0206: Black Narcissus (1946)

Black Narcissus.jpg

Rating: 5.5/10

This story is a melodramatic tale of a young nun placed in charge of a church in the Himalayan Mountains. And she has to learn that being a nun in the Himalayas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m both surprised and disappointed to discover that none of this was shot in the Himalayas, or even in Asia. Yup, all of this was shot in a London studio and the surrounding area. Making the art department the real heroes in this film as it all looks as if it’s filmed on location.

This movie loses points because it’s title comes from an Indian dude showing up at the monastery to be taught there, she tries to turn him away but he stays around anway. She smells a fragrance, he explains it is the smell of Black Narcissus. She says to the rest of the nuns later that that’s “what she shall call him” (the Indian dude), another nun comments that the dude isn’t black. Then she replies, “they all look the same to me anyway.” Oddly racist right? And then that Indian dude RARELY SHOWS UP IN THE MOVIE AGAIN! What?! So the title of this movie is an oddly racist comment about a person whose barely even a side character.

Also, there’s a side story in this movie where there’s a woman is dropped off at the church because she can’t find a husband and then meets the Indian dude and they seem to hit it off and then… that’s it. It was wholly unnecessary. Anyway, this movie was titled wrong. It had nothing to do with the Indian guy as the name should have implied and instead should have been called “Nuns with Problems” or something like that.

As far as melodramas go, I’m really not a fan. I think there’s something about movies that take themselves too seriously like this one that makes it kind of funny in the wrong way. I’m laughing because people just don’t act like that outside of soap operas. This movie feels like a soap opera.

The reason it’s on this list is because it opened in America to controversy caused by the incredibly stiff ratings board at the time AND the Catholic church. They were forced to remove many scenes involving nuns falling in love or ever having husbands in the past (even though I’m sure things like that happened all the time). So, it opened to controversy, so therefore you have to watch it before you die? What? This isn’t a good movie, it doesn’t really stand out in any way (outside of the beautiful scenery), is a bit too over-dramatic, and did I mention it’s not very good? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t watch it, or even that certain people won’t enjoy it. Just that I don’t think it should be on a list that EVERYONE should watch. It doesn’t deserve it and, so far, many of the movies I’ve seen really don’t belong on a list like this.

I want to talk about this list for a bit more: Okay, I discovered this list because I wanted to put more movies I haven’t seen on my Netflix DVD queue. I started this blog because I thought, “well, if I’m watching them anyway…” Glancing through the list, I saw many of these movies are historically significant, maybe that’s why their on there? Looking at more recent films (which there are a great deal more of) I thought okay, it’s just because their “good” movies? But going through them in the way I’ve been, I see that’s it’s just a mix of things throughout the years and has no consistent theme. Their just movies, most of which I can’t recommend to watch, whether or not it’s “before you die.” These aren’t necessary viewings, though some I would warrant putting on a list like this, but I think it’s just a case of a “stopped clock being right twice a day” more than anything else. These aren’t the movies that need to be watched. I think whoever put this list together more or less just thought of the movies they liked, realized they only had 13 movies and then started doing Google searches of movies that were “historical” then “controversial” then “made money at the time” and just because people payed money to see something at one point doesn’t mean it stands up to the test of time. It doesn’t mean it was good, or even important. It just means that a lot of people watched it. I mean, is Transformers a worthy movie? No, but it did make a buttload of money (it’s not on this list, thankfully), just as an example of something that shouldn’t be on a list like this. I also discovered that it’s “edited by Steven Schneider” as every IMdb trivia page lets me know for each of the movies I’ve seen so far. Who, aside from “editing” this list, produces horror movies including Paranormal Activity, one of the shittiest things I’ve ever seen. Guess what’s on this list though! You see where I’m coming from here?

So, it makes me think though, what would be worthy of a list like this? Definitely not this movie, or Birth of a Nation, or Forbidden Planet, or Peter Ibetsen or however you spell it. SOME of these are historically significant, but are they worth watching? I’m not against having bad movies on the list, some of them are important in some way and can teach you what not to do when making a film. Some of them are enjoyable just for being so bad, like the Room or Plan 9 from Outer Space. Those aren’t on the list though, but I would definitely put them on my own list. I think they are enjoyable enough and also teach us that something doesn’t have to be good to be popular, though it might fail in every aspect of moviemaking, they are still worth watching before you die.

