With two directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus is quite a stunning movie that explores a lot of ideas well within one story as it chronicles it all through nuns. Movies from the 40s have been good, but I can’t remember quite watching anything that felt like this movie from that decade. This movie gets more serious, and doesn’t try to make the ending appeasing for viewers to watch.
A group of Anglican nuns are sent to a remote location in the Himalayas where they sat up a school and a hospital for the local people there at the inquiry of Dean, a local British agent. Clodgah, is the Sister Superior once sent there, and is hoping to forget a failed romance she had in Ireland once arriving. When she meets Mr. Dean though tension begins to rise as the two do find that they are attracted to one another, but Mr. Dean does not only attract Clodgah though, but also Sister Ruth, who is growing more unstable the longer she stays in the mountains.
Going into Black Narcissus I didn’t even think to read the synopsis, so upon beginning I was a little surprised to be met with serious subject matter involving the nuns. It just hasn’t been often I’ll encounter as a well done psychological movie from the time especially one that ends on a much more somber note than usual. For some reason the way the whole movie moves along is a lot more appreciated. The acting is also very strong as well which brings out all the emotions needed to make the movie work.
Deborah Kerr stars as Sister Clodgah, and she brings a nice balance of bringing out the characters temptations of her old lifestyle of wanting love and physical closeness, with her new life that you can also tell she is deeply committed to. She never loses sight of who she is even though she faces a lot of temptation. David Farrar is Mr. Dean, and he does a great job as well of being charming, but respectful of the boundaries set by the nuns despite his growing attraction. You can tell why someone might have a hard time resisting him in the movie, especially since the nuns essentially depend on him to get work done there.
Kathleen Byron also makes a very memorable appearance as Sister Ruth, who becomes very terrifying by the end of the movie. It almost comes as a surprise because her build up to insanity is so subtle. Also, the scenery in the film is just beautiful. The artwork really brings out the beauty they want to exhibit with the location, and how this might make it worse for the nuns to be there. The scene at the bell is the most memorable as it is depicted amazingly so.
Black Narcissus may be one of those movies you haven’t heard of, and definitely deserves a watch. The attention to detail brings out the atmosphere needed to give the nuns that feeling that they are losing who they have become, and what is contributing to them losing it. You also have strong acting from the leads, and the flashbacks help build their character as well as we get to know some of them without the nun outfits they have been wearing the whole time.
Rating 8 of 10.