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Criterion Collection: Black Narcissus [Blu-ray]  [US Import]
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In spite of their patriotism and love of Britain, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger remain the most "un-British" of movie makers. Much of this has to do with the almost hyper-real, super-intensity of their films, in terms of their editing, the soundtracks and their peculiar colour schemes. This is especially the case with Black Narcissus. A group of Catholic British nuns invited by an Indian ruler to open a hospital in the Himalayas. However, the strain of exposure to the elements, to the native culture and to the broody, handsome presence of British agent David Ferrar, tell on the sisters. It's all Deborah Kerr can do to hold on to her vows, as she she is tormented by memories of a lost love in Ireland. Kathleen Byron's more hysterical nun is made of less stern stuff and succumbs, leaving the order and going mad with lust for Ferrar. The final confrontation between the two, maroon Byron versus white Kerr atop a belltower, is reminiscent of Eisenstein and also prefigures the climax to Hitchcock's Vertigo. The (award-winning) cinematography is the true star of this film. --David Stubbs --This text refers to an alternate Blu-ray edition.
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Powell & Pressburger have made every image a photograph worth printing - they won an oscar for best Cinematography. The view from the convent is as stunning for us viewers as it for Sister Clodagh (et al). The crises aren't stock ones - they vary from madness (chillingly portrayed) to the gardening nun planting flowers, instead of vegetables.
My favourite scene would be the flashbacks of Sister Clodagh, reliving her life with her fiancé prior to the order. One scene has her calling out his name as she leaves the house and stepping into absolute blackness...
Come back, Powell & Pressburger! We need you
(1947, UK, 96 min, colour, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 4:3, Audio: Mono)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947) is for me the greatest British film ever made. It is one of six stunning features that taken together demarcate the years 1943-1948 as the only period of cinema history where we can say with any confidence that Britain was No.1 in the world and it’s all down to two men and their fantastic team. There are those who swear by The Red Shoes (1948) and there are others who hail The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). A Canterbury Tale (1944) and I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) are also extraordinary, but my choice remains Black Narcissus. I was knocked sideways by it as a kid and even after viewing it to death at regular intervals over the years well into middle age I remain in thrall to it to the point where objective criticism becomes impossible. To ask why I love this film is to ask why I love cinema itself.
The film is famed mainly for the way it looks and the way it sounds. Its visual magnificence has never been in doubt and has been much celebrated down the years. Jack Cardiff’s truly sumptuous Technicolor cinematography is legendary as are Alfred Junge’s stupendous production designs. Both deservedly won Oscars for their visualization of Rumer Godden’s novel about a group of Anglican nuns setting up a convent on a Himalayan peak in remote northern India. Powell refused to travel to India as Jean Renoir later did for his Godden adaptation The River (1951), and insisted his India be a sub-continent of the mind created entirely in the studio. The film was mostly shot at Pinewood with a few exterior scenes taken at the appropriately Indian-looking Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex. With the cunning use of giant landscape paintings of mountains (by W. Percy Day) created on glass and striking optical effects worked out by Junge like the superb belfry perched on the edge of a huge cliff plunging vertiginously several hundred meters down (actually less than a meter!) Powell/Pressburger and their team conjured up a startling exotic as well as erotic psycho-landscape of the senses the likes of which had never been seen in the cinema before. Also ground-breaking was the fabulous use of Brian Easdale’s magnificent score especially in the last 15 minutes where the film is through-composed, the music played and recorded seamlessly with the images as they played out. This was the start of an idea that led through the astonishing ballet in The Red Shoes to the world’s first totally through-composed musical film, The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).
What people generally have not appreciated about the film is the extraordinary screenplay and the intellectual ideas that bound through it with a vividness one would have thought self-evident. Alas, the stuffy British critical establishment had always poo-pooed overt melodrama as a purveyor of intellectual ideas and the film was met with condescension and a refusal to take it seriously. Raymond Durgnat usually recognized Powell/Pressburger’s importance, but he wrote this about Black Narcissus: “Alas, not even Jack Cardiff’s glittering colour photography of Jean Simmons’ tawny-and-green eyes can redeem Rumer Godden’s story from its fatal defect…A clumsy chopping to-and-fro between a basically naïve idea of English life, a tourist’s idea of the exotic and screaming-and-strangling melodrama.” Well, I beg to differ, but this is a film of spectacular ideas which run in tandem with the audio-visual pyrotechnics on a level of sophistication unique in the history of British cinema.
