The Magdalene Sisters (2002) Poster

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8/10
A Horrific and Gripping Recounting of True Evil
Ralph Michael Stein9 August 2003
"The Magdalene Sisters" is not, as some have claimed, a one-dimensional anti-Catholic film exploiting what are arguably especially gruesome atrocities. It is a fact-based drama about three teenage girls who found themselves in 1964 sentenced to work in a laundry run by an Irish religious order for an indefinite term and under conditions that made most audience members shudder.

In three brief vignettes before the main title, the girls are introduced. One is brutally raped by a cousin at a wedding while priests perform traditional Irish songs. Immediately telling a woman, instead of support she becomes the subject of a hasty conspiracy to spirit the rapist from the wedding and to place her in the Magdalene asylum.

A second girl gives birth to a baby - in the not long ago past, illegitimacy was the label. She is pressured by a priest to surrender the baby boy and then she, too, is hustled off to the asylum.

The third victim is in an orphanage where she gets under the director's skin for no other offense than she is pretty and boys from the neighborhood crowd a fence to call down to her. Transfer to the asylum follows.

The Magdalene laundries made money for the order running them and the asylum to which the three girls were committed is, in this film, a moral charnel house. Sister Bridget, the head nun, interviews the girls while fingering, with almost erotic delight, rolls of money. Her desk sports a photo of President Kennedy but a picture of Ilse Koch would have been a more suitable iconographic representation of her character. She is a sadist, first class.

What follows is almost unrelieved tedium for the girls interspersed with brutal physical chastisement and agonizing sexual humiliation inflicted by perverted nuns. Sexual orientation isn't my issue, it's the awful victimization of helpless young girls.

Through the fine acting of the cast the complexity of relationships and the nature of choices become engrossing. To accommodate or to resist. To comply or to engage in sabotage, even in small ways as a declaration of non-surrender. Sabotage is possible but can an inexperienced and angry teen foresee the consequences of a minor act of resistance? An anticipated humorous defiance may well have tragic results.

The film centers on the three girls as well as several other asylum inmates ranging from a young woman descending slowly into irreversible madness and an elderly crone who believes her lifetime of servitude guarantees entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. This tortured soul is the nuns' "capo," the inmate without whose help the asylum's strictures can't be enforced. Comparison to the Gulag camps and the Nazi concentration camps is apropos.

"The Magdalene Sisters" doesn't portray all the girls as angels but it does show the nuns and the occasional male clergy as evil exploiters and sadistic hypocrites. Is that fair? The end credits report that some 30,000 women were involuntarily placed in Magdalene asylums until the last one closed in 1996. Were all inmates so tortured and beaten? I don't know but these three girls certainly have had THEIR experience recorded for a population that appears to have turned a blind eye to what should have been a national scandal decades earlier. Their life after the asylum is reported in the end credits. All paid a price for a stolen adolescence.

The asylum in this film is pure evil, religious doctrine run amuck in the quest for money through cheap labor and in the riotous unleashing of perversity. English judges for centuries have often used a word rarely found in American case law to describe persons and events: the word is wicked. This film projects an unending parade of wicked people performing wicked acts. It doesn't condemn Catholicism, it indicts the operation by the church in Ireland of one type of soul and body destroying evil. The Church can no more defend the Magdalene asylums than it can the predatory pedophiles in the priesthood. That's the simple reality.

Audience members loudly gasped and a number cried during the showing. This isn't a film for the fainthearted or those who want their illusions about a bucolic and verdant Ireland filled with dancing and music unaffected by the reality of a genuine tragedy now coming to light.

8/10.
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10/10
Truly moving film
raja-swamy26 September 2005
I would give this film 20 out of 10! Excellent acting, nimble direction and very well crafted representations of real-historical events and persons. Eileen Walsh should get a special award for an incredible performance as Crispina - Eileen, you are fantastic! I look forward to more from you! What shook me was the realization that this movie captured the interplay of Dickensian exploitation interwoven with the fascistic barbarity of the church. The laundry was a slave-plantation par excellence as it ground its physically, sexually and emotionally exploited slaves within an atmosphere of sheer terror and self-hatred - we deserve what we get because we are guilty - shame on us - this is what the masters of every plantation on this planet sought to instill in slaves.

