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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 30.14%
Average: 1.37%
Pretty Bad: 4.11%
Total Crap: 2.74%

5 reviews, 43 user ratings

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Magdalene Sisters, The
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by Erik Childress

"My High School Experience Was Almost As Bad. Almost."
4 stars

Images of the Catholic Church had already been ingrained into my head at the wee age of seven. You hear stories of nuns disciplining with the ruler and see enough reruns of The Blues Brothers to wonder if the pause you feel attending Catholic school for the first time is worthy of worry. I'm happy to say that my grade school experience left no lasting bruises, although my time at Driscoll Catholic in Addison, IL developed a knowing cynicism about the whole institution which has never escaped me to this day. Director Peter Mullan has a few scars of his own to show, albeit not exactly personal, but deep wounds spread open during a particularly painful period in Ireland's religious history.

The Magdalene Sanctuary provides a clue to its existence in its very title; named after the prostitute who has prominent placement in the stories of Jesus Christ. Asylum is a more benefiting label since its purpose is to cleanse or save the souls of its inhabitants from their evil ways, like a prison where no laws have been broken except the ones that depend on your salvation.

Rose (Dorothy Duffy) gave birth out of wedlock, only to see the child put up for adoption and her family turning their back completely. When Margaret (Ann-Marie Duff) is raped by her cousin at a family wedding, the blame is shifted to her. How dare such an accusation be made or maybe she had it coming. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) was a career orphan, but when she's old enough to start flirting and arousing the attention of the boys around her, relocation again is the result of guidance by the clergy.

At the sanctuary, populated by hundreds of girls, each of them are forced to work in silence doing laundry seven days a week while piles of money are collected Shawshank-style amongst the nuns' habits. The most forceful of which is ol' Ironhabit herself, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), who from the moment she speaks and looks at the girls becomes a hateful presence that we'd like to introduce a fist to. McEwan's performance as the Nurse Ratched of the piece is far more frightening than her turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham's witch mother in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, yet the roles aren't that far removed. Since escape is a practical impossibility and the vows of silence so strict, Sister Bridget's methods at containment aren't that far removed from Germany in the early forties.

While we're introduced to these horrific events through those three girls, a lot of time is spent with Crispina (Eileen Walsh), a somewhat retarded girl who becomes the story's greatest victim. When a mind as simple as hers can be used to follow anything the Church tells her, what hope can there be as she spends her life in fear and punished mentally and physically whenever she tries to keep a little pleasure for herself like seeing her son through the gates of the institution. A large chunk of the second act follows Crispina and her travails as an impetus for Bernadette's quest for freedom, and while it threatens to solely become her story it leads to a moment of absolute depravity that's impossible to disregard.

Films like The Magdalene Sisters stack the deck so harshly on one perspective that some may trounce on it not playing fair. The Catholic League has already denounced the film, which ironically plays right into one of the filmmaker's points. If you even think to disagree with what THEY believe, then you're pronounced as a blasphemer or a God-hater. After all, they couldn't possibly be wrong, now could they? An elderly patron of the Sancutuary (Britta Smith) has seemingly been an everlasting staple with her beliefs intact but the choices made in her life harshly called into question by Bernadette is a small, but telling statement that someone somewhere might have felt remorse for the acts being committed.

This film is designed with a single purpose in mind - to present to us a bitter bit of history and to make us feel angry about it, in which it succeeds in spades. My cynicism notwithstanding, its very easy for me to react to the hypocrisy of any situation; let alone the Catholic Religion. At my high school, where individual thought and creativity was suppressed (lesser in extreme but similar in theme) and one teacher's mental posturing turned the reward for his students progress into giving out a picture of himself, prison time in the name of spiritual fulfillment became an all-too-familiar metaphor. If writer/director Mullan is true to the facts, then I don't need to hear the other side of the story since its likely one with a single purpose in mind not willing to listen to anyone else.

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originally posted: 08/15/03 16:14:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/21/07 action movie fan lacks the punch that boys of st vincent had 2 stars
2/28/07 Beau great performances, but it was too cliched olden times!! not my fortae 2 stars
7/20/06 Sarah Unbelievable movie best I've seen in ages 5 stars
2/21/06 Jen Chilling, disturbing, infuriating. 5 stars
8/21/05 bigbill catholocism, irish-a horrible mixture of ignorance and cruelty 5 stars
6/09/05 Jeanne Horrifying. These women had NO RIGHTS in their own country. All the actors were BRILLIANT. 5 stars
6/07/05 Kyence Simply incredible film. The horror is mesmerizing, forcing one to see it to the bitter end. 5 stars
4/01/05 Elly This movie was BRILLIANT! Leaves you speechless. Takes your breath away. Absolutly amazing. 5 stars
10/16/04 Tam Deeply moving film with sublime performances. You won't stop thinking about it for ages. 5 stars
7/20/04 Taylor Fladgate "Midnight Express", Irish Catholic style. 5 stars
3/15/04 Sarkofuck Great movie 5 stars
3/04/04 Thom Saw months ago...still haunts me 5 stars
10/01/03 Jinnvisible A reminder that cruelty is still at large in small minds ,,, well acted harrowing drama 4 stars
9/16/03 john i liked it 5 stars
9/05/03 mary natale mothers and fathers beating and abandoning their precious daughters in the name of god. 5 stars
9/04/03 limerick Unbelievable acting. May the evil doers(nuns or priests) rot in hell 5 stars
9/03/03 Angie Heart The power of this (true life) heartbreaker was diminished by over-the-top direction. 3 stars
9/01/03 Talisha Hunt Enlightening, and moving film. I thought nors jane noone was captivating as a temptress. 5 stars
8/27/03 Zwee I like this film. 5 stars
8/27/03 Jesse I can't stop thinking about it 5 stars
8/26/03 N. Rosen Timely and extraordinarily thought provoking; fabulous performances 5 stars
8/21/03 S. Scallan A very good, necessary film on a subject long hidden and ignored. 5 stars
8/16/03 Sly Massa Great Film 5 stars
8/14/03 becky the best film i've ever seen in my entire life 5 stars
8/04/03 blinky most brilliant filmny n 5 stars
7/29/03 Edgar nora-jane noone, I loved you!!! 5 stars
7/26/03 raed it is very sexy 2 stars
7/19/03 gringoyo Brave screenplay, editing Nora-Jane Noone is going to go places 4 stars
7/08/03 n great 5 stars
7/02/03 ilicit easyly one of the best moives ive seen this year 5 stars
6/18/03 brad USA GO SEE THIS MOVIE IN AUG 2003 5 stars
6/11/03 Rocky I seen this movie and I hated it! It rips off "the hours"! Blam this piece of shit!! 1 stars
5/18/03 Judith Mac Mullan A tuching movie and proof that the clergy are as rotten & evil as the next person!!! 5 stars
4/30/03 karen boone thought provoking, incredibly hard to understand the extrent of reality 4 stars
4/28/03 Ingo Very gripping movie, but sometimes too foreseeable... 4 stars
4/25/03 ALEX These stories need to be told - so that it never happens again 5 stars
4/22/03 Trish Move over Colin Farrel - Chris Simpson as Brendan in the Magdalene Sisters ouses sex appeal 5 stars
4/22/03 kyree it's touching, and has a very strong story 5 stars
4/19/03 John Bale OUTSTANDING. Finely crafted and acted, with suspense pathos and human spirit. Don't Miss ! 5 stars
4/17/03 mr. Pink Will be seen as one of the best of 2003. Institutionalized religions: AAAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!! 5 stars
4/08/03 Zwee U better watch it!! 5 stars
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  01-Aug-2003 (R)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2004



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