November 17, 2015

Space Oddities: Black Narcissus Film Review

Black Narcissus Film Review

Black Narcissus (1947) is a collaboration from the two directors Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. It is a British film starring Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron and Jean Simmons. It is a film which is about a group of nuns who take over an old brothel high up in the Himalayas and make it their new, ‘Palace of Faith’, convent/hospital/school.

Fig 1. Movie poster
Throughout the film the nuns are exposed to more and more temptation that is against their religion, far from their morals and what they believe in and we end up at the end of the film with a very hysterical group of nuns. The film begins with a serious conversation between two very plain and stern nuns and as they enter the new palace in the mountains things start to shift away from the very structured, rigid set.
When the nuns first enter their new home, they are greeted by a man who is under dressed, in very short shorts with his chest bared, and we get the impression that it seems as if the man is being objectified, which is rare and uncommon in any film. This man is to become the temptation for the nuns as the film goes on, creating conflict between some of the characters.
There is one very specific moment of change in the film, where we can first obviously see the nuns succumbing to desirable temptations. This is where Sister Philippa slips by planting colourful flowers where they were to place vegetables, and she soon realises how her beliefs were being forgotten about and asks to transfer back to her old home.
Black Narcissus is a colour film, and in the beginning the colours are very washed out and unsaturated, this is amplified by the nuns in the first scene where you can see their pale, make-up free faces against their bleached white wimples and robes. The building they are in is also plain grey, and the whole scene is very dull and serious.  This very specific colour palette reflects on the nun’s plain lifestyle, which is deprived of desires of the senses and pleasure of any kind.  As we are introduced into the brothel in the Himalayas, it is a stark contrast between the two realities, we see rich reds and oranges, contrasted with many exotic green hues and blues. This is significant because Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger seem to relate sex with colour in this movie, and the idea of sex and sexual desire is always hand in hand with colour throughout the entire film.

Fig 2. Film Still
The whole of Black Narcissus was filmed in a studio in London, and despite the artificiality of some of the scenes, the filmmakers created an atmosphere that cannot go unrecognised by the audience, and it puts you into an entirely different reality and it feels as if it were set in another country. This was achieved by large scale, detailed matte paintings, props and exotic greenery. The matte paintings are mainly of mountains, which really gives the scenes scale and puts you into a different world entirely than if it were to be just the film studio. They are also used on the ground in some scenes, which give the look of the world depth and a sense of how high up the palace is in the mountains. The set uses a lot of foreign plants and trees, which you would never find in London. This makes the setting seem unknown and mysterious, and also exotic and exciting.
Fig.3 Matte Painting, Film Still
Black Narcissus explores female sexuality and it is a main theme. These nuns are not allowed to express their sexuality because it is their belief that they should not. As the film progresses we see that this becomes a struggle for some of the nuns, and one succumbs to it and  puts on red lipstick, which symbolises sex and sexuality, in pursuit of the man who is always flaunting around the palace. There is a lot of symbolism for sex, such as the red lipstick, the phallic objects which are constantly through the film, and also even the blooming flowers, which are essentially a plants genitalia.
Black Narcissus is a film which is confusing to watch and difficult to understand, as a lot of what is being put out is through suggestion and symbolism. It is a representation of female sexuality and sexual frustration, and is a film which is like no other and completely an original.

Figure 1: (Accessed on 14/11/15)
Figure 2: on 14/11/15)
Figure 3: (Accessed on 14/11/15)

1 comment:

  1. An interesting and well thought through review Becky.

    Don't forget that you are asked to support your discussion with at least 3 quotes from different sources. These should be introduced as part of your discussion, and then 'unpicked', so for example,

    'As Roger Ebert notes in his review, 'blah blah blah....'(Ebert, 2009) From this it could be said that....'
    (Your quotes should be in italics, but I can't do that in the comments box )