What I would have liked to see developed further was how this laundry-plantation fit within the wider Irish society - whose clothes were being washed, and what was their relationship to the people who were incarcerated here? Religion's role in the sheer brutalization of its adherents has been evidenced throughout history - no mass religion has brought anything other than terror, subjugation and self-hatred to women - this film proves it beyond doubt! As men, we are beneficiaries of such brutalities to women - and we are like Margaret's brother - who sheepishly mutters some nonsense about waiting to grow up while his sister lived in hell. What pained me most in this film was the terrible scene of uniformed men dragging Crispina out of the dormitory - to her destruction - and here the most painful part was noting that none of the women could shake off their terror to help their sister who cried for help. The scene captured in a brutal moment, the truth that tyranny can only thrive with our collective fear. Religion like other totalitarian ideologies rules by internalized terror.

Enough, go on and watch this movie, its worth every tear you shed, because in the end, you will find that being disturbed makes you recognize the suffering of every Crispina, Margaret, Rose, Bernadette among us.
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9/10
The other, other kind of terrorism.
Michael DeZubiria1 December 2004
I inadvertently found myself watching a whole string of movies the other day about people being tortured or torturing themselves, without even looking for movies like that. I saw The Magdalene Sisters, Osama, and that IMAX film Everest, all in the same day, and was surprised at their similarities, particularly between the first two. The Magdalene Sisters and Osama are strikingly similar in that they are both about religious terrorism, specifically centered around women. Osama was a look at how the Taliban keeps women under tight control, not allowing them even the tiniest freedom (indeed, women could be arrested and severely punished for such crimes as walking alone in public or speaking to a man, even for such dangerous statements as, 'My father is sick.'), while The Magdalene Sisters is about the Catholic Church in Ireland in disturbingly recent times, severely punishing women as a result of what appears to be the Church's frothing and highly irrational fear of sex.

The film focuses on the plights of three women in particular, who have all committed 'crimes' of varying nature but who are all punished by being sent to the Magdalene laundry for an indefinite period of time. One girl, Rose, commits the greatest crime having a child out of wedlock, which neither of her parents will even look at. Interestingly, she had the child because an abortion would have been a sin. Bernadette makes the mortal mistake of flirting with boys outside the orphanage she lived in, and Margaret is raped at a family gathering by a cousin, only to be shipped off herself when she reports it to family members.

At the Magdalene laundry, the girls are subjected to psychological abuse and endless physical toil, all under the old theory that it will cleanse their souls. Some of the women that the three girls in question encounter as they enter the laundry have been there for decades, and they eventually figure out that the only way that they are ever going to get out of there is to escape. Bernadette is especially aware of this, and makes increasing efforts to escape, for which she is brutally punished.

I am genuinely curious to know what path of logic leads people to believe that such practices in the name of religion can have any beneficial value. The Taliban has taken religious torture to its extreme, debasing themselves and their religion by performing unbelievably inhuman acts in the name of their God, and it appears that, while certainly not on the same level of cruelty, the Catholic Church has performed similar crimes against humanity. That the Catholic Church in Ireland promptly condemned the film is not surprising, but if such things are being committed under its name (and indeed continued being committed well into the late 1990s), I should think that the Church would at least allow the film to be shown so that people would be aware of such abuses, which tarnish the reputation of the Church. I believe that it would have been possible for the Church to defend its own validity while at the same time acknowledging abuses committed in its name, especially if the accusations of cruelty were untrue, although in this case they were not. Running, however, only makes you look guilty.

The Magdalene laundry is presided over by a nun who is simply evil. She is an elderly lady and generally soft-spoken, but this woman makes the wicked witch of the west look like a prancing schoolgirl. The viciousness of the rest of the Sisters of Mercy radiates off of this woman like some kind of sinister force, delicately but successfully walking the line between illustrating the harshness of a brutal religious regime and creating a movie monster. Her character is human, but she's not far from being a monster.

It's disheartening to see the things that people do in the name of religion, especially when the crimes are something as little as behaving like a normal person. There are natural and perfectly healthy behaviors that unfortunately are violations of arbitrary religious laws, which are subsequently punished with outlandish punishments like those seen in this movie. Religion is thrown into reverse, causing pain and suffering rather than offering an escape from it, shown in a modern setting that is so backwards that it could just as easily have taken place in the 1600s.
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The nuns in this film never sang 'How do solve a Problem Like Maria?'
zbenmt26 April 2004
Their idea of problem solving was more based on the Marque de Sade's idea of fun. If you are in the mood for sadism and horror...this is the film for you!!

