black narcissus

released: 1947

directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger


written by: David Botros


Before I describe the film, allow me to briefly address the title.

Black Narcissus is the name of a perfume, Narcisse Noir, by Caron (pronounced kha-roń – it’s French).

Its aroma is sweet and its name suggests seduction beneath midnight moonlight.

Which is incredibly relevant to the film –

A film about, of all things, nuns.

Nuns who seek to set up a convent in the far mountains of the Himalayas near Darjeeling.

It took me the first half hour to realize what the movie was really going to be about; by that I mean the dark allure promised in the title had yet to kick in.

Until then, I was perfectly satisfied with simply staring in awe at the colours on my television screen.

Powell and Pressburger have a way with treating the eye with these extravagant colour palettes that nearly overwhelm you to the point of horror –

And believe you me: there is horror in this picture.

I may be wrong here but I genuinely believe Stanley Kubrick took one look at Kathleen Byron’s face and told Shining star Jack Nicholson just, just do this (if you’ve seen either film you know what I’m talking about).

Same with A Clockwork Orange; there are many similarities in the insane asylum levels of cleanliness that just make you feel dirty inside.

The rhythm in the editing and camera positions are operaesque.

The sounds of far-off drums and a constant windy breeze put me on edge.

I shan’t say much about the story but the style lends itself greatly to the characters’ dilemmas.

If there is one complaint I have it is that Mr Dean, a man who gives new meaning to “he’s an absolute hunk,” comes across as a little corny and out of place.

At least when compared to Sister Ruth and the other fabulous performances onscreen.


It’s a dark musical without (overwhelming) darkness or (lyrical) music.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros