Saturday, 29 November 2014

Older Movie Review: Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus Movie Review
Lewis Maddison

Figure 1: Black Narcissus Poster

Black Narcissus (1947) is a Michael Powell movie that takes Rumer Goddens Novel and deliberately courts controversy through it's interpretations of the Nun's and how they are effected by the new world that they find themselves in."Michael Powell was right when he called Black Narcissus an "erotic film," but the attraction is pure Pygmalionism"(Lathier, 2012) Each Nun in this movie is shown in a different light throughout the story, the main character being Sister Clodagh, as woman who starts of the story very reserved and restricted in the way she acts and interacts with the other Nuns and the male actor's. Portrayed by beautifully by Deborah Kerr, Sister Clodagh is given a large amount of character development throughout the film as we see her go from a faithful sister of the church to someone who begins to question her faith and the way she is living her life. The other Nun that gets a huge amount of development is Sister Ruth, a character that is only mentioned for the first half an hour of the movie. When she first shows up we are shown her helpful nature but are also given hints to the issue's that she will be encountering later on in the film through her reaction to the interest that Mr: Dean, played by David Farrar, take's in her.

Figure 2: Sister Ruth covered in blood. 
The movie follows the events of a group of Nun's who are sent to a remote part of the Himalayas to educate and take care of the villagers in the area. Right from the start of the film we are given an interpretation of the controversial nature of both the novel and the screen adaptation. The building they are inhabiting used to be a place where the previous general kept his female "acquaintances" both of the slave and personal variety. This is place is a huge departure from the innocent nature of the nunnery in England that these characters come from. Going from a place of purity to an environment that is much more free and with a history of sin in the eyes of the church. The environment itself is incredibly liberating in this sense. High above the ground, the Nuns are incredibly isolated, far away from people who share the same ideals as they do, they are exposed to the things that they are sworn to leave behind such as freedom , freedom to be themselves and express their emotions in ways that the church will not allow them.

The most important character for this change is Sister Ruth. At the start of the film she is already starting to give into the environment and the freedom that it is creating, when she encounters Mr Dean for the first time and is shown some kind of gratitude, something she didn't get from any of the other Nun's, her character begins to change, she starts to question her life as a sister of the church and her faith, leading to the end of the film where she become's completely liberated, going mad in the process. Ruth at the end of the film has completely embraced her emotions, whereas Nun's like Clodagh are still slaves to their faith, although this could be the reason why they are still alive in the end. The faith that Ruth had tried to abide by her entire life eventually ended her life, what's to say that it wouldn't do that to the other's had they not fought back as hard as they did. It's an interesting idea to think about. Is there faith keeping them on this planet or is it hindering them from expressing themselves as much as they should. 

Figure 3: Sister Ruth Succumbs to madness. 

The production design of this movie is one of the most important aspect's in showing the way the character's change throughout the story."While the thematic elements of desire and the constant battle between the spirit and the flesh are intricate elements of Black Narcissus, the film will probably be best remembered for its impressive visuals."(Kendrik, 2001) In the beginning the colours of the environment are very muted, showing the restrictions that have been placed on these women however throughout the film the colour red starts to seep in more and more. A colour that personifies life and anger, vividly shown in the red lipstick that Sister Ruth seductively puts in one of the most tense scene's in the film and the dress that she wears during her madness at the end of the film.

This film is a masterpiece in showing the way that people can be affected by their faith and how being a new environment can change them,the way the characters change throughout the film and the underlying issues that the story is trying to convey."The cinematography of Narcissus -- notably an ending that must have stuck in Hitchcock's mind for decades -- is to die for" I highly recommend this film as someone who likes movies that question people's beliefs and how they restrict us both physically and emotionally. 


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Joseph Jon Lanthier,, Slant Magazine, 2012)

Christopher Null,, Offcreen, 2001

James Kendrick,, QNetwork, 2001)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lewis,

    You have made some interesting observations here - well done :)
    See my comment on 'Alien' re referencing and setting the bibliography out correctly.