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After a nun gives birth, the baby is found strangled in a wastepaper
basket. A psychiatrist is brought in to judge the woman's sanity. The
film is "Agnes of God," based on the successful Broadway play and
inspired by an incident that occurred in my home town of Rochester, New
York. It unites three powerful actresses - Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft,
and Meg Tilly in this intriguing story of belief, truth, and
Fonda is the psychiatrist who comes to the idyllic, French Canadian convent setting and first meets the mother superior (Bancroft), a nun with a few secrets, who is opposed to having Agnes, the young woman who had the baby, questioned. Agnes is a pure, childlike girl who hears voices, talks to spirits, doesn't know how babies are born, and claims she never had one. Is she delusional as the result of abuse as a child? Was she raped? Is she insane? The performances in "Agnes of God" are extraordinary. Fonda is brilliant as a woman of science who has long ago turned her back on God, and Meg Tilly gives a breakout performance as the translucent, innocent Agnes. The dramatic scene which ends with Fonda saying, "I love you...As much as God loves you" was one of the most moving in the film.
The powerhouse role, played on stage by Geraldine Page, is that of the mother superior, and what better actress for this than the fantastic Anne Bancroft. She is tough, vulnerable, funny, fierce and warm as a woman trying to protect her delicate charge from the horrors of the world. She and Fonda play beautifully together, whether bonding or fighting, as Fonda strips away the layers to find the truth.
It's so rare to see a film with three great female roles, and to see them all essayed so well in an excellent story. For this reason, Agnes of God is a great, provocative film that will keep you thinking about it long after it's over.
The incredible performance by Meg Tilly is what makes this movie repeatedly watchable. She seems almost possessed by this role and entirely believable. She makes the innocent, spiritual and fantasy like world that this strange young nun lives in, appealing. One can find yourself almost being envious of the purity of the world that Agnes experiences. The performances of Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft are also very good. The debate and tension that flows between them is interesting as each forces the other to take a deeper look at themselves, their pasts and to confront the reasons for their chosen paths in life. Also these women represent the two sides of one of the main dilemmas in the film and the one that we the viewers are left to wrestle with. Is Agnes better off in her cloistered, innocent world where Mother Miriam wants to keep her or would it be better for her to become more aware of the realities of the outside world with all it's diversity and possibilities that Doctor Martha Livingston thinks she should know. The tension between these two characters is not without it's humorous moments as well. It's never easy for a psychological drama to have to sort out the inner darkness of a troubled individual in the course of a two hour film but this one does better than most. Those that need answers spelled out plain, simple and clear cut are of course frustrated by the ending but enough is presented here to allow one to draw conclusions and yet leave room for thought and speculation, which makes for a far more compelling way to part from a story.
In the world of movies in the eighties, Agnes of God is a true wonder : an intelligent film that carries more than one idea AND has its funny moments, beautiful cinematography, incredible casting, the most intense dialogue and some heavy drama. Jane Fonda has never been better. She builds a sensitive, complex character who has to deal with much more than she was originally willing for (her childhood, her faith, her identity, her age, Anne Bancroft as a controlling, protective nun, Meg Tilly as a supposed murderess of her own baby, and also a nun). The three actresses play beautifully together, immersed in a magnificent wintery Canadian landscape. This is American cinema at its best.
Having seen this movie for the first time when I was 15 or so, and
having no idea what I was watching, I was in for some great viewing
when I watched it again 20 years later.
The cast, needless to say, is stupendous. Jane Fonda, the late Anne Bancroft, and a fledgling Meg Tilly, back in a time when movies with just women actors were unheard of, especially dramas.
The plot of the movie orbits around a crime. In a convent, in the middle of a cold Canadian night, a scream in the darkness uncovers an unconscious Nun, Agnes(Meg Tilly), coverd in blood. After she is taken away the mother superior(Anne Bancroft) finds, to her horror, a dead baby in the waste paper basket in Agnes' cell.
Leary of sending a Nun to prison the Candian legal system assigns a psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) to Agnes to determine that Agnes is insane and to have her committed.