So, being this is a list for everyone, not just film historians or fans of one particular genre, I think the list needs a rebuff. I think I’m going to start doing “Replacement” articles for movies that should be on this list but aren’t. They need to be movies that teach us something, or show us something we haven’t seen before, or are just that darn good. Movies like this one that fail in the light of movies throughout the ages aren’t deserving of being watched as this list seems to think. People who would like this movie, for example, are ones who like melodramatic stories about the morals of the church versus the morals of an individual, or just soap opera fans. But that’s only a select few people. I’m sure this movie was considered good for its time, but in the light of cinema since then, it ends up lacking and isn’t anything I haven’t seen in a Lifetime original movie. I’m not saying that necessarily makes it bad, and this movie was okay but nothing special, I’m just saying this movie, and many of these movies, aren’t for anyone in particular and definitely aren’t for everyone. If we’re just going through this to see the history of film, I’m sure there’s better lists than that for this. This list though, is meant to be REQUIRED viewings in any person’s lifetime. In that, I think it fails. It has some movies you should watch, but not every movie that deserve it, and some of the ones they do have are just questionable.

Anyway, I’m not going to stop going through this list or doing reviews, and I’m done ranting about it. I am going to start another set of articles of movies you should actually watch before you die which don’t show up on this list. That’s right, I’m making my own list… but with blackjack… and hookers!

10 thoughts on “0206: Black Narcissus (1946)

      1. Black Narcissus is a famous perfume. No one calls the young General Black Narcissus except Sister Ruth who never again mentions it. In broader terms, Narcissus was a mythical figure who was captivated by looking at his own reflection in a pool of water. The nuns living in isolation are also captivated by their own reflection. You might notice how many times someone looks in a mirror during the film. The nuns are confronted with their own earthly emotions rather than spiritual concerns. One plants flowers instead of the vegetables necessary for the nuns to live, another leaves the order to pursue a delusional romantic interest, one tries to comfort a dying child when she has been told that doing so could lead to the destruction of the hospital. The nuns give into their earthly emotions. They lose the spirituality that drives their order.

        There is also an anti-colonialism view throughout. The sisters see themselves as an uplifting influence but ultimately have no impact on the local people who are happy to see them leave. No nun has been married and the supposed romance of Sister Ruth is a delusion. They are caught in a decaying pleasure palace on the edge of nowhere with nothing to do but look inward. Did you notice that the screen sometimes goes black? This happens when the nuns are torn from dreams or delusions. At one point when Sister Ruth goes completely insane the screen melts into red and then black.

        It surprises me that this film is such a problem for some people. The slow and steady deterioration of the nuns seems pretty well laid out. To suggest that the film was about the character played by Sabu seems pretty hard to support. I really think you missed a lot of the film.

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      2. Ah, I see, well, every movie is somebody’s favorite, just as every movie is somebody’s least favorite. I understand you liking this movie, it’s fine, but you should also understand that I just don’t. First, it meanders and wastes time when it doesn’t need to. It’s overly melodramatic, something I’m not fond of in any movie. Much if it’s drama feels contrived in a the writer wrote it like that so people would have an emotional response kind of way rather than let things play out naturally or even feel natural. I get it, some of the things in the film are metaphorical, or maybe they aren’t, that’s something great about art, it’s all up for interpretation. I don’t have a problem with the movie, for the most part, I don’t even think about it. But I don’t consider it a great work of art by any means either, or even as a film better than mediocre at best. I see what the filmmakers were trying to do, but I think, for the most part, they failed.

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  1. Incidentally, here is an interesting review of the perfume from the blog Yesterday’s Perfume:
    Top notes: Narcissus, orange blossom
    Heart notes: Rose, jasmine
    Base notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, civet, musk
    I was initially so repulsed by Narcisse Noir months ago when I first smelled it that I almost didn’t want to open the vial again, but I’ve since given it a try again and as overwhelmingly sweet as the opening is — like downing syrup in one gulp — the perfume really does seduce you. The stunning sweetness is immediately accompanied by the darker, muskier and sexier base.

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  2. My reference to the perfume blog was not meant to upset you. I thought it was interesting that the blogger’s response to the aroma reminded me of the underlying qualities of the film. I apologize for disturbing you and will make it a point not to bother you again.

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    1. I’m sorry. You caught me during a bad month when I’m on this medication that’s very painful and makes me grumpy. I’ve gotten enough responses from my reviews that are mostly just people yelling at me for “doing it wrong.” I read your perfume comment before I read your other comment and just thought you were trying to tell me that I wasn’t enjoying the film correctly because I didn’t know about the perfume or something. Truthfully, my first 50 reviews (at least) are amateurish and I wasn’t doing any research because I thought that since these movies are meant to last the test of time one shouldn’t have to watch them with any context at all. Of course that’s wrong, also, movies, when they’re done well, are meant to be watched multiple times so you can pick up on stuff you would have missed the first time through, I feel I do a lot of movies a disservice reviewing them after only a single viewing. When I’m up to it I’ll give this film another view. I’m sorry again for being salty earlier.

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