday.”Translate this into like that: He would have been exempted from being impaired if had remained at Strait of Dover to Britain.

    Secondguessing goes to show that acrimoniousity is over!

    Reply
  3. 7%Solution -  September 9, 2010 - 10:20 am

    for tj … you must be too young to remember the movie titled “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. (It involved a group of typical American tourists trying to see all of Europe on an impossibly tight schedule.) The allusion makes more sense when you check the background.
    How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?

    Reply
  4. Isabell -  September 9, 2010 - 9:49 am

    This blog is something i have enjoyed reading other than the fact that the blogger has no clue what he/she is taking about i am looking forward to reading more each day.

    Reply
  5. rj -  September 9, 2010 - 9:36 am

    All I know is that “If it’s Tuesday…, This is not Belgium” sounds like a fallacy to me (or at least an invalid argument). So I don’t get where that correlates to unforseen and impactful phenomena. I also don’t understand what a “lewd” Natalie Portman has to do with Belgium, but that’s another story.

    Reply
  6. GK -  September 9, 2010 - 9:07 am

    She’s a nice girl I think as her unsensored rap clip proves.

    Reply
  7. AMY-LOU -  September 9, 2010 - 8:28 am

    I would have to agree with Catherine…… not about the chicken thing but swan lake.

    Reply
  8. Jeff -  September 9, 2010 - 8:26 am

    Call me strange, but I’m hoping part of the impossible that occurs in this film has to do with Natalie plucking feathers out of her skin in the trailer.

    Reply
  9. AMY-LOU -  September 9, 2010 - 7:41 am

    BA-WEE that is so uncalled for!!!!!!!!!!!! And why aren’t you doing your work??????????

    Reply
  10. Ecca -  September 9, 2010 - 7:35 am

    Black Swan is a brand of dip in Australia :)

    Reply
  11. AMY-LOU -  September 9, 2010 - 6:55 am

    I can’t wait to see it and i enjoyed reading this……well except the part about if this is Tuesday this must be Belgium and this isn’t Belgium so it’s not Tuesday. That was kinda weird to me.

    Reply
  12. mercy me rocks! -  September 9, 2010 - 6:51 am

    Well from what i read i’m looking forward to seeing it!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  13. keithtx -  September 9, 2010 - 6:48 am

    modus tollens like in ‘i did not have sex with that woman’

    Reply
  14. Catherine -  September 9, 2010 - 6:48 am

    Okay first and for most i don’t think the writer of this has ever seem *SWAN LAKE* it is a love story and not a mirror of two people. It’s like you’re saying they are the same person. Like the good sideand the evil side. Odette is the white swan who is under a spell and the prince falls inlove with her but odile tricks the prince so he can’t be with odette and she is cursed forever as a swan. (unless you watch the one where he beats the odds and finds out the truth and saves odette) But if the same person is playing both odette/odile then the title could be anything really:Inner thoughts,Two headed dagger,Secrets within. We really don’t know.

    Reply
  15. O'Snap -  September 9, 2010 - 4:53 am

    This is a blog I could love!! (Especially if I remember to always skip the “i’m smarter than you” comments section.) Cheers!

    Reply
  16. Intercommunication -  September 9, 2010 - 4:30 am

    Swan Lake is a very CLASSIC ballet peice. If the love theme as well as its choreography, in that sense that goes for the movie Black Swan regarding its art form of cinema, is the relic of the ongoing transformation of a structure of ourselves, then why is one not to be both a white and a black swan.

    Good and evil coexist and supplement with each other, which is not something to be condemned, but what is to be condemned is to be good consciously not knowing the evil within oneself by transferring it on others.

    Reply
  17. Mandla -  September 9, 2010 - 2:26 am

    Interesting.

    Reply
  18. Matthew Newton -  September 9, 2010 - 12:21 am

    Once a girl said to a verb, “Onomatopoeia, do dolphins like people who dislike good actors?” The verb replied, “If you don’t like Miss. Portman then you could be under the radar and with the “buzz” on the new coach for the Titans, who keep the fish under the tuna.”

    Reply
  19. Lauren -  September 8, 2010 - 10:15 pm

    ‘That swan is an allusion to the ballet “Swan Lake,” which involves two female roles that mirror each other except that one character wears black while the other wears white.’