We soon find out, the Agnes, very young, innocent, and iggnorant of the ways of the world, had no idea that she was pregnant, how she became pregnant, or how anyone becomes pregnant. Agnes often is spoken to by someone she calls "the lady", as well as her dead mother. There are plot twists, and faith based happenings, and possible psychological explanations to things that happen in this movie to the point that would leave anyone guessing.
I believe this movie to be a hidden classic. The acting is superb, and seamless. The only thing I would question in this movie is the directors decision to make Jane Fonda's character (Dr. Martha Livingston) smoke so much. It is clear that Ms. Fonda did not smoke at the time, and she handles the cigarettes awkwardly at times.
Meg Tilly, however, is the light of this movie. She displays a John Malkovich ability to act seemingly crazy, but somehow not, at the same time.
Anne Bancroft, when is there ever anything to say about her, other then utter perfection.
The end of the movie leaves the watcher to make his or her own decision. Is Agnes insane? Or was she brutilized horribly by some man that managed to sneak into the convent. Why did the Mother Superior not tell everything she knew sooner? Truly a wonderful piece of film!
This is a superb film. It has great performances, specially from Meg Tilly, as the young nun who has fallen from grace. Neither she, the rest of the sisters, or the psychiatrist sent to investigate the case, can find a satisfactory explanation. What really impressed me about this movie is the way it confronts religious beliefs with skepticism, confrontation that, in turn, is transmitted to the viewer with all its questions. Is what happened a big lie, just the product of the imagination -or distorted faith- of a young woman?. Is it all God's plan?. If it is so, did he make a mistake?. Is it all a miracle gone wrong?
I saw this movie for the first time with a group of friends in a
special show at midnight. We had just seen an awful movie called "A Hot
Party" and were so mad. I picked up a torn newspaper from the floor and
saw the ad for this special show. We decided on the spot that nothing
could be worse than what we just saw and went over. Great Choice!.
Fonda's character is so full of conflicts, but her struggle to keep
objectivity is showed masterfully, Ann Bancroft is great as the Mother
Superior, supportive of her flock, and protective; but trying to help
the good doctor as a way to extricate Agnes (Meg Tilly) from her
"delusions". And Meg Tilly, what a find she was for us. The
photography, with dominating earthy colors, delivers the ambient of the
movie in such a beautiful way.
I can say that this is clearly, one of the best movies I've ever seen. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**WARNING**POTENTIAL SPOILERS** I have to admit being confused by Agnes of God. At the end of the movie I was in a bit of a quandary: Did I enjoy it or didn´t I?. I think that enjoy is probably the wrong word - I experienced it but took nothing of substance away from that experience. Was this a film about delusion or illusion, about faith or lack of it, about love or abuse, about the natural or supernatural?. Whatever it was about, I think it conned the viewer. We are fed red herrings but who is to say that these were red herrings in the first instance?. One long McGuffin, perhaps?. I think a movie of this kind calls for some kind of resolution, especially when we have been led by the nose for nearly the duration with an unspoken sense of ultimate revelation. A revelation that never comes. Some may argue that this kind of ending added to the movie whilst I personally feel it detracted from what was quite an interesting and innovative premise. Still, it was directed with some style by Norman Jewison and the three female leads were convincing in their respective portrayals. On the negative side, Meg Tilly´s nun will always stay with me, but not for any reason of acting prowess.Every time I see her from now on I´ll be tempted to ask "What happened Meg. Can you tell us what happened?. Please.".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Agnes Of God (1985): Starring Jane Fonda, Meg Telly, Anne Bancroft,
Winston Rekert, Gratien Gelinas, Anne Pitoniak, Guy Hoffman, Francoise
Faucher, Gabriel Arcand, Jacques Tourangeau, Janine Fluet, Debora
Grover, Michel George, Muguette Moreau, Norma Dell'Agnese, Laurel Lyle,
Nicole Marie Abat, Jacqueline Blias, Rita Tuckett, Lillian Graham,
Victor Desy...Director David Jewison...Screenplay John Pielmeier.