Powell/Pressburger devotees will know that a fantasy/reality dichotomy dominates the finest of their work. Their last film A Matter of Life and Death had been an encyclopedia on the subject with a myriad of binary combinations spinning off deliciously in various different directions. Black Narcissus isn’t quite as metaphysical as its predecessor, but the narrative turns on a series of binary opposite combinations all the same. These include Britain/India, Western culture/Asian culture, Christianity/Hinduism-Buddhism, faith/non-faith, man/woman, past/present and dreams/reality. Locations are very visible binary opposite combinations in themselves starting with the convent established in a harem perched on a windy, rocky and exposed mountain peak playing against the village situated in the verdant lush sheltered jungle of the valley floor. Most important for this film is Siegmund Freud’s notion of the human psyche split between the ego and the id, a binary opposite closely informing virtually all the binary combinations I have mentioned.
Ian Christie has suggested Black Narcissus can be interpreted as “A spiritual preparation for the British withdrawal from India” and this certainly is one layer of the film’s meaning. Britain actually did leave India the following year after 200 years of colonial rule and there’s no doubt that Powell/Pressburger stress the idea that the Raj was a palimpsest layered over old Indian culture which could not last forever. Both in reality and in the film there is a conflict between two cultures. For the Indians everything is God-given and not easily changed. There is a natural stoicism and immunity from the ideas of other cultures. In the film the Old General (Esmond Knight) is a conflicted character. We see he wants to curry favor with the Raj by adopting Western dress and inviting a group of nuns to establish a convent on the grounds of his old pleasure palace, but we are told he battles with himself over whether to westernize or to become like his uncle, the Holy Man who sits on the mountain immune to all new change. His agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar) takes one look at the newly arrived sisters and says, “I give you till the rains break.” His words come true in the manner of a prophecy and the sisters leave as quickly as they came, the mission a complete failure. The film demonstrates it is not possible to change what has been ingrained over centuries. You cannot make a prince forget his royal right to take a girl, you cannot convert a harem into a convent, and you cannot remove the Holy Man from convent grounds where he commands the instinctual respect of all the surrounding natives in a manner which transcends matters of politics. The point is you can subjugate peoples and subvert political systems, but you cannot change what is unseen. As one of the nuns points out, Mr. Dean and the Holy Man represent two alternatives for survival in India – “[you can] either ignore it or give yourself up to it.” One cannot live within narrow strict bounds of discipline which have been imposed from an alien culture and the convent (like the Raj) is doomed to failure.
But I don’t believe Powell/Pressburger were interested so much in Britain and India as concrete realities, and the British withdrawal from India is not the main text of the film. If it were they would definitely have paid greater attention to authenticity than they do. Their refusal to go to India and use real locations, their use of clearly artificial paintings of the Himalayas, the inauthentic harem, the fake markings on the Holy Man’s forehead, and most obviously the casting of westerners in Indian roles (May Hallat’s shrieking Angu Ayah and Jean Simmons’ mute beggar maid Kanchi barely pretend to be Indian) all indicate Powell/Pressburger’s main text lies elsewhere. The main thing we take from the conflict between Occident and Orient is that the establishment of the convent (the Raj) is a palimpsest with the original eastern culture repressed in favor of the western. As the order of the nuns breaks down, the Orient reasserts itself and we have in Freudian language the return of the repressed.
Powell/Pressburger’s India is a mindscape and the central text is an exploration of the female mind under the grip of masculine domination in which Freudian ideas assume central dominance. The nuns we see collectively represent the various parts of a woman necessary to survive in the external world of men. In the opening Calcutta section of the film Mother Dorothea (Nancy Roberts) points out the various nuns Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is to take with her to the palace of Mopu to establish a convent. Sister Philippa (Flora Robson) is denoted as the provider of food, Sister Briony (Judith Furse) is the provider of physical strength and Sister Honey (Jenny Laird) is the provider of good humour and popularity. Together these three make up the functional ‘body’ of the woman. The other three nuns make up the woman’s ‘mind.’ Clodagh is the leader and so is the ego, Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is the neurotic/threatening psychotic id and Dorothea remaining in Calcutta is the superego. Freud said in The Ego and the Id: “The mental apparatus is composed of an id which is the repository of the instinctual impulses, of an ego which is the most superficial portion of the id and one which has been modified by the influence of the external world, and of a superego which develops out of the id, dominates the ego, and represents the inhibitions of instinct that are characteristic of man.” In a healthy psyche, these three parts are in harmony with one another, the ego able to curb the irrational contradictory impulses of the id and measure up to what the superego expects. When placed in an environment in which the psyche is unsettled and perhaps doesn’t belong (Mopu), the ego (Clodagh) struggles to manage the id (Ruth) which is released against the superego’s (Dorothea’s) strict demands for perfection. Freud says, “Goaded on by the id, hemmed in by the super-ego, and rebuffed by reality, the ego struggles to cope with its economic task of reducing the forces and influences which work in it and upon it to some kind of harmony; and we may understand how it is that we so often cannot repress the cry ‘life is not easy’”.