I could not imagine that such a place as the laundry run by The Order of Magdelene Sisters could exist until I saw this film. The four girls that the story focused on Rose, Bernadette, Margaret and Crispina existed. I have been to Ireland and seen the beauty of that country. I once envied the life of those lucky enough to live there. I don't any longer.

The movie does not attack the Catholic faith so much as give a mindset of the 1960's in Ireland. My word here in the USA hippies were making love not war and these poor girls were only being human beings. I don't like to share the details of a film, but consider that one girl was an orphan and sent to the Magdelene's because she liked to flirt!! One was sent because she was raped!! My goodness, how barbaric can people be? film. And these people were nuns and priests for heaven's sake. Ah and let me not forget the parents who sent their daughters to that place. I will never complain about my parents again. Promise.

Please watch this film.
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10/10
Dirty washing in public
Arthur Crown4 March 2006
Peter Mullan's (2002) film is based primarily upon the TV documentary 'Sex in a Cold Climate' by Steve Humphries which was first aired on RTE (Ireland) and BBC (England) in 1998. The documentary records the recollections of four Irish women who spent their youth and a good proportion of their adult lives as involuntary guests of uncompromising Roman Catholic nuns.

The film is set in a particular example of this institution which, somewhat akin to the English workhouses of the late 19th and early 20th century, became established in Ireland after the Second World War. The Magdelene Laundries took their name from the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene, a 'fallen woman' whom Christ befriended.

We join the main heroines of the movie - Margarette (Anne-Marie Duff), Bernadette (Norah-Jane No one), Rose (Dorothy Duffy) and Crispina (Eileen Walsh) in cameo as their entrance scholarships for the Magdelene Laundry are being sat.

What's most uncomfortable about this part of the movie, is trying to work out what's going on. Trying to work out what it is that's being whispered and what will be the upshot of it, and why. At first, it seems like the soundtrack of the film and the contrast have failed. But before long, it becomes obvious that the soundtrack of the film and the contrast have succeeded. The dark and deafening silence surrounding the circumstances under which these young women are being consigned to the unwelcome stewardship of the Magdalene Sisters comes through loud and muted.

We follow their induction into the laundry by Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), ably assisted by the Sisters Jude (Frances Healy), Clemantine (Eithne McGuinness) and Augusta (Phyllis MacMahon) who contrive with formally celibate gentlemen like Father Fitzroy (Daniel Costello) to represent a world in which God's greatest ideal is achieved through punishment and penitence.

As the film progresses, we begin to understand why it is no accident that these institutions should have been laundries. They could - after all - have been bakeries, dairies, canneries or places where mailbags are sewn.

With every garment that passes through the process, unmentionable filth is cleansed - if the Sisters are to be believed. And if the Sisters are to be believed, the sins of the teenagers and the route to Heaven is bound up in hot water, salt and flagellation.

And as we follow these unsaintly girls on their hapless journey, we finally learn that salvation is as straightforward as a letter we are not privileged to read and a brother who arrives with a suitcase - as if there is anything that anybody could possibly want to carry away from a place like this.

This film is a powerful elegy to the suffering of these unfortunate girls who, constrained to silence for so long, have finally found a voice.
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10/10
Great moving drama
Intertextual2 February 2005
This film will move you that is for sure. It is amazing to think such atrocities went on in the name of God. Well I guess it isn't really but this film lets you experience the single mindedness and hypocrisies of people who hold such fanatical beliefs. The film takes you on a journey through the eyes of helpless young women. These women are victims of the church and all its cruelty. We see how their spirits are affected by such unjust behavior. You will feel and cry along with them. You will hope along with them. It is amazing that anyone in these kind of circumstances could ever find any hope.

Peter Mullan had done a superb job at writing and directing. He even plays a small part in the film.

The script is very well structured. It builds it dramatic tension nicely. The performances all round are very strong.

I am sure you will enjoy this outstanding drama.
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10/10
Teenage girls are sent to the Magdalene Laundries and left in the hands of criminal minds
yjloiselle1 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Based on true accounts and set in Ireland in the 1960's, three teenage girls are sent, against their will, to a convent for various reasons (pregnancy, rape, "too pretty"). The Magdalene Asylums, in existence until 1996, were not unlike the "orphanages" run by the Catholic Church in Québec, during the Duplessis years. The inmates were treated as slaves, made to work in laundries and treated cruelly by those one could never imagine working in God's name.

