How much do your surroundings affect you? Do they bring out your latent desires, amplify them, or inspire them? In Black Narcissus (Powell, Pressburger, 1947), each character seems to be escaping from a difficult past that they are ultimately unable to outrun. Their own hearts and souls are undiscovered countries. Their attempts to impose their own version of “civilization” upon the land and its people are at best futile and at worst deeply cruel. They are occupiers in a land that does not want them, attempting to provide a structure that is not needed, while unable to address their own motives or understand their own minds. It’s an untenable position. It might drive some to madness.
With lush color and startling performances, The Archers created a provocative fever dream exploring colonialism, repression, and desire. No one else was making films like this. More than seventy years later, the film still has the power to enthrall. It is visually stunning and emotionally devastating. When at last the remaining nuns make a retreat from a land they never understood or tried to understand, we can examine the parallels to Indian independence from British colonial rule that came shortly after the film’s premiere. We wonder whether England felt their own retreat as an embarrassing defeat or a slap in the face. Like the nuns, were they incapable of reflection and awareness?
What you’ll find in this episode: a discussion of David Farrar’s shorts, iconic matte paintings, which nun was our favorite, and trying to get to the bottom of Sister Ruth’s pathology.
Links and Recommendations:
Check out Black Narcissus on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The Thief of Bagdad.
The “manifesto” of The Archers.
An interview with Rumer Godden.