As soon as the nuns arrive in Mopu they begin to feel ill at ease and their mental fatigue which threatens neurosis takes the shape of repressed memories returning to torture them. We only learn about Clodagh’s past and it is clear that the men in the film take the shape of repressed memories of her lover Con (Shaun Noble) shown in four dream-flashbacks and his return in the body of the two men in the narrative, the Young General (Sabu) and Mr. Dean. Wedded to the reality principle the ego desperately tries to repress this ‘return of the repressed,’ and outwardly denies her feelings, but the id (Ruth) wedded to the pleasure principle knows the truth and exploits it.
Crucially, the weakness of the ego is shown to be narcissism. Narcissism is normally a perfectly healthy defense mechanism which the ego must exercise to balance the id and the superego, but an excess of narcissism brought on by unfamiliar surroundings is fatal and Powell/Pressburger relate Sister Clodagh’s fatal character flaw through the use of two myths. First is the Greek myth written down later by Ovid in his Metamorphoses concerning Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus rejected a mountain nymph called Echo who had fallen in love with him. In revenge Nemesis (the Goddess of revenge) led him to a pool where he fell in love with his own reflection while Echo wandered the woods grief-stricken. Second is the legend of The King and the Beggar Maid about an African King called Cophetua who was struck by love at first sight for a beggar maid in the street and married her, living happily ever-after. Graham Greene recognized the psychological import of the story. In his novel The End of the Affair he says, “I don’t know whether psychologists have yet named the Cophetua complex, but I have always found it hard to feel sexual desire without some sense of superiority, mental or physical.” In the film Mr. Dean warns Clodagh about letting the Young General into the convent because of what he fears might be Kanchi’s reaction: “I expect Kanchi knows the story of the prince and the beggar maid.” In class the Young General whips out his black handkerchief soaked with a perfume called ‘Black Narcissus’ bought in a London Army and Navy Store. The smell causes Ruth to christen the prince ‘Black Narcissus.’ Later he does indeed reenact the myth by running off with Kanchi at exactly the same time Ruth rushes off to visit Mr. Dean. Then in the film’s penultimate scene the Young General returns to apologize to Clodagh quoting what Mr. Dean has advised him to say, that his story was that of ‘The Prince and the Beggar Maid.’ Clearly, Powell/Pressburger bracket Cophetua and Narcissus together to highlight Sister Clodagh’s narcissism which comes through a yearning for recognition, for self-importance which was the province of Echo in the Greek myth. Cophetua and Narcissus are paralleled with the Young General who reminds Clodagh of Con in the way “the whole world comes thrusting behind him.” The Young General re-enacts with Kanchi in the present what Clodagh wanted to do with Con in the past and what she now wants to do in the present with Mr. Dean. The ego represses the desire but the id acts on it.
With the Freudian framework and the mythic background in mind I will now go through the film more closely. The opening Calcutta section featuring the extended meeting between Clodagh and Dorothea is best understood in relation to the closing scene which shows the two characters together again. Powell/Pressburger cut it because the scene in the rain with the nuns going off and Mr. Dean looking after them was so successful. It’s a wonderful conclusion, but it takes away the stress on Clodagh having learned a lesson through her ordeal and having conquered her narcissism. In the opening scene Clodagh is visibly proud to be the youngest Sister Superior in the order. Dorothea suggests giving Ruth responsibility with the words, “She badly wants importance.” Clodagh demurs, “Do you think it a good thing to let her feel important?” to which Dorothea says cuttingly, “Spare her some of your own importance if you can.” She thinks Clodagh is not ready, too young and too consumed with herself. Her advice on managing the nuns is, “Work them hard and remember the superior of all is the servant of all.” Dorothea cuts a very stern figure which matches Freud’s idea of the superego: “The superego…is an agency that observes, judges, and punishes the behaviour of the ego. One form of its manifestation is the utterances of conscience, forbidding actions in advance and reproaching the ego for them after the event…[The superego is also] the vehicle of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself, which it emulates and whose demand for ever greater perfection it is always striving to fulfill.” In the cut final scene entitled ‘Victory’ Clodagh breaks down in tears in front of Dorothea with no trace of superiority let alone narcissism visible. Dorothea’s face becomes kind for the first time as she says, “It is the first time I’m pleased with you my child. I seem to find a new Clodagh, one whom I had long prayed to meet.” The ego has at last measured up to the superego ideal after having spent the whole of the preceding narrative failing to do so.
