March 12, 2016

Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus

as SISTER CLODAGH
Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress
I can’t quite but my finger on it, but I thought Deborah Kerr was so magnetic in Black Narcissus. Perhaps it’s due to the film’s monochromatic use of colors towards her Sister Clodagh and her fellow nuns, the whites and greys of her face contrasting against an otherwise vibrantly colored film, creating a striking radiance on her. Perhaps it’s her tightly coiled intensity, which bubbles slowly inside of her as the film progresses. 

In any case, I found her to be a compelling, peculiar film presence. She is delicate just as she is apparently hardened. She is pale and yet passionate. I am interested in who she is and what she’s doing, even despite the fact that the film often confines the role of Sister Clodagh to be a mere responsive tool to all that is occurring around her. Kerr reacts to things beautifully of course, but after a while – watching her heavily react to the likes of Mr. Dean or Sisters Philippa, Honey, Briony, and Ruth, or Kanchi – it gets you wondering what more could be occurring here, what more Sister Clodagh could do, and how dull her characterization is, especially considering as you watch Sister Ruth slowly descend into a terrifying mess. So as compelling as Kerr is in the film, I did get the sense that there was something "extra" that was lacking - while the performance culminates in an excellent confession scene with Mr. Dean, and she is superb in demonstrating the paranoia and horror in the build-up to the film's climactic moment, I think I ultimately left Black Narcissus pleased though not necessarily fulfilled. Regardless, Kerr makes a wonderful impression, and if this performance is any indicator of the kinds of performances she'll provide during her reign from 1949-1960, then I'm looking forward to it.

7 comments:

  1. I found this performance confusing at first, because she wasn't playing for audience sympathy or asking us to identify with her. After a second viewing, I thought she was superb. Neurotic, confused, intense and yet lacking the devotion she spoke of, her off-centered characterization was quite interesting ... more so than her more lauded performances of later years. I think this is Kerr at her best.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kind of feel the same way, she's very fascinanting but I think the film did her many favours. Still, I think it's better than all her nominated performances.

    What are your thoughts on Kathleen Byron?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought Byron was fantastic! Superbly eerie and mad -- all those close-ups of her sharp face gave me the chills.

      Delete
    2. + and very likely my win for Best Supporting Actress!

      Delete
    3. I totally agree. See my comment elsewhere on this blog.

      Delete
  3. I think that's the performance of the film. She is sincere, sinister and crazy, sometimes at the same time. She's so totally in-the-moment that it's hard to call anything she does over-the-top. It's real and intense in an unsettling way, which is totally in-synch with the character. I think her performance is terrific.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've never seen this, but it has quite a following nowadays.

    ReplyDelete