Like many famous novels, Black Narcissus has been adapted several times since it was first published in 1939. The most famous adaptation is a 1947 film of the same name that stars Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh. In 2020, a newer adaptation hit screens around the world in the form of a miniseries. In the U.S., the miniseries premiered on FX on Nov. 23, and consisted of three episodes. Now that many have watched those episodes, some have questions about the end of the series.
Did Sister Ruth die in 'Black Narcissus'?
As those who have watched the miniseries know, Black Narcissus tells the story of a group of nuns who travel to India in order to establish a school and hospital in a particularly inhospitable region of the country. The group of nuns include Sister Ruth, who is emotionally unwell but is assigned to teach general classes at the school.
Over the course of the story, Ruth becomes increasingly obsessed with Sister Clodagh, the Sister Supreme in charge of their new operation. As each of the nuns face difficulties adjusting to their new environment, Ruth eventually renounces the order and falls in love with Mr. Dean, an employee of the general who initially requested the nuns' presence in India.
Clodagh and Ruth eventually have a confrontation after Clodagh discovers Ruth wearing a modern dress that she purchased in an attempt to woo Mr. Dean. When he rebuffs Ruth's advances, Ruth returns to the monastery intent on killing Clodagh, who she blames for her failed romance with Mr. Dean. She finds Clodagh ringing the bell for morning service on a cliff edge, and when she attempts to push Clodagh off, she instead falls to her death.
Sister Ruth's death is the climax of most versions of 'Black Narcissus.'
Although some fans of the miniseries may have felt that Sister Ruth's death was unclear, the book and movie are both very clear that Ruth's fall results in her death. From there, the rest of the mission decides to leave India, and Sister Clodagh asks Mr. Dean to see to Ruth's burial after they've departed. Although the miniseries was slammed for its lack of relevance, the 1939 book and 1947 film adaptation were both praised upon release.
'Black Narcissus' is about the end of British rule in India.
The 1947 film adaptation of Black Narcissus was released just a few months after India achieved independence from Britain that year. The final images of the film, which show the nuns abandoning India after failing to achieve a strong foothold in the country, were seen as echoes of the British empire's departure from the nation.
Even as the film acknowledges the failure of Britain to hold India, it also suggests that their retreat has more to do with a lack of understanding than anything else. The nuns are retreating from a land that they do not understand, having been rid of the notion that they could convert the rest of the world to an Anglo-Saxon way of living by just opening up a school.