Clodagh’s meeting with Dorothea is interrupted by the introduction of the Palace of Mopu via Mr. Dean’s letter first voice-overed and then segueing into our first meeting with the Old General. Great stress is laid on the masculine sexuality of the place and the inappropriateness of nuns living there. One mountain is named after a naked Goddess, the palace is an ex-harem and we see erotic paintings all over the walls. The place is evoked as if the harem is still in operation with girls’ voices calling out for Ayah, the eternal caretaker. We first see the Old General as a reflection in a giant mirror shaped like an enormous erect penis shooting straight up from a jungle of pubic hair. One is immediately reminded of the mountain shooting straight out of the jungle in the valley below. Attired in phallic red coat and turban with a white feather poking straight up like sperm shooting into the air, the General is a phallus no more, no less. Significantly, he owns the whole surrounding area imbuing everything with masculine sexuality from the start. He is never photographed without the phallic mirror in shot and when asked what the nuns will eat of course his answer is “sausages.” The sequence finishes with Dean observing a picture of the harem in action and his hopeful observation to Ayah, “The brothers only stayed a short time, perhaps the sisters won’t stay long, either.”
Of great interest is the way Powell/Pressburger parallel Clodagh and Ruth throughout the film. This starts by giving both movie star entrances. We first see Clodagh in a classroom with her back to the camera. She walks away and only when she stands before Dorothea do we see her face. At the end of the interview with Clodagh saying “I understand,” we cut to a huge door which is opened by a nun again with her back to the camera. She walks over to the edge of the precipice and rings the bell. We assume this is Clodagh again, but it isn’t. It is Ruth. Ruth seems to emerge out of Clodagh as if fulfilling her pride in being given control of the convent. We notice the ecstatic sexual pleasure on Ruth’s face as she pulls the chain and looks down into the valley. This illustrates the death-drive of the id which plays against the libido of the ego, Clodagh always looking down with fear never pleasure. On repeated viewing it is obvious that Ruth and Clodagh are opposites existing within the same body, the id and the ego. The first scene of the nuns together emphasizes their positive feelings, everyone that is except for Ruth who bursts in with a series of neurotic complaints. Clodagh cuts her down harshly (so much for heeding her superego’s advice!) and her desire for superiority is extended into the first meeting with Mr. Dean where it’s his turn to cut her down with an exhibition of boorish masculinity. Reflected in the penis-shaped mirror, bare-legged and smoking a phallic pipe he’s a phallus just as much as the Old General and sneers, “You MUST be the Sister Superior.” Along with a lot of snide sexual innuendo he says, “You’d like the General Sister. He also is a superior being.” Clodagh is the Sister Superior, but she’s called ‘the superior sister’ more often throughout the film. Mr. Dean delivers his verdict that the nuns won’t last beyond the rains and as an omen that very night the drums stop and we are given a close-up of the Holy Man signifying that the Young General has died. This is important as the arrival of the new Young General (Sabu) signals the eventual end of the convent.
