First Hit: It was very well acted and I learned something about how nuns become nuns.
I was fully engaged with this film from beginning to end. What made this work was the story, direction and acting.
Nora Harris (Julianne Nicholson) and her daughter Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) are living alone. Nora is divorced and dates frequently and they are not religious. One Sunday she takes Cathleen to church to show her what religion is like. Nora does not believe in God or any structured religion. But something happens to Cathleen that day and after getting a scholarship to a Catholic high school, she becomes more curious about her continuing thoughts of God and Jesus. After graduation, decides to join a convent because she’s had a calling. Once there she quickly decides and commits to the process of becoming a nun.
Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) has a very strict code of conduct and she’s exactly what you’d think of if you ever thought of a Reverend Mother being mean spirited, controlling, closed minded and fully believing she’s very self-righteous and speaks the word of God. The first six months Cathleen and the others learn about becoming a nun. Besides the very strict rules and program, and silence is observed from last bell (about 9:00 pm) till morning but the nuns in training find ways to communicate some.
A few of the new sisters begin to discover their sexuality and because it is not accepted behavior and against the scriptures, they struggle with what they’ve discovered about their bodies and the rules of being a nun.
After the initiation, the novices Novitiate, which means they marry the one they love—God. This ceremony was wonderfully staged and enlightening. I found myself fascinated with the whole thing.
When Cathleen wakes up from a very erotic dream, she becomes panicked and begins to starve herself for punishment. She also asks Reverend Mother for the knotted rope whip to self flagellate herself to make her stop thinking about sex and the feelings coming from it. She then meets Sister Emanuel (Rebecca Dayan) who arrives at this particular monastery because she wants the strictness Reverend Mother provides. We soon learn that she’s here to punish herself, through this strictness, because of the same sexual discovery at her previous monastery.
In the meantime, Reverend Mother is getting the Vatican II directives, which are communications from the Rome telling her that the church is changing and that her world is going to crumble and fall apart from these changes.
Watching Reverend Mother’s unholy behavior about implementing the rules wasn’t surprising because, for her, she was in control and in a vaunted position, and her world was about to be dismantled.
In the closing credits, the film talks about how many nuns walked away from the monasteries during the Vatican II changes. It was in excess of 90,000, a huge number.
Dianna Agron as Sister Mary Grace was excellent as a nun that found she had to do something different. Nicholson was amazing as Cathleen’s mother. Her concern for her daughter’s welfare, especially as she lost weight, was perfect. Leo was sublime. She embodied the structure and closed mindedness of being a Reverend Mother who found her niche and didn’t have any other skills. Qualley was divine. She perfectly embodied the role of a young woman searching and believing she found her calling. Dayan was wonderful as the struggling nun, who really tried to push away her sexuality. Margaret Betts wrote and directed this film with a clear firm idea of what she wanted. I fully was transported in this film to another place, learned something and thought the storyline was excellent.
Overall: This fill will probably not be seen by a large number of people and it’s a shame because it is a really good film.