Eclipsing Shadows: Navigating the Dark Star’s Legacy in Art and Existence

February 26, 2024 7 mins to read
Michael Garcia Mujica
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The Ethereal Confluence: Sister Death & Bowie’s Blackstar

In an audacious exploration of Sister Death (Hermana Muerte), the influence of David Bowie’s arcane masterpiece, Blackstar, weaves an intricate shadow over the narrative landscape, reminiscent of an eclipse. This natural phenomenon, serving as a literal and metaphorical shadow, beautifully symbolizes the temporary overshadowing of one work or theme by another, while also implying the inevitable return of light—themes deeply resonant with Bowie’s work and its impact.

The term “shadow” carries connotations of mystery, influence, and legacy, perfectly mirroring the thematic and aesthetic intricacies of Bowie’s influence on the narrative of Sister Death. This film serves as a cinematic prelude to Paco Plaza’s revered 2017 phantasmagoria, Verónica, intertwining not just with Bowie’s eerie visuals in both videos for the Blackstar album—Blackstar (the title track) and Lazarus—but also with what one might call a sister score, if you will, of Bowie’s haunting song Blackstar.

It charts a course through Narcisa’s sojourn amidst the crepuscular confines of the convent with unparalleled finesse, echoing the complex interplay of light and darkness inherent in an eclipse. The Sister Death score, a testament to the enduring legacy of Bowie’s masterpiece, was composed by award-winning film composer Mikel Salas.

A Solitary Candle: Symbolism & Allegory

The opening verses of Blackstar, invoking the solitary candle in the villa of Ormen, serve as a profound allegory for isolation and enlightenment within the depths of obscurity—a motif that finds a resonant echo in the atmospheric layers of Sister Death. It is Bowie’s haunting line, “At the centre of it all, your eyes,” that forges a deep symbiosis between the auditory and the visual, blending the lyrical with the cinematic.

This motif, woven through Bowie’s composition, is mirrored in a key eclipse scene of Sister Death, where Narcisa’s intense gaze—laden with the weight of her spectral encounters—becomes a powerful symbol of transformation. The scene not only captures the essence of Bowie’s verse but also elevates it, translating the song’s haunting melody into a visual spectacle that underscores the theme of radical metamorphosis.

Transcendence & Metamorphosis: Mirroring Bowie’s Odyssey

Bowie’s odyssey through the realms of mortality, identity, and the quest for transcendence, symbolized by his self-proclamation as a “blackstar”—an entity that defies simplistic categorization—reflects Narcisa’s own transformation within Sister Death. She evolves from a visionary of divine apparitions to a novice grappling with the convent’s hidden truths.

Her encounter with the eclipse, paralleling Bowie’s imagery of the “solitary candle,” marks a pivotal moment in her journey from darkness to enlightenment. This transition is poignantly symbolized by the loss of her sight, underscoring the profound cost of her spiritual awakening.

Legacy & Cyclical Existence: Thematic Resonance

The contemplation of legacy and the inexorable cycle of existence, as reflected in Bowie’s lyric, “Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre then stepped aside,” resonates deeply with the film’s thematic exploration of sacrifice and redemption. This thematic thread is intricately interwoven with the tragic saga of Sister Socorro, echoing Bowie’s philosophical inquiries into life, death, and the continuum of rebirth.

The parable from Luke 8:16-18, known as “The Lesson of the Lamp,” speaks to the inevitability of truth being revealed: “No one lights a lamp and covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he sets it on a stand, so those who enter can see the light… For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed…” This message of enlightenment and revelation finds a compelling parallel in both the eclipse imagery of Bowie’s Blackstar music video and Sister Death’s narrative.

The eclipse serves as a metaphorical lamp, uncovering truths and guiding characters towards enlightenment amidst their metaphorical darkness. Just as the proverb suggests that truth cannot remain hidden, both Bowie’s visual artistry and the film’s storyline suggest that moments of darkness are precursors to the unveiling of profound truths, marking a journey from obscurity to illumination, where the hidden is brought to light and transformation is initiated.

Identity & Defiance: Narcisa’s Journey

The declaration “I’m a blackstar,” by Bowie not only marks his claim to a unique and transcendent identity but also echoes profoundly within Narcisa’s journey in the opaque corridors of the convent. As she navigates the convent’s obscured legacy, her efforts to liberate tormented spirits and seek justice mirror Bowie’s lyrical defiance against the confines of traditional labels and societal expectations.

This quest for vindication and the demand for recognition of one’s inherent uniqueness are central to both narratives, emphasizing a rejection of conformity in favor of authenticity. Narcisa’s path, much like Bowie’s, is marked by an exploration of self within the confines of a system that seeks to suppress individuality.

Her defiance and the eventual embracing of her identity amid the convent’s rigid structures reflect a powerful commentary on the act of finding and asserting one’s essence in a world that often demands uniformity.

Vision & Enlightenment: The Pursuit Amidst Unknown

In the climactic moment of Sister Death, Narcisa’s encounter with the eclipse embodies a profound thematic convergence with David Bowie’s Blackstar, particularly highlighted by the haunting lyric, “On the day of execution, only women kneel and smile.” This line, evocative of acceptance and defiance in the face of inevitable transformation, mirrors Narcisa’s serene acceptance of her fate as she gazes into the eclipse. The act not only signifies her spiritual and existential execution but also marks her transition into a state of enlightenment, albeit at the cost of her physical sight.

This parallel extends to the motif of bandaging the eyes, a powerful visual that recurs in Blackstar, Lazarus, and Sister Death, symbolizing both a loss and a newfound inner vision. The bandaging, then, becomes a metaphor for the characters’ transcendence beyond their physical limitations and societal roles, embodying Bowie’s defiance against conventional categorization and Narcisa’s liberation from the convent’s obscured legacy. It signifies a rebirth, where blindness to the world opens the inner eye to deeper truths.

Furthermore, Narcisa’s prayer wobble during this scene can be viewed through the lens of the choreography inspired by Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoons, as Bowie described. This wobble, akin to the animated loops used to convey life in inactivity, symbolizes the vibrancy of the spirit even in moments of stillness or transformation. For Narcisa, this dance-like movement underlines her active engagement with the spiritual and metaphysical realms, even as she faces a moment of profound change. It’s a physical manifestation of her inner turmoil and ecstasy, reflecting the complex interplay of loss, discovery, and rebirth that characterizes both her journey and Bowie’s exploration in Blackstar.

The movement of the female dancer in the attic sequence of Blackstar, drawing from Bowie’s earlier Fashion music video, further enriches this thematic tapestry. It highlights the continuity of Bowie’s artistic motifs—transformation, defiance, and the transcendence of conventional forms through the medium of dance. In Sister Death, Narcisa’s actions resonate with this legacy, as her dance becomes a ritual of transformation, echoing Bowie’s perpetual reinvention and his embrace of the unknown.

Through these layered connections, Sister Death and Blackstar engage in a profound intertextual dialogue, exploring themes of identity, mortality, and enlightenment. Narcisa’s journey, underscored by the visual and thematic motifs shared with Bowie’s work, invites viewers to contemplate the multifaceted nature of existence, the beauty of transformation, and the eternal pursuit of understanding amidst life’s uncertainties.

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