25 May 2011

What the Eyes See in Black Narcissus

Thanks to SIFF I was able to get a-twitter about all those Powell & Pressburger closeups that allowed me lengthy gazes into the eyes of each character in Black Narcissus.

It struck me as an even better film on the big screen, as the human portraits proved just as vivid as the matte painting vistas of the Himalayas (contained entirely in Buckinghamshire's Pinewood Studios).

Because these things never really interest me in films, I'll set aside whether the film is really a commentary on the failings of colonialism or the triumph of misogyny or consequences of big game hunting (Sabu's snow leopard coat!). Just as they do with art itself in The Red Shoes, Powell & Pressburger employ Black Narcissus as a metaphor for the overwhelming power of memory.

We see Deborah Kerr (before she was Sister Clodagh) fishing in an impossibly beautiful jewel of a lake in Ireland and hear Sister Phillipa (her hands covered with callouses) movingly explain how she has to get away from Mopu's vistas before she loses her sanity.

The problem for the nuns, stuck up in the high winds and crystal skies, is not a loss of faith. It's that the setting makes their clarity of vision, their remembrances of things past, too sharp to bear--deep focus stares search the horizon for things that will never appear again.

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