The next time we see Mr. Dean he’s in a shocking scarlet red shirt mending a pipe in the nuns’ toilet to the shock of all. In the meeting with Clodagh we sense her warming to him over some comic business with Briony’s gritty coffee (we later see him making coffee perfectly relaxed down in the valley). He exposes her superiority again in her needless demand for discipline. The scene is important because Ruth bursts in covered in blood (to match Mr. Dean’s shirt) and proud at having dealt with a serious case in the hospital by herself. Where she should encourage Ruth and praise her (giving her importance as her superego suggests) Clodagh cuts her down again and sends her to her room. Mr. Dean makes a point of thanking her (it’s the first time we see his charm) and Ruth’s face glows with pleasure. The id has becomes attracted, conversely also telling us that Clodagh is attracted as well. This links immediately to the scene after Mr. Dean erects a statue of Christ in the chapel when both Ruth and Clodagh come down early to meet the object of their attraction. Clearly ego and id are wrestling with each other. Clodagh again asserts her superiority by asking Ruth to fetch Briony while she mulls over what to do with Mr. Dean’s ‘present,’ the mute beggar maid Kanchi. The smirking phallus (now dressed in blue to match the colour of the walls in the room with the phallic mirrors) insults her faith (“Isn’t it your business to save souls?”) and drops more lewd innuendo (“Sure there’s no question you’re dying to ask me?”) and still Clodagh looks after him with a yearning expression. They walk together as Ruth observes from her classroom and a boy has kids repeat after him the names of various phallic weapons drawn on the board moving from ‘bayonet’ through ‘cannon’, ‘dagger’, ‘pistol’ and finally as he notices Ruth completely lost in her observation, ‘gun.’ This can be interpreted two ways, that Ruth is jealous of Clodagh and wants to kill her so she can have Mr. Dean to herself, and that Ruth (the id) expresses Clodagh’s (the ego’s) desire to be shot into (to be sexually violated) by Mr. Dean.
One glory of this film is the way four dreams are deliciously bedded within the narrative to give us Clodagh’s back story, why she joined the order and what she is repressing. For Freud mental problems arise out of repression and dreams tell us both what is being repressed and fulfill our primordial desires in the form of fantasy. What we see in Clodagh’s dreams is simultaneously her repressed past and what she now yearns for most of all. The first two dreams occur as she is praying in chapel. Back in Ireland she is revealed as a red-head fishing in a lake with her boyfriend Con. He is portrayed as uninterested and selfish as he talks about his uncle in America who he wants to join. Her discovery of the fact that he was going to leave without her forced her to flee the shame felt living in a small community. We are struck by Clodagh’s red hair (her sexual desire for Con) and the beautiful lakeside with the sun reflected off the water-surface. Clearly this is Echo on the verge of being rejected by Narcissus. The dream is framed by two beautiful dissolves, the last one matching exactly Clodagh’s young happy face with her later visage behind her habit. Barking dogs cue up the second dream as Clodagh remembers a fox hunt and riding her horse over the countryside with Con. Freud used the rider on the horse as a metaphor for the ego riding the id and we have two possible readings here as the distant choir on the soundtrack merges with her ecstatic orgasmic expression – that she is in control and on equal footing with Con both moving in the same direction together, and that she is the fox escaping, but actually wanting to be ripped into, to be violated by Con. Significantly, the dream finishes with Con on his horse, but in the shape of the Young General just arrived on his little pony! Clearly Clodagh associates him with Con from the moment she meets him. The third dream starts with Ruth telling the nuns about the Young General wearing emeralds and using his Black Narcissus-soaked handkerchief, his colorful coat equated with a foot-stool cover. We are taken back to Clodagh’s family, her mother presenting emeralds on a foot-stool for her saying she can have them when she marries. The jewelry motif is continued in the last dream which takes place in the chapel again but on Xmas Eve in the presence of a drunk Mr. Dean and the Young General. The carol singing leads her back to carol singing in Ireland and Con giving her an emerald brooch, her expression rapt as she remembers how she then felt. Mr. Dean’s bass tones lead all the nuns back to their various repressed pasts and the effect is very much his presence being the very thing all of them are trying to forget but which they all long for. At the end of the service Clodagh rounds furiously on Mr. Dean ostensibly for being drunk, but actually because his presence with the Young General brought back the memory of Con. The ego is furious at having been violated by the intrusion of her repressed desires.
