The Nun’s Story – 1959
1959 – starring Audrey Hepburn
Based on a true story. A Belgian girl, a trained nurse, joins the convent as a nun transforming from Gabrielle to Sister Luke. The film shows the various steps to be taken by a novice before she becomes a nun. Our heroine chafes at the various illogical rules of “obedience” and “humility” that are imposed on her. The only things that enables her to survive is her genuine faith in God and the hope that the convent will send her to Belgian Congo to assist the medical mission there.
Sister Luke goes there and meets an atheist surgeon who works miracles with his hands. She also meets a missionary who has spent years caring for lepers in a remote village. By the time she returns to Belgium, war has broken out. Each day brings news of fresh advances by the Germans. The nuns are instructed to remain strictly neutral in the conflict. When she hears news that her worldly family, her father and brother, have been murdered by the Germans, she cannot honestly “forgive her enemies”. When a German is brought in wounded and dies in her care, she mentally exults.
She leaves the convent and quits as a nun. She joins the Belgian underground as a nurse.
I found I enjoyed the film tremendously. It does make the point that if you wish to do good and follow your conscience, you may end up flouting the rules created by authority – whether the rules come in a convent or a hospital.
Movie Info (from Rotten Tomatoes)
Audrey Hepburn stars in The Nun’s Story as Sister Luke, postulant of a Belgian order of nuns. Though frequently disillusioned in her efforts to spread good will — at one point she is nearly killed by a mental patient (Colleen Dewhurst) — Sister Luke perseveres. Sent as a nurse to the Belgian Congo, an assignment she’d been hoping for, Sister Luke is disappointed to learn that she will not be ministering to the natives but to European patients. Through the example of no-nonsense chief surgeon Peter Finch, the nun sheds her idealism and becomes a diligent worker — so much so that she contracts tuberculosis. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Sister Luke tries to honor the edicts of her order and not take sides, but this becomes impossible when her father (Dean Jagger) is killed by the Nazis. Realizing that she cannot remain true to her vows, Sister Luke leaves the order and returns to “civilian” life. The Nun’s Story ends with a long, silent sequence in which Sister Luke divests herself of her religious robes, dons street garb, and walks out to an uncertain future. There is no background music: director Fred Zinnemann decided that “triumphant” music would indicate that Sister Luke’s decision was the right one, while “tragic” music would suggest that she is doing wrong. Rather than make an editorial comment, the director decided against music, allowing the audience members to fill in the blanks themselves. The Nun’s Story is based on the book by Kathryn Hulme, whose depiction of convent life was a lot harsher and more judgmental than anything seen in the film. ~ Hal Erickson
Some trivia associated with the movie.
- This was supposed to be a cheapie production, after Hepburn, an expensive star, had the budget book burned for “War and Peace”.
- The producers were unsure if a religious theme would sell – since there was none of the soap-opera quality of Ben Hur, etc.
- The actors playing various nuns used to smoke in between shots. The people in Congo were aghast at nuns smoking – they consoled themselves saying “these are not Europeans, they are American nuns!”
- The movie was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, but failed to win a single one. Best Actress was Susan Hayward (“I want to live”)
- Gist of “I Want to Live”: This film tells the riveting true story of brazen bad girl Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward, in an Academy Award-winning performance), a perpetual offender who tries to go straight but is sent to death row after being implicated in a murder. When journalist Ed Montgomery (Simon Oakland), whose initial newspaper articles on Barbara’s crime played up her recklessness, becomes convinced that she may be innocent, he begins a desperate campaign to save her from the gas chamber.
Billy Wilder’s comment on the 1959 Oscar, “ the award goes to the whore, not to the bore”.
Some questions I had
- Gabrielle’s father pays a dowry to the convent since she is marrying Christ. Is this the practice everywhere? Does the Mother Superior get to torture new brides if they do not bring in enough dowry?
- Is Polygamy spiritual?
- Nuns are Christ’s brides. Are priests then his bridegrooms? Has the church been encouraging same sex marriages all along?
- Is a dowry payable for priests as well?