“Black Narcissus” (1947) created by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger can be classified as an erotic film and also horror. The tension in the movie can be felt right from the start and its climax is reached in the last minutes of the film. The New York Times give their opinion of the movie: “Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have come so close to executing a perfect fusion of all the elements of cinematic art—story, direction, performances, and photography—that one wishes they had hit upon a theme at once less controversial and more appealing than that of Black Narcissus.” (Nytimes.com, 2014)
A lot can be said about the incredible use of matte paintings in order to portray the exotic location and the awe-inspiring use of lighting that dictates the feelings in the film (fig. 2, 3). Michael Mirasol talks about the usage of colours in the film: “To see the film progress from cold and indifferent to brooding and almost supernatural shows Powell's mastery of tone. He depicts the nuns' mountain enclave as an ashen and distant; colorless as the sisterhood's singular devotion to their vocation. The local Indian populace is backdropped with vibrant color, looking more natural and lively. But it is in the second half of the film where Powell's use of Technicolor is stunning.” (Mirasol, 2010) Full to the brim of symbolic scenes where the viewer sees an action performed by the actresses which means something else. The main story is concealed so very well “between the lines” completely evoking the feeling of oppression and how the directors needed to tell us about the lives and desires of the nuns without actually saying it to the viewers’ face.
The eroticism of the movie is undeniable but done in a very subtle manner. Especially in the scene where sister Ruth puts on her red dress, replaced by the traditional nun clothing, and red lipstick, ready to seduce and leave the order she came with “There is the sexual arousal of Sister Ruth who casts aside her habit and puts on a red dress and thick red lipstick in her bid for Mr. Dean's affections. There is the erotic undertow to the verbal banter and disagreements between the English agent and Sister Clodagh. And there is the sexual interplay between the Young General, who comes to the nuns' school, and Kanchi (Jean Simmons), an orphan brought there so the sisters can teach her how to behave in the world.” (Spiritualityandpractice.com, 2014)
The film also tells the story of a person losing their mind and turning into a hysterical monster, that is ready to kill. The little details give us a lot of the story in “Black Narcissus”, for instance, when sister Ruth states that she is lacking sleep and her eyes slowly following her targets in the halls of the monastery.
In conclusion, “Black Narcissus” is an inspiring film and an incredibly well told story about a strange and surreal place, that drive nuns, taken outside of their comfort zone, insane. Where everything is so “different” it’s as if it happened in a dream.
Fig. 1 - Store.walterfilm.com, (2014). BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) : Walterfilm, Online Store, vintage movie posters, movie collectables. [online] Available at: http://store.walterfilm.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=103 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].
Fig. 2 - Spiritualityandpractice.com, (2014). Spirituality & Practice: Film Review: Black Narcissus, directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. [online] Available at: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=20119 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].
Fig. 3 - Narcissus, M. (2012). World Cinema Review: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger | Black Narcissus. [online] Internationalcinemareview.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://internationalcinemareview.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/world-comesthrusting-in-behind-by.html [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].
Mirasol, M. (2010). "Black Narcissus," which electrified Scorsese | Far Flungers | Roger Ebert. [online] Rogerebert.com. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/black-narcissus-which-electrified-scorsese [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].
Nytimes.com, (2014). Movie Review - - BLACK NARCISSUS - NYTimes.com. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173CE261BC4C52DFBE66838C659EDE [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].
Spiritualityandpractice.com, (2014). Spirituality & Practice: Film Review: Black Narcissus, directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. [online] Available at: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=20119 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].