Based on John Pielmeier's Broadway play, this is director David Jewison's successful screen adaptation. Released in 1985, "Agnes Of God" starred Jane Fonda in a role that she delivers with Oscar worthy power, although she is supported by an equally amazing cast of actors, including veteran star Anne Bancroft. The strength of this film is in its riveting drama of both a religious and psychological bent, not to mention a bleak atmosphere of suspense and mystery. Set in Quebec French-Canada, in a rural region outside Montreal, the story is about Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) who becomes the subject of an investigation by Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) a psychiatrist. As the film opens, Agnes has just given birth to a baby but who is found dead in a waste basket in her quarters at a remote convent. To avoid a media circus, the Mother Superior, Miriam Ruth (Anne Bancroft) keeps her confined in the convent and does not wish to put her into the hands of the authorities. As Dr. Livingston interrogates and befriends the child-like, spirited and imaginative Sister Agnes, secrets and disturbing facts are slowly revealed. Agnes grew up in a broken home, never went to school, never learned about the real world and was abused by her alcoholic and psychotic mother. As a result, her mind is warped and she is inclined to hallucinations and spontaneous bleedings. The mystery of who fathered her baby remains unsolved, even at the close of the film. Agnes believed it was God who impregnated her in a "Virgin Mary" sort of manner, and Mother Superior believed it too. But practical and scientific Dr. Livingston is determined to find out the man who seduced her. The film is not even about who knocked up Sister Agnes, but is instead a chilling drama about women and their issues. Mother Superior is a bitter divorced woman who had been a lousy mother and left her family to become a nun. Dr. Livingston is a modern woman who turned her back on Catholicism but who proves to be a compassionate woman bent on saving Agnes from doom. Agnes is herself the most troubled of the women, but it is her unbelievable story about a baby with an unidentified father that keeps this film in a compelling vein. Jane Fonda is simply wonderful, proving again, even at this late state in her career, that she still had the makings of a brilliant actress. This role is not considered one of her best but it was the type of role - the compassionate and intelligent liberal- that suited her personality so perfectly. Meg Tilly was not very known at this time but this performance is quite good and she would only move on to better roles. Anne Bancroft, who had once upon a time in the late 60's seduced a "Graduate", is humorous and bitter as the old Reverend Mother. The "bonding" scene between Fonda and Bancroft as they are smoking (a nun smoking!) and their playful banter is never overly irreverent and reveals warmth within embracing the human side of all people, whether a nun or a smoking psychiatrist. Catholicism is never attacked or criticized in this film, despite the playful jokes and somewhat anti-organized religion sentiments by the more progressive Jane Fonda character. Religion is merely the vehicle for the mystery. Could it be possible, even in our modern world devoid of miracles, that a virgin could conceive a child from God ? If it happened to a woman of ancient Roman-occupied Israel according to Catholics today, why can't they also believe it was possible in 1985 at a convent in rural Canada ? The film's theme is about fact and reason versus faith and miracles, though they are never actually at war with one another in this film, whose strongest theme is that of harmony and friendship among diverse characters. Like someone suggested, it's a reverse "Rosemary's Baby" where the horror elements remain in the spiritual dimensions and their influence over the living. In this case, the truth about Sister Agnes remains an unsolved mystery and is open to interpretation. This is a most terrific film with several different layers of emotion, psychology and spirituality. Two thumbs way up for this wonderful 1980's mystery drama with Jane Fond and Anne Bancroft doing their usual wonderful thing.
I find it odd that I have never heard of this film before tonight. Sure, I was only a child when it was released, but since the film has many good qualities I would have thought I'd heard about it anyway. "Agnes of God" is a very interesting drama about a nun who, apparently, has murdered her new-born child. Meg Tilly is sensational as Agnes! I've never been more impressed by her. The film is even quite suspenseful at times and you have a lot to think about after the movie has ended. The cinematography is great (which is no surprise when Sven Nykvist is involved) and the score is beautiful. "Agnes of God" is a very good film.
In one of her best performances, Jane Fonda plays a psychiatrist who is
assigned to deal with a case involving a naive young nun(played by Meg
Tilly) who allegedly gave birth to a baby and murdered it in the
While slow and gimmicky at times, the acting and story are enough to keep the film worth watching.
Anne Bancroft also gives a very good performance as the Mother Superior at the convent who is highly skeptical of Fonda's character and profession.
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