Sunday, 3 January 2016

Film Review: Black Narcissus

Fig 1: Film Poster
Black Narcissus is a 1946 religious drama film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It tells the story of several nuns who are assigned to a convent in the Himalayas. The film follows the nuns and how the foreign air affects them and their faith. Sister Ruth succumbs to the foreign climate as much do the other nuns, but after leaving the order and being rejected by Deane, she is overcome in a murderous state and attempts to kill Sister Clodagh, but instead falls to her death. After her death the sisters leave to return back to England.

Colour is a very important aspect of the film in terms of symbolism and portraying the underlying tone of sexual passion and conflicting emotions of the plot. At the beginning of the film all of the colours on screen, which are few, spanning from greys to greens and blues, are rather washed out and pale. The symbolism for this lack of vibrancy and variety in the colours presented is to represent how undisrupted and focused the nuns’ are in their ideals and life, which throughout the film slowly descends into a very chaotic and conflicting lifestyle.

Fig 2: Sister Ruth drenched in Red lighting

The first glimpse of colour the audience is presented through the arrival of Kanchi, with her brighter coloured clothes. Her clothing colouring symbolised the change within the nuns, yet not a drastic change as Kanchi’s colours are still slightly pale and are cool colours, symbolising the relatively still calmness throughout the mountains. The mountains’ colours soon become strewn with red, symbolising how the crimson red passion and violence is becoming to resurface back into the mountainsides, Thomas M.  Pryor (1947) mentions the colour composition of red which could symbolise the harem women and alcoholic beverages such as wine which once held a major place in the mountains, specifically where the nuns are now staying, and these traits of the building are resurfacing back which affects all of the nun’s lives, in saying “Indeed, the whole chromatic scheme of the picture is marvelous to behold, and the russet hues of sunset streaking through the dilapidated Palace of Mopu, where once wine flowed and harem ladies cavorted, is a brilliant achievement in color composition.”.

The audience is introduced to very bright and vibrant colours nearer towards the end of the film through the bright pinks, yellows, greens and reds of large flowers. Not only do the colours of the flowers symbolise the disruption in the nuns’ lives, but the flowers themselves present the idea that the nuns’ are beginning to not obey the rules, such as planting beautiful flowers instead of vegetables, which included potatoes and onions, vegetables which are usually hidden beneath the earth and only sprouting dully coloured leaves. Flowers throughout the film also symbolise the sexual repression within the nuns’ and more so directed at Sister Ruth, as they themselves are the sexual organs of plants on show, throughout the film flowers  increase in numbers, and the majority seen just before Ruth leaves The Order are now crimson, passion and sexual repression depicted in the red petals. Michael Mirasol (2010) says that these colours now introduced into the second portion of the film create a foreboding and feverish  effect, as this increase of colours and vibrancy  are now leading up to the pinnacle point in the film where Ruth leaves the Order coated in red, in “The introduction of the more vibrant hues dominate the film. The use of red is feverish and is as effective and foreboding as Nicholas Roeg's ‘Don't Look Now.’”.

Fig 3: Red becoming more dominant in the surroundings

The colour red becomes a very important shade near the end of the film, throughout the colour red has been shown very little, only a paler shade along the eyelids of Sister Ruth, which becomes nearly scarlet towards the end. However the shade becomes more vibrant and more significant during the film, shown in flowers and finally as a colour associated just with Sister Ruth. After deciding to leave the order she adorns a burgundy tightly fitted dress, and while sitting opposite Clodagh who is reading a bible, Ruth puts on bright red lipstick, a symbol of female sexual arousal. Ruth’s entire appearance at this point in the film entirely symbolises sexual passion and obsession, becoming also dangerous and hazardous to the other nuns’ lives and ideals. Peter Bradshaw (2005) comments on Sister Ruth “who conceives an erotomaniacal obsession for Dean, and her final appearance in the film, gaunt and wraithlike, is still one of the scariest moments in British cinema history.” Ruth’s ghostly and haunted appearance is amplified by her gaunt expression, with pale white skin with red hanging beneath her eyes and on her lips, red again symbolising passion and danger, as after being rejected by Mr Dean and fainting in a flash of red, she awakens with the revelation on acting out revenge on Sister Ruth, the flash of red symbolising obsession and a passion to harm, Sister Ruth now is literally ‘seeing red’.

Fig 4: Sister Ruth applying red lipstick

1 comment:

  1. While I must frown a little in terms of seeing these reviews arrive so late in the day - after the summative assessment point and thereby inadmissible in terms of enriching your grade... I do want to say that I enjoy your writing, Danielle, and that your commitment to tying up all the loose ends is to be commended. In Term 2, look to your time and project management and guard against allowing these smaller, daily tasks to build up and get out of control. In the meantime, keep writing and thereby keep growing as a writer and critic.