    …Uh, no. Not exactly. Not at all actually. It’s more than a little obvious the writer has either never seen ‘Swan Lake’ or didn’t pay much attention to the on-goings nor the themes.

    Reply
  20. random -  September 8, 2010 - 9:47 pm

    Wow, one of the chosen presented on this site. What an amazing surprise! And they’re engaging in lewd behavior for the distraction of those soulless creatures also known as goyim!

    Reply
  21. Jell E. Bean -  September 8, 2010 - 9:23 pm

    You might try not thinking so literally. In the theoretical world a “black swan” is 1) the disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance and technology, 2) the non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to their very nature of small probabilities) and 3) the psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs. It is something defined as an extreme outlier, and plays a vastly larger roles than regular occurrences.

    Now watch the movie again with this new perspective…

    Reply
  22. vicky -  September 8, 2010 - 6:44 pm

    HI;
    i knew immediately that Black Swan was from the ballet. Glad to say solved that conundrum right immediate. Black swan. No problem with that. Yes,my reading comprehension is high. Been so since 2nd grade proved in college with a A+ A speedreading. Yet my friends think i can’t write a straight sentence. What it might mean they can’t comprehend things as well or that at times i am tongue-tied. So was Shakesphere and i think he comprehended the english language better than most of us. What’s also interesting is this keeps up. Yet when i correspond to a professional teacher- no problem.

    It might be a bit off the subject- yet it’s like a mirror image making white into black or etc.

    And as for my relatives,parents [not living]excepting. I can’t fiqure anything what relative survivors mean what my romance should be. And i give these opinions no substance or attention worthy.

    i recall when i worked in an orchard during a hurricaine,bunches of peaches fly-rocketing off trees- this dude drove me home. And my brother,his girlfriend have been mad about it for decades. Is this anything at all to pay attention to?

    In fact if mom was alive,she’d say that’s the kind of guy a mom would like,a guy decent enough to escort you home,with kudos for during a hurricaine. A good guy who thinks of others in an emergency. Yet he’s been forever put down and me ranked out.

    Since i make this comment here to neither friend or family just to dictionary meanings maybe we might strike a chord.

    from,
    vicky

    Reply
  23. Margot -  September 8, 2010 - 6:01 pm

    *More Swan Lake Spoilers and a correction*

    Odette is the white swan, the princess cursed by the sorcerer until released by true love. Odile is the black swan, and the sorcerer’s daughter, who impersonates Odette, tricking the prince, and ensuring Odette’s destruction. Unless you happen to be watching one of the versions where the prince manages to defeat the sorcerer after the betrayal and save Odette. In other versions, Odette and the prince die together. Throw in the fact that both roles, Odette/Odile, are danced by the same ballerina and you have some interesting possibilities for the meaning of the film’s title: impersonation, unfaithfulness, the main character’s own inner darkness.

    Reply
  24. AvidReader -  September 8, 2010 - 5:44 pm

    Well Ms.Portman… we’ll see how this movie goes

    Reply
  25. Tom -  September 8, 2010 - 3:57 pm

    Black swans are native to Australia. They are visitors to New Zealand, though there are some breeding colonies in both North and South Island.

    Reply
  26. BLACK SWAN | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 8, 2010 - 3:21 pm

    [...] PORTMAN and some “BLACK SWAN” with marketing making the movie. — Lesbian Lovers will get Joe six pack to the ballet [...]

    Reply
  27. camcam aka wazzup pplz -  September 8, 2010 - 2:42 pm

    IPOD Internet Pod (Apple)
    IPOD International Patent Organism Depositary
    IPOD Interim Planning Overlay District
    IPOD Interface Protocol Option Devices
    IPOD Image Processor for Optical Data (NASA)

    from: http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/IPod

    Reply
  28. Patrick -  September 8, 2010 - 2:00 pm

    But it is neither Tuesday, nor Belgium?!?

    Reply
  29. Tanya -  September 8, 2010 - 1:50 pm

    *Swan Lake spoilers ahead*
    There’s more to “Black Swan” than simply an allusion to “Swan Lake”. In the ballet, the white swan is the real swan, with whom the prince falls in love, and the black swan, Odette, is the look-alike substitute who the prince thinks is the real swan and, tricked, agrees to marry, thus dooming the real swan to stay cursed forever. Therefore, we can assume this movie has something to do with a love triangle.

    Reply

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