These unlucky girls, believers in the all-powerful Catholic church, suffer cruelty at the hands of nuns and brothers, often made to feel ashamed and of their sexuality, generating mental illness and self-loathing. The struggle, throughout the plot, is to make it out alive, despite the Asylum's religious roots to save prostitutes as early as the mid 1800's.

This story, brilliantly acted, directed and written leaves virtually nothing to the imagination, which is intentional right from the beginning. The brutality is shown for what it is; in fact, one of the original "inmates" later described the movie as much worse in reality.

At a loss for words, I do not have the eloquence to do this movie justice. If you are not afraid to question the Catholic Church's actions, or have suffered at the hands of it -as my French-Canadian family did- I strongly recommend this artful and historically-revealing movie.
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The wardens were dressed as nuns, and the inmates were only children.
TxMike9 August 2004
'The Magdalene Sisters' would be a preposterous story, were it not factual. The actual names and circumstances appear to have been changed for the screenplay, but the original 50-minute documentary, filmed likely in the mid 1990s, tells us that everything, and more, happened to these children, virtually imprisoned for such things as having a child out of wedlock, or being sexually assaulted, or simply happening to look pretty. With no way out, they were forced to work long hours for no pay, operating the Magdalene Sisters' commercial laundry business, the last one until 1996. As one character, the old nun, explains, a strong Ireland requires that its men remain strong, so we have to remove temptation. The critic Ebert has a complete review. The only relevant "extra" on the DVD is the documentary, which features old photos and film, plus remarkable interviews with ladies who had been in a Magdalene Sisters asylum in the 1940s through the 1960s, including the three ladies around whom the movie's three main characters were built. A very gripping movie, well-acted.
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8/10
From my experience with nuns - a somewhat restrained film
aquamanda8 December 2010
The Magdelene Sisters is a good portrayal of the very real behaviour of nuns. I am English and emigrated to Canada with my family. I attended a catholic school which was run by these social misfits, and from my very first day, I was persecuted for the following crimes: I had a short hair cut, my hand writing was not neat, I did not know the words to the Canadian national anthem, I had an English accent, I was good at drawing, I failed to smile at the right time during assembly, I slipped on some ice in the school grounds and hurt myself. etc., etc., etc. I was hit countless times during my few months there - before I left the horrible place. I was constantly referred to as "the green horn Englishman",mocked and imitated because of my accent, and belittled because I didn't know the Canadian national anthem, which we were required to sing every morning before lessons began - (I'd only been in the country weeks - I soon learned it). I was kept behind after school regularly because my handwriting was "unacceptable", causing me to miss my bus home (I had a long way to travel). I was once hit across the back of my head with the words "you write like a boy, you talk like a boy - you even look like a boy". I was eight years old. My sister, who was ten, received remarkably similar treatment. I was terrified to tell my parents because I thought they would speak to the nuns and I would be worse off. Instead they thankfully took my sister and me out of school after she admitted what was going on. I have nothing but contempt for these people. I feel that anything which exposes them as they really are can only be of value to society, above all, for the protection of children.
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Very disturbing, very well made, very unfortunate story
Joe T4 October 2010
As already well noted, this is a very well crafted film that captures and portrays some of the lowest possibilities of human endeavour. The movie has it's flaws, but drawing empathy from the viewer is not one of them and this it does so well that I was emotionally exhausted by the end of it.

The religious dimension of the film is an interesting one. Clearly people wanting opportunity for anti-Catholic or anti-religious diatribe would find plenty of fuel here, but I think the more reasonable viewer (religious or not) would see the issues raised for what they are - a perversion and distortion of Christian faith perpetuated and maintained by flawed institutional systems. In this vein, it's not necessarily an anti-religious film and not even anti-establishment as such, but it does show a terrible side of those things and, moreover, illustrate how human beings can take any ideology, belief system etc. and turn it to meet their own personal sadistic and evil ends.

A sad and horrible film and one that reminds us all of what not do to, how not to treat people and how we should be ever vigilant as a society against evil and cruelty no matter the guise it takes.
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