Wednesday, 30 November 2016

“Black Narcissus” (1947)

Fig.1 "Black Narcissus" Poster
“Black Narcissus” is a 1947 technicolor, religious drama film. Made by two directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The script of this movie was based on a “Black Narcissus” novel made in 1939 by Rumer Godden. This film is a psychological drama about emotional changes, the rising tension of jealousy and lust within a group of nuns in an isolated Himalayan valley surrounded by vibrant Indian culture.(Fig. 2)
Fig.2 Himalayan valley

The film's plot is focused on a group of nuns who are forced to face their inner bad thoughts and temptations while being in this sensual land. Nuns are settled down on the Himalayan valley where there is abandoned “House of Women”. Walls in that building are covered in erotic images which isn’t appropriate for nuns to have. Their goal here is to establish a school and a dispensary. But as the film goes on, desire and jealousy take over nuns. For some of the nuns this atmosphere of isolation and lust, brought past memories, for others it gave sexual intension which burst at the end of the film.
Fig.3 Matte painting scene
Moreover, “Black Narcissus” film has marvellous matte paintings. As Keiser says in his review: 
"A film in which the plot and the scenery change roles, as the plot fades to the background and you are left to admire the beautiful scenery brought to the forefront" (Keiser, 2010) In one scene when Sister Clodagh comes to the edge of the valley to ring the bell, the camera angle is put to see from above letting the viewer experience this depth that Sister Clodagh sees.(Fig.3) In another matte paintings, the view is set to give a different mood to the scenery.(Fig.4)

There is much to be delighted by in the movie and apart from the visual tricks of the scenery, there's also an incredible use of the colours. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger gave a fantastical theatrical mix of opposite colours, such as red and blue. The blue colour schemes at the beginning of the film give a sense of religious peace, but as the film progresses and the passion start to overwhelm the nuns, the technicolor shifts to vibrant colours enhancing the film, also sharpening the mood for the viewer. As Roger Ebert explains in his review: “Technicolor is stunning. The introduction of the more vibrant hues dominates the film. The use of red is feverish and is as effective and foreboding.” (Ebert, 2010). The use of the colour red is a vital element to the storytelling, it is a clear indication to the sexual temptation and lust.(Fig.5)
Fig.5 Dramatic scene
Fig.6 Sister Ruth with lipstick

Near the end of the movie, when the Sister Ruth gives in into her desire. She dresses up in red dress and puts on a red lipstick in front of Sister Clodagh, showing to her that she won’t follow spiritual rules and won’t stay pure.(Fig.6) As Brussat explains this in his review:  ‘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.’ (Brussat, 2010).The red lipstick and dress is a visual symbol of the sexual desire that Sister Ruth feels. As she gets rejected by handsome Mr. Dean, her jealousy for Clodagh furiously rises. The viewer is put in her perspective and can see through her eyes. The screen rapidly floods with bright red colour.(Fig.7) At that moment, Ruth realizes the only way to release this anger is to kill her rival, Sister Clodagh.Throughout the film, Sister Ruth drastically changed from being a nun to fatal beast controlled by her despite.
Fig.7 Sister Ruth view

All in all, “Black Narcissus” has a tricky plot with hidden sensual meaning in it. Despite of the complex scenes in this film, it should be definitely watched if not for the plot, then obviously for the visual aspects which are overwhelming satisfying and breathtaking.


Brussat M. A. (2005) (Accessed on 29/112016) 

Ebert R. (2010) (Accessed on 29/112016)

Keiser A. (2010) (Accessed on 29/112016)

Illustration List:
1 Fig.
2 Fig. 
3 Fig. 
4 Fig.
5 Fig.
6 Fig.
7 Fig.


  1. Hi Karolina,

    Excellent discussion around the use of colour :)
    I feel your reader might have needed a bit more of an explanation as to what a matte painting is used for...don't assume that the person reading your review has any previous knowledge of the processes used.

    Just check the referencing guide again quickly... you should include the title of the article or piece that your quote has been taken from, which should be presented in italics (In many cases this turns out to just be the name of the film anyway) - see here

    1. Thank you! I will surely try to avoid these mistakes in my next review!