I've been wanting to begin cobbling together a list of "essential" films for some time now. Every notebook I have from the 11th grade on has a half completed version of a 100 Favorite or 100 Best films list, but they always get cut short or run long, weighed down in some conflicted notion of what I believe should be on there and what is culturally expected to be on there. So, instead I want to try and slowly force myself to revisit and write about the the films I personally feel are the real essentials as I think on them or return to them. One at a time, no big rush. Maybe it'll stop at 100, maybe, like Ebert's list of Great Movies, it will go on indefinitely. The one thing I know? There will be no particular order and every one of them will matter.
Black Narcissus operates on a fairly simplistic conceit: it's a tale of corrupted faith, repressed passions, and the madness the two of those can induce when mixed with the thin mountain air. Deborah Kerr is Sister Clodagh, a fresh faced, disciplined nun charged with taking a gaggle of nuns to set up a school and hospital in the abandoned living quarters of royal concubines. The paintings on the wall do not match the new inhabitants, the building is built into a cliff face, the townspeople who come to them are jewel-covered narcissistic princes (Sabu), lusty young girls (Jean Simmons), and children who doubt them. It's a haunted place, and the ghost is one of carnality. Their sole connection to their UK homeland is a British ex-pat (David Farrar) who teases and taunts them in a way that belittles their beliefs as much as it seems a flirtation. He's not of their moral fiber, and he seems to take up a place in their collective consciousness. Clodagh begins to drag up memories of life prior to the habit, and the mentally unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) seems further and further beyond her vows with each passing day. There may be only so many outcomes, but the way the film reaches them is luxe and spellbinding.