A film by Michael Powell presents us with a different view of a nunnery, a group of nuns travel to the Himalayas and set up a convent atop a windy mountain range, in the Palace of Mopu, near Darjeeling, to set up a school and hospital for the local people. This Palace was used to house the servants and female prostitutes, and there are subliminal images on the wall that suggest that this ‘’fun’’ house was very ‘’practical’’. This was part of the strong influences of tension and the temptations surrounding the site, the weakened sprinted Nuns seemed to fall prey to these images and their perverted vibe. Lathier describes, "Michael Powell was right when he called Black Narcissus an "erotic film," but the attraction is pure Pygmalionism"(Lathier, 2012).
It’s not just the sexual diversions that make up this film. Bagatavicius, in Off-Screen describes it as follows. ‘’Although Black Narcissus can be seen as a hybrid of genres – from colonial or religious satire to melodramatic art film and noir thriller – for the sake of this analysis, it might best be construed as a ‘dark fairy tale’; as borrowing the fantastical, oneiric qualities of a remote enchanted world.’’ (Bagatavicius, 2012.) This can be seen throughout the movie – or rather as the movie progresses, the colour scheme and the characters change as the movie goes on. With the main focus on Sister Ruth who has been hit with this temptation the hardest. With the scene that she removes her nun outfit and dresses in a dress and puts on the lipstick, the movies vibe takes a dramatic leap into the thriller zone with the amount of red being exposed and the creepy facial expressions she pulls throughout the film, see figure 2 and 3.
|Fig 2 - Start of the seduction.|
|Fig 3 - Sister Ruth after being rejected.|
The colour red is a symbol for sexual desire in this film. It starts with the scene that sister Ruth comes bursting into the room covered in blood. Bagatavicius describes it well, ‘’From then on, she Ruth is more woman than nun. Her white habit, splashed with blood, indicates the sexing of the character. In the same image, menstrual blood and the symbolical loss of virginity are displayed, as they will be again later in the red dress that will replace the uniform and advertise her difference from the rest.’’(Bagatavicius, 2012.) As this movie was released in an era where displaying the sexual act, and women dominance was not prohibited, this was the closest film-makers can get to displaying the sexual desires of a woman. In a dark way of course, Ruth is the symbol of this rebel act. Bagatavicius continues to explain, ‘’As implied by Thiéry, these two moments – her barging into the room, and her revelatory changing of outfits – are bookends to her ‘monstrous’ transformation from tainted, fraudulent nun to carnal, frenzied woman.’’(Bagatavicius, 2012.)
With strong, powerful camera angles, stills, and matte paintings. Black Narcissus, displays some really empathic camera usages, as Lanthier describes; ‘’Powell icily builds tension with unmerciful scenarios, but his camerawork is some of the most empathic in cinema; his perspective-oriented angles and fluid, slight dollies evince a loyal concern for what and how his characters are thinking and feeling.’’ (Lanthier,2012). One very powerful scene is when the sister is standing at the edge on the cliff looking over the edge, here she sees how high up in the heavens they are, closer to god but not further from temptation. (See Figure 4)
|Fig 4. Camera Angle and Matte Painting|
This reflects back to the idea of being a fantastical movie – it would be the idea of a Castle in the Clouds, the perfect setting for a woman to live and dream of – or desire.
In conclusion, past the suggested horror/thriller, fantasy and dark nature of this film, it’s basically a description of both a woman’s hidden struggles when it comes to dealing with temptation, sexual desire, isolation and the male embodiment.
Fig 1. Film Poster. (1947) http://content9.flixster.com/movie/34/10/47/3410471_det.jpg
Fig 2. Ruth becoming corrupted (1947) http://www.nisimazine.eu/local/cache-vignettes/L600xH439/EX_BLACK_NARCISSUS_1web-7f898.jpg
Fig 3. Sister Ruth after being rejected. (1947) http://offscreen.com/images/Narcissus_Ruth_CUEyes_hires.jpg
Fig. 4. Camera Angle and MAtte Painting (1947) http://zendavis.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/black-narcissus.jpg
Adam Bagatavicius, http://offscreen.com/view/holiness_in_black_narcissus, Off-Screen, 2012. (Accessed on 30/11/2014)
Joseph Jon Lanthier,http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/black-narcissus, Slant Magazine, 2012)