Black Narcissus Review

Figure 1. poster (1947)

Black Narcissus(1947) directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a film about Sexually  frustrated nuns, due to the time it was released its intentions were not obvious. Instead of telling the spectator verbally what the film is, Black Narcissus uses mise-en scenes to try and tell the socially inappropriate story.
Figure. 2. Himalayas establishing shot (1947)

The bulk of the film takes place in the Himalayas which in this context is exotic and sexualised, we assume it is sexualised because it becomes very difficult for the nuns to keep their vows. The nuns are told that priest who were there before them left because of the raw sexuality of the location, which overwhelmed them. An interesting point made is the film about "holiness against the libido (Ebert, 2010)". The nuns are fighting their carnal instincts and the environment does not help them. Eventually the surroundings become too overwhelming and some of the nuns' faith begins to weaver, this is shown through flashbacks, before joining the convent. The area makes the nuns forget why they join the convent in the first place. Some of them become driven by their need to feel loved, a good example of this is Sister Ruth. Ruth becomes mentally unstable because she believes that Mr. Dean is in love with her, when she discovers that he does not love her, she snaps and blames sister Clodagh. This ends in Ruth trying to kill Clodagh but fail and killing herself instead.

The film is a "fascinating psychological study of physical and spirituality that overwhelm missionary nuns" (Thomas, 1947). Psychologically speaking the nuns are faced with two options, to either expect their past and live in the present or revert to the person they were before joining the convent. The problem is that most, if not all nuns to some extent yearned for their past and because of this they could no longer stay in the Himalayas. Using Lacanian theory the nuns are going through an identity crisis, this is because of the mirror theory. They see their past selves as a reflection and because of this they are wondering who they are and who they are not and what they are doing in the convent.
Figure 3. Sister Ruth praying (1947) 

“The makeshift Convent near comprehensive service Chinese menu of womanly tropes” (Joseph, 2012) the mise en scene is designed to show the sensual images of the female form, in addition Mr Dean being a sexualised by his appearance allows the spectator to understand the sexual tension without directly being told. Colour is also used to show lust, the colour red on Ruth is used to shows that she is past the point of no return and is no longer pure.

Illustrations List

Figure. 1. Black Narcissus poster, (c.1947) [poster] At:,0,214,317_AL_.jpg (accessed on (30/11/2014) 

Figure. 2. Himalayas establishing shot . (1947). From: Black Narcissus , Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger [Film still]. At: (accessed on (30/11/2014) 

Figure. 3. Sister Ruth praying . (1947). From: Black Narcissus, Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger [Film still]. At: on (30/11/2014) 


Joseph, L. (2012) Black Narcissus Review. At (Accessed on 21/11/2014)

Thomas, P. (1947). Black Narcissus Review. At (Accessed on 21/11/2014)

Ebert, R. (2010). Black Narcissus Review. At: (Accessed on 21/11/2014)


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