Agnes of God (1985) Poster


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Absorbing film
blanche-27 August 2006
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 perception.

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.
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Career Performance For Tilly
Cheetah-63 January 2002
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.
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Fascinating character piece
stephan-174 July 1999
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.
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An Excellent Movie
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.
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Such a good movie.
mahkiesl2 March 2006
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!
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A movie that makes you think...
juliomontoya200022 February 2003
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?
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doire26 July 2001
Warning: 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.".
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Films Of Jane Fonda: Agnes Of God
FloatingOpera73 September 2006
Warning: 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.
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Fairly good psychological drama
RoseNylan2 January 2011
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 convent.

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.

Generally worthwhile.
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Interesting drama
AKS-630 January 2000
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.
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An exercise in actorly tics...
moonspinner5529 August 2005
Young nun in a convent, so enamored with her Savior that she seems to be in a lovestruck daze, may or may not have killed an infant. Anne Bancroft is the Mother Superior, Jane Fonda is the investigating psychiatrist (every movie should have one), and Meg Tilly is the enchanting yet frustrating nun whom nobody can budge with common sense. Adapted from the kind of stage-play that doesn't go over well in high schools, "Agnes of God" (terrible title!) is sort of the flip-side to "Rosemary's Baby", an unsettling, overwrought exercise for thespians to display their range. What's amazing is that these actresses carve out interesting characterizations within the hoked-up, hysterical scenario. They can't possibly believe these goings-on, but they give it conviction, particularly Fonda, sterling as usual. Bancroft shines in one particular scene, again hoked-up, where she sneaks a cigarette; it's a cliché, but it's the relief the picture needs. Tilly is aggravatingly bright and beguiling. By the third act, the film has pretty much self-destructed, yet there's not much satisfaction in the answers given to us. **1/2 from ****
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If you want the father's name, you're missing the point
giffey-116 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
'Agnes of God' is simply one of the best acted films made. Based on a Broadway play, it stars Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly in roles that are their career best in my opinion.

The story is that a young novitiate (she is not yet a nun) has had a baby that is found in the waste paper basket with the umbilical cord wrapped around it's neck and the novitiate unconscious, seemingly having no recollection of the pregnancy or birth. Dr. Martha Livingstone is chosen by the court to interview the Mother Superior and Agnes to find out what has happened. Agnes is seemingly an innocent, having no knowledge of sex or childbirth, having been raised by an alcoholic mother who had migraines and visions of angels. She kept Agnes innocent so she wouldn't end up like her. The Mother Superior is her Aunt, which adds complexity to the back story. Dr. Livingstone is a lapsed Catholic who believes in science and has no belief in miracles and knows that Agnes must have been with a mortal man to get pregnant. Mother Miriam is so steadfast in her belief in Agnes as touched by God, that she is willing to suspend belief in the hope of a miracle. The interactions of the three main characters in seemingly a battle for Agnes' immortal soul and the belief by Dr. Livingstone that Agnes may not be as innocent as she seems, makes for compelling and fascinating drama. The fact that you are never sure how the child was conceived is beyond the point. It doesn't need to be answered. The point of this film is that a woman became pregnant and the child is dead. Who did it and how much does Agnes know.

My only complaint with the film is I read the play before I ever saw the film. A miracle happens, the play makes clear what it is. The final speech by Dr. Livingstone and indeed the trial is very different and should have been used in the film. It makes more sense. Still, a brilliantly acted and directed film that never got the credit it deserved.
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Problem Play Well-Adapted to the Screen
Scott Amundsen5 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I was tempted to give this movie a ten, because what it does well it does very well, but unfortunately it has a couple of problems that it never really overcomes.

And this isn't totally the fault of the film, either, because the problems that plague the film are the same ones that plagued John Pielmeier's play.

On the Broadway stage, AGNES OF GOD was basically a showcase for three powerful actresses at the top of their game: Elizabeth Ashley, the late, great Geraldine Page, and Amanda Plummer in a remarkable breakthrough performance.

In the film, we have three equally powerful actresses: Jane Fonda, the late, great Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly in an equally remarkable breakthrough performance.

The story is a simple one. A young nun in a cloistered convent (Tilly) has given birth to a baby, and has apparently also killed it. The young woman, raised in strange and sheltered conditions since childhood, is unworldly to the point of simple-mindedness and claims to have no memory of the birth.

Enter Fonda as the court-appointed psychiatrist who has been assigned to determine just exactly what this young woman's mental state really is. She is a bundle of nerves herself, an agnostic with a grudge against the Catholic Church who chain-smokes and immediately raises the suspicion of Mother Superior (Bancroft), a woman who was married and had a family before taking the veil, who seems to have one foot in the spiritual realm and one in the worldly: she may know more about what happened than she is willing to reveal, and she wants desperately to believe in miracles, even to the point of implying that Agnes's child may not have had an earthly father.

Naturally, the psychiatrist will have none of this, at least not at first, but Reverend Mother is not so easily put