Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of Nuns moves to the Himalayas to start a school and hospital. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the Nun's find themselves in a strange, intoxicating atmosphere. They take residence in a palace which used to be a harem, and the exotic locale sends them back into the past, their memories and desires haunting them, and eventually driving them mad.

The film was unusual upon release, both for its themes and it's stunning use of cinematography and colour. Audiences were said to have gasped at the sight of the tropical flowers. Much of the film was shot in the studio, and the backdrops of the mountains were paintings. This adds a strangely beautiful, ethereal quality to the film.
Jean Simmons plays a young Indian girl who seduces the General's son, and David Farrar play Dean who arouses the attentions of both Clodagh and Sister Ruth.



For me one of the strangest and interesting parts of the film was the physical similarities between Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth). It  was if they were doubles of each other, Sister Clodagh the 'good', and Sister Ruth the 'bad'. They reflect two sides of the one person, Ruth reflects the 'bad' that is raging within Clodagh but which she suppresses. Trying to ignore her desires, her attraction to Dean and to the heady atmosphere of the mountains.  Ruth is driven mad by her attraction unable to deal with the darkness. When she dies it is as if Clodagh is finally free. Ruth's death gives her a reason to leave the mountain. Is Ruth perhaps the final death of Clodagh's desires and memories?


The second part of the film feels like a horror film, the hysteria, shadows, and Ruth's final entrance are chilling but mesmerising. Double exposure is used constantly, bridging the gap between past, present and future, plus the similarities between characters. The nuns are always dressed in white and it is starkly contrasted by the colourful clothes worn by the General, his son and Kanchi (Jean Simmons), the brilliant flowers planted by Sister Phillipa, and the red lipstick worn by Ruth in the final scenes. Colours reflect a life very different from the one lived by the nuns, one that is sensual, one that is relegated to the past. The ever present reminders of the palaces' previous life are constant and when the nuns are searching for Ruth they resemble ghostly visions as if they too have become a part of the past.
                                        Kathleen Byron (top) and Deborah Kerr (bottom)


































4/5

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