Friday, October 27, 2017

Movie with Abe: Novitiate

Directed by Margaret Betts
Released October 27, 2017

The devotion to faith of any kind requires a certain isolation from the outside world. How that manifests itself can vary greatly, and the training to become a religious figure can be arduous and challenging. Immersion into the Catholic faith, particularly the nunnery, is one process that involves a serious separation from what someone has previously experienced in a more social, secular existence. This new film complicates that journey with the backdrop of changing times in the Catholic church and how one young woman is transformed during her path to becoming a nun.

Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) is sent to a Catholic school by her mother (Julianne Nicholson) when she receives an offer of full scholarship. When Cathleen expresses a love for God and an interest in becoming a nun, her mother is at a loss to understand what she might have done to inspire this choice. Cathleen’s experience as a postulant is shaped by a kindly mentor (Dianna Agron) and even more by the tyrannical rule of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who takes her vocation extremely seriously and resists the reforms put forth by Vatican II that seek to move the Church closer to modernity and away from practices some would decry as medieval and cruel.

The process of becoming a nun is presented as one that requires an enormous amount of self-sacrifice. There are many disturbing scenes in which the Mother Superior works to inspire devout behavior in her students through brutal methods that involve public humiliation and even physical violence. One particularly memorable scene finds her screaming the word “silence” and eviscerating one pupil simply for saying good morning during hours that are supposed to be filled with nothing but silence. Cathleen is someone who embarks on her spiritual path because she feels a connection with God, drawn to the convent because it means more to her than anything else, and therefore she comes in free of any perception that this life and the training to get there might be oppressive or unacceptable. She is not a rebel, but rather someone who endures hardship, all the while believing that she is on the right course with the right people guiding her there.

Qualley made her mark as a far more opinionated teen, also interacting with a domineering religion, on “The Leftovers,” and here she takes on a lead role with the proper subdued energy. While some lines, like shouts of “I love you, God” feel somewhat forced, the overall character is believable and important in framing her in contrast to her fellow candidates for the convent. Agron, who got her big break on “Glee,” stands out as someone who puts equal effort into being committed and kind, and Nicholson is typically excellent as the representative of life outside the Church. The real tour de force performance comes from Leo, who is terrifying and formidable as someone who believes she is doing God’s work and won’t let anyone – archbishop or postulant – tell her that she’s wrong. This film handles its subject matter respectfully and tells an interesting, involving tale in the process.


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