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YMMV / Black Narcissus

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  • Adaptation Displacement: The film is far better-known than the book.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • Was Sister Ruth really just driven mad by the new environment? Or was it because she received barely any kindness or friendship from her fellow sisters? They are a bit dismissive of her, notably the incident where she does stop a patient from bleeding out. But she does display an Ambiguous Disorder that suggests the other nuns already know her limits and have given up trying.
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    • Some fans think that Clodagh may have actually slept with Conn during their 'romance' back in Ireland, and that she had expected him to marry her for this reason. When he opted to go to America, she was Defiled Forever and chose to become a nun. Another possibility is that they didn't sleep together but everyone in her village assumed they had - which had much of the same effect.
  • Critical Research Failure: Sister Clodagh is still called Clodagh in the flashbacks to her pre-convent life. Nuns always take a new name when first taking their vows. Of course, since the flashbacks are framed from her subjective impression, and is done in a very stylized manner (as noted by Scorsese and Powell on the Criterion commentary), it might be that Clodagh has retrofitted her post-vocational name back to her pre-vocation life.
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  • Designated Villain: Clodagh's former beau Conn was this to her. She had only assumed they would marry, as did the rest of the town. So when he took off for America, she had to become a nun to escape the humiliation.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Kanchi has no lines, only appears in a few scenes and disappears after the second act. But Jean Simmons is very memorable - the character's free spirited nature contrasting heavily with the chaste nuns. After Sister Ruth, Kanchi is probably the most memorable character in the story.
  • Fridge Horror: If Sister Clodagh became a nun after Conn jilted her, it's possible she did so to escape getting sent to the Magdalene Laundries - places where women deemed 'fallen' in Ireland were sent to work after the country became independent.
  • Funny Moments: The Young General speaks of what he intends to study - math with the mathematics sister, English with the English sister - and then says "physics with the physical sister". Even Sister Clodagh finds this Actually Pretty Funny.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Deborah Kerr playing an Irish nun who's Not Even Bothering with the Accent. About ten years later she plays another Irish nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and puts the accent on. And gets an Oscar nomination for it. And in that, it's the opposite case where the man has unrequited love for Deborah's nun.
    • Deborah Kerr's next visit to Asia would go slightly better. Additionally the convent was once the house for the General's harem. In The King & I, Kerr's character protests at having to live alongside a harem.
    • If you watch From Here to Eternity immediately after Black Narcissus - where Deborah Kerr has a memorably steamy kiss on the beach - it gives the impression that Sister Clodagh gave into her desires eventually.
  • Jerkass Woobie: You do have to feel a little sorry for Sister Ruth, as she's ignored and written off by many of the others. Her actress Kathleen Byron even said that she may have been better if the nuns had been kinder to her. Then she goes and tries to push Sister Clodagh off a cliff.
  • Moment of Awesome: Kathleen Byron's entire performance as Sister Ruth. It's one of the most intense and unsettling performances in cinema, and notable for the total lack of vanity on the part of the actress. Nowadays, we accept that a young, attractive actress might play a really unsympathetic and screwed-up character and it just goes to show how good she is, but back then, it was incredibly risky because they were expected to play nice, pretty girls all the time. Sister Ruth starts out sickly and whiny and turns into a homicidal Jerkass, and while the role got Kathleen Byron the attention of Hollywood, she never got a role as prominent as this ever again.
  • Narm: The Wham Shot of Sister Ruth in a red dress makes sense in context, but it is a bit silly that the movie treats it as something with the same seriousness as say a murder.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Sister Ruth once she's undergone her Evil Costume Switch. The faces she makes and the way she stalks Sister Clodagh in the early morning. She gives one of the most unsettling Kubrick Stares in film history.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny:
    • This film's use of striking colour was shocking at the time. Crowds went wild just for the shot of pink flowers appearing. Remember that this was a British film made just at the end of World War II and it's even more shocking.
    • As noted above, Kathleen Byron was one of the first actresses to really rebel against the standards of the era. Nowadays it's a given that an actress would forget about her own beauty and vanity for the sake of a role. But 1940s audiences expected actresses to play nice pretty girls. So her performance was shockingly daring at the time, even if fare such as Requiem for a Dream, Monster, or even Sunset Boulevard overshadows it.
  • Tear Jerker: A village mother brings a dying baby to the convent. Sister Honey can't do anything and, despite the warnings from Mr Dean, gives the mother a placebo for her peace of mind. The child dies during the night.
  • Unbuilt Trope: With regards to 'nunsploitation' films that would later take cues from this, Black Narcissus shows the nuns struggling to hold on to all their values as opposed to just chastity (that's reserved for Sisters Clodagh and Ruth). There's no actual sex in the film, and the nuns manage to resist the temptation by leaving the area. Except for Sister Ruth that is.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Jean Simmons is very obviously wearing Brownface to portray an Indian girl at a time when such things were a little more acceptable in film.
    • Sister Ruth deciding to nickname the young general Black Narcissus and then saying that all the locals "all look the same". While it could be Foreshadowing that she's going to go off the deep end, it's still uncomfortable.
  • Values Resonance:
    • While Sisters Clodagh and Ruth are quite condescending and rude towards the natives, the film shows them to be in the wrong, and overall the nuns themselves are portrayed as being foolish to try and Westernise the locals. Notably the general pays the locals to go to the convent every day and they're not happy with the arrangement.
    • The film scholar Ian Christie pointed out that earlier films like Lost Horzion cast the "east" as a mystical paradise where white adventurers find the "meaning of life". The point of Black Narcissus is that the people of the valley are more earthy, more realistic and grounded than the nuns who simply can't adjust or won't adjust to their surroundings and lifestyle and ultimately fail to impose their way of life. In other words, it deconstructs the colonial project albeit using means and methods (such as the potentially dubious casting and characterization) that are products of its time.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: See all the stunning sets and scenery? All done in Pinewood Studios using matte paintings, hanging miniatures, glass artwork and other visual tricks. The result is a striking film that looks as if it was at least partially shot on location. Some scenes were shot in West Sussex Gardens - in the home of an Indian retiree who was able to lend necessary plants and trees.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: The film was released only a few months before India got independence from Britain. It's been suggested that the final scene of the nuns leaving the convent is a good allegory for the British bidding farewell to their fading empire. One critic described it as "a respectful, rational retreat from something England never owned and never understood".

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