Required viewing for Catholics; for all others, an intro to Catholic FAITH.
Director: Margaret Betts
Cast: Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers)
Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
by John DeSando
Novitiate is not Audrey Hepburn’s The Nun’s Story, nor is it The Sound of Music, The Singing Nun, or countless other romances about happy nuns. It’s closer to Doubt. This “expose” is merciless showing the almost Marines-like indoctrination of young girls, first to be postulants, then novices, then the real deal.
Although the film doesn’t have drill sergeants, it has a super-committed Mother Superior (Melissa Leo). She will punish swiftly with, for instance, the girls kneeling to walk while saying Hail Mary’s or disciplining themselves with knotted ropes. But the real torture is the interior questioning of the young women about even the existence of God.
Nevertheless they are moving to become “brides of Christ,” which when they dress in bridal gowns for the actual marriage borders on satire, hokum, or downright pathos. As more than one postulant avers, “Where is He?” daily, the girls are giving themselves to God while not feeling the divine presence.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the emergence in the early ‘60’s of Vatican II, that progressive body of prelates that liberalized the Church and demoted the nuns. So much for that disrespect as 90,000 pure souls took the last train outta there.
The central postulant, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), has a tough time with her vocation, much less her attraction to another hopeful. The complications of sexual yearnings in young women is a nicely figurative way of showing the challenges of taking 17 year old girls from a normal life, which usually involves young men.
Cathleen’s mother, Julianne Nicholson (Nora Harris), serves as the vox populi questioning the sanity of the process as she is losing her daughter to these unknown forces of religion. For Catholics, Novitiate is a confirmation; for non-Catholics it’s a gloss on the complexity of Catholic faith.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com