The last dream is closely followed by an important scene between Clodagh and Ruth. Clodagh has noticed Ruth’s interest in Mr. Dean and wants to stop it (the ego wants to stop the release of the id). She suggests Ruth goes to see a doctor and Ruth bursts out, “You’re just trying to make out…” We can guess that Ruth is about to say “…I am the one in love with Mr. Dean,” which tells us she knows Clodagh also desires him. There’s a wonderful over-the-shoulder shot of Clodagh’s hands as she plays with a pencil as she tells Ruth, “I think you have let yourself into thinking too much of Mr. Dean” to which Ruth replies with a malicious psychotic expression on her face, “All the same, I’ve noticed you’re very pleased to see him yourself!” Clodagh sends Ruth away, returning to her tapestry. Both the pencil-playing and tapestry-work are parapraxes telling us that while the ego outwardly is saying she has no interest in Mr. Dean, actually she is thinking of nothing else and the id clearly knows it. The tapestry-work (a sharp phallus plunging into ‘holes’) appears again as she overhears Philippa having replaced all the planned vegetables with flowers. The convent is disintegrating around her as Philippa reveals she wants to leave and later she learns Ruth is renouncing her vows. Crisis point is reached when a child who drank castor oil given by Honey later died in the village. This is a startling moment conveyed with a wonderful montage of heads exploding into the frame as we learn the Young General has run off with Kanchi and the whole village is against them. As per usual they have no choice but to call on Mr. Dean who arrives naked except for shorts. If Dorothea is correct in saying “the superior of all is the servant of all” then that person is Mr. Dean, not Clodagh who now depends on him for everything. This is shown in the key scene where she explains her past to him in every detail. Crucially Ruth overhears everything in the background. Just as the ego can express itself with complete candor so can the id. In a wonderfully evocative scene Clodagh goes past the rooms of the various nuns at night. Philippa is praying, Honey is crying, Briony is snoring, but Ruth’s light is on. Clodagh enters to find Ruth out of habit and in a dark red dress. Ego challenges id to a waiting duel. They face off on opposite sides of a table, weapons in hand. Ruth’s lipstick and mirror battle against Clodagh’s Bible. The candle burns down and as it almost burns out the palace seems to come alive with the eroticism of old. Sheets covering the obscene wall paintings fall away and in one a naked red-haired woman is revealed. As Clodagh jerks awake she sees Ruth leaving the room. The red-haired woman in the painting obviously represents Clodagh and Ruth is enacting Clodagh’s now not very well repressed desire which is to seek out Mr. Dean. Clodagh raises the alarm, but it’s too late, the id will have its way.
As chaos reigns above in the cold barren mountain convent, all is coiled erotic expectation on the lush verdant moist vaginal valley floor as the id seeks the orgasmic satisfaction of her pleasure principle. The ‘pussy’ prowls the vegetation for sexual satisfaction. A tiger roars off screen and as Ruth enters Mr. Dean’s house the camera slips behind the ‘tiger’ in the bushes which turns out to be Mr. Dean himself. A close-up of his eyes shows him to be on the prowl, too. Perhaps he is hoping the woman to be Clodagh for when he realizes it’s Ruth he immediately acts to get rid of her. She declares herself and is rebuffed. Ruth reveals her insecurity. She thinks everyone jealously hates her and that Mr. Dean is rejecting her because he loves Clodagh. To his words, “I don’t love anyone!” the screen blacks out (or rather ‘reds’ out) as Ruth faints. When she comes to it’s clear neurosis has tipped into psychosis. She returns to the convent for a showdown with the ego in which one of them must die. The final conflict is beautifully built up as the id haunts the convent waiting for the moment when she can pounce on her rival. The ego stands alone in the dawn light vulnerable, fragile and alone, her plight underlined by the sinister music, the shadowy movements and two extraordinary moments, the first a close-up of Ruth’s wild feral bloodshot eyes, hair draped down catlike over whitened skin looking like the beast of the id that she really is. This moment always makes my blood run cold no matter how often I see it, the timing of the editing with the music brilliantly judged. Then there’s the moment when Clodagh rings the bell as the door flies open to reveal a startling vision of mental depravity, Ruth’s dark red dress shot to look like black and topped with a black shawl. Everything about her is black and white as she approaches Clodagh with the single thought of pushing her over the edge. The struggle results in the ego finally assuming control over the id which can only be effected through the id’s very destruction. The first immediate response from the ego is terror at what has just happened (that famous shot looking up at Clodagh’s face as the bell swings behind her) followed by the shot of blue sky, the abrupt cease of the jungle drums which we have been hearing throughout this last section of the film and the release of birds into the air. This symbolizes the cathartic release of the ego from trauma and a new lease of life. The catharsis enables Clodagh in the final scene to acknowledge her feeling for Mr. Dean, if still only in code. They both refer to ‘ghosts’ which they are leaving behind and Clodagh asks him to tend Ruth’s grave, usually a request made of a loved one. The way Mr. Dean takes her hand, caressing it almost and also the easy way Clodagh smiles tells us this is a clear case of ‘another time, another place, maybe…’ The rain beating down on Mr. Dean’s wistful face as he looks after Clodagh with a sense of regret is truly a magical ending for a truly startling film. There is nothing else in cinema quite like it.
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