Fig 1. Alternate Black Narcissus Poster
Black narcissus is a film where through the clever use of set design, lighting and symbolism pushes a very strong message of temptation and giving into it. The film is set within and around the area of a palace that is situated in the right near the Himalayas. It is inhabited by indians, that are dressed up in bright colourings which is apposed to the plain colourings of the Anglican nuns. The Anglican nuns are expected to be able convert the Indian township by changing the palace into a school and also a hospital, the nun who fronts the sisters is Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) who happens to be the one of the youngest sister superiors that is currently working in the order. The other two main characters is Dean and Sister Ruth. Dean (David Farrar) is a local and has been for quite some time, but feels like there is no real way of updating and modernising the way of which the townsfolk live. It's his charms that "trigger a batsqueak of hysteria among the brides of Christ." Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is somewhat strange and as said "emotionally disturbed even before joining the expedition" (MIchael Mirasol 2010) It is when Dean shows kindness to Sister Ruth that she becomes worse than before with refraining from temptation (See Fig.2). This sparks jealously of Sister Clodagh because Dean cares for her more.
Fig 2. A close-up of Sister Ruth, looking sinister and jealous.
Aside from all this acting as temptation it's almost as everything else is putting the nuns on edge with constant hints and symbols based around sex and temptation. One example of this is that the palace used to be a brothel for women to gather in to present themselves for sexual activities with the opposite gender. This of course already shows that the nuns are in a place that once represented forbidden desires. As this quote backs up by saying "All of the time, the building stands ominously on the mountainside, its brothel-house ghosts subtly mocking the chastity of the nuns." (Adam Scovell 2014) There are many more pieces of symbolism and hints throughout the film that still have the same running theme. Examples are the flower that is used, this is because a flower is a symbol for reproduction, because flower "reveal" themselves for pollination. Another symbol used is the bell that is seen to be right between both Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth which can be seen as the man that separates both sisters. Finally the red lipstick that Sister Ruth applies to herself after she has gone crazy is a massive signifier this is because the use of red lipstick suggest a woman is out for a mate and to break the rules. It's certainly something that a nun would not do.
Fig 3. View from Bell at palace, with Matte painting underneath
The lighting and cinematography are also things that make this film great. The first great example is that this film isn't even filmed in the Himalayas, it was filmed here in Britain. The way it was done was using brilliant lighting and using great ways of capturing, for example some parts were matte painted to give the illusion of a vast landscape. There's one particular scene where Sister Ruth has finally tried to seduce Dean and during this moment she is lit up with red lighting, by doing this it clearly shows that she is angry/up to no good. (See Fig 4.)
Fig 4. Sister Ruth when talking to Dean, Red lighting used to set scene
Overall Black narcissus is a brilliant film that manages to constantly reveal underlying issues and symbols through amazing cinematography, lighting, production design and acting