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In Black Swan, when Nina visits the previous main dancer, Beth, in hospital, she stabs her face with the nail file, but then Nina sees herself in her. And when Nina runs out, she sees the file in her own bloody hands.

The question is, is Beth really stabbed? If yes, then by herself or by Nina? Or was it all just Nina's imagination too?

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Beth as a person certainly exists, but what she represents, and how much interaction she has with Nina is open to interpretation. I believe to Nina, she represents the 'career' her mother gave up for her. When all the younger dancers are being critical of Beth and saying she should move on, Nina defends Beth, saying that Margaret Fontaine danced into her 50's -- I feel she is echoing the message she would have heard from her mother, who delusionally believes if it weren't for Nina, she would have had a long and successful career.

I believe Beth is the volatile character we see portrayed in the earlier scenes, but I don't think any of the scenes of Nina visiting Beth in the hospital are real. The guilt she feels about replacing Beth, effectively ending her career, is fed by the guilt trip her mother has placed on her for cutting short her perceived great career, and therefore the scene of Beth saying she is nothing and stabbing herself in the face is Nina imposing her image of her mother's emotions on to Beth.

From the snapshots we get of the mother we see that it's clear she blames Nina for the loss of her career, and while she is on the surface caring and overprotecting, I think underneath there is a lot of resentment and a desire to sabotage Nina's career. You see this when she buys the cake, as a dancer she knows full well that Nina would not want it, and then puts a guilt trip on Nina by going to throw it in the bin. Also if you look at all the pictures she has painted of Nina, non of them are very flattering, and they are certainly not loving portrayals of a daughter - more like someone obsessing over the thing that has thwarted them.

  • But Beth's accident was real, right? – Bella Swan Mar 26 at 13:01
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    Yes. She was hit by a car, that really happened in the movie. – Johnny Bones Mar 26 at 13:03
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This is just my opinion, but I think to Nina, Beth was a representation of her own future. After Beth hurt herself, there was a brief scene of her face turning into Nina’s. Nina then panicked and walked out to the elevator.

Beth’s action was frightening enough but also I think it was because Nina was also picturing her (very) possible future image. She panicked and tried to reject it (by running to the elevator), but it followed her, and she had a hallucination of herself holding the same knife. Hence, I think Nina holding the knife was just a hallucination that comes from the fear of her tragic future. She then tried to wash away the blood and looked kind of guilty as she goes home, which is why we might think she actually did it to Beth.

But I think this is a bit similar to her hallucinations of stabbing Lily. Her hallucinations were so strong that she was convinced that she was actually holding a knife/piece of glass, with hands full of blood, and that she hurt someone. She also tried to cover the blood with a towel, and has the same guilty look when she had the hallucinations about Lily later on. But then it turns out that she did not hurt anyone but herself. I think this is the same with Beth, the subject of pain (the blood on her hands) was also Nina, not Beth/Lily, but it’s future Nina.

Hence, I believe that Beth was the one who actually hurt herself, because it would be harder to explain Nina’s motives if she’d hurt Beth, than seeing that it was only a vision out of fear for her future.

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