Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Film Review - Black Narcissus (1947)

Fig.1 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus (1947) is a psychological drama about a group of nuns who engage in a new project to create a nunnery on top of a cold mountain up in the Himalayas. During their time up in the Himalayas the nuns experience problems and tension with the atmosphere, with one particular nun struggling to fight against her inner sexual desires and expression more and more as she becomes attracted to a local ambassador, Mr. Dean. Though it is interesting to face a story with the inner desires of nuns, it is a film that is famous for its beautiful scenery and set design. "Winner of Academy awards mainly for Best Art, this is visually a very beautiful movie." (DiDonato).

There are a few scenes that stand out among this film as being visually captivating, one of them being the scene where one of the nuns is ringing the bell atop the nunnery. For this scene the production team used painting as backdrops, creating this visually stunning camera angle, showcasing the stunning environment around these nuns. Throughout the film the interior decorations for the rooms look like paintings, the walls look like paintings and the floors look like paintings, all of these create a very unique style for films and may be said to represent the serene and spiritual nature of the nuns themselves, that is of course until sexual desires overtake Sister Ruth's thoughts. The serene nature of the rooms can also be symbolism for the nuns relationship and closeness to God, as the decorations look very heavenly and pure. "Alfred Junge's hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot" (Farr). However, as the "unholy" sexual thoughts of Sister Ruth continue to strengthen, the colour scheme seems to change as the film goes on. 

Fig.2 Black Narcissus Himalayas
Fig.3 Black Narcissus

When Sister Ruth is on the edge, thinking about her secret desires for Mr.Dean, and they only get even stronger when she becomes jealous of another Sister who seems to be getting more attention from Mr.Dean there is a notable scene where she is sat in dark blue lighting, with intense red lighting. The contrasting dark colours with the red can be a representation of her frustration, as colours that seem to be so opposite in intensity naturally seem to be attacking one another rather than synchronizing with them in harmony, like a pale blue and white naturally would. The colour of red is also a known colour of lust, romance and desire, it can also be associated with violence, and this emotion of violence becomes more apparent to Sister Ruth later on in the film, and so the use of the colour red becomes significant in the way that Sister Ruth is thinking in this part of the film. 

There is another scene in Black Narcissus where the colour red is used deliberately to show the change of thought and emotion in the character of Sister Ruth which is another noteworthy scene where Sister Ruth is putting on lipstick. This is another scene where a dark blue lighting is used, however the blue is a lot darker and more sinister, again reinforcing Sister Ruth's "corrupted" mind of thoughts. Over time the film's scenery has changed from a holy, pure tone in decoration and lighting to a Gothic and dark tone. With this sinister lighting there is close up camera angle of Sister Ruth's lips as she applies this blood red tone onto them. Looking at the consensus at what lips are associated with symbolically, plump lips are a symbol of a woman's sexual power and femininity alone and with the blood red tone this enforces this sexual symbol of lust that Sister Ruth has for Mr.Dean and the act she is willing to commit to get him for herself. When Sister Ruth's advances on Mr.Dean are not taken the way she had hoped, after sexing herself up for him, and she gets rejected she goes on to try and push, her seen "competition" for Mr.Dean off the top of the bell cliff, but instead falls off herself, after Sister Clodagh avoids the fall. 

Fig.4 Black Narcissus
Fig.5 Black Narcissus

Overall, Black Narcissus is a visually captivating movie, especially impressive for the time period it was made in, before huge advances in technology and CG art for the backgrounds and sets of the movies. It may have been seen as a highly controversial film for the time period it was made in as well, with the themes of sex and sexual desires as its main undertone in story, making it arguably risqué for its time period. It's production art is incredible and its story takes an unpredictable turn, as it dramatically goes from a drama to what some might call a horror in a very short amount of time, with the horror cliché camera angles and suspense. "Its setting is exotic, its situations comedic and its third act takes the film a totally unexpected and amazing direction." (Ewing, 2009).

DiDonato, R [Online] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

Ewing, J.B [Online] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

Farr, J [Online] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

List Of Illustrations:
Fig.1 Black Narcissus [Illustration] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

Fig.2 Black Narcissus Himalayas [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

Fig.4 Black Narcissus [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

Fig.5 Black Narcissus [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 6.12.13)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rhianna,

    A thorough discussion - well done.
    Try and introduce your quotes via the author, rather than just dropping them in; so for example,
    'As James Ewing says in his review of the film, 'It's setting is exotic...' (Ewing,2009)
    If you do not know the date for the quote, you should put s.d. in it's place, which stands for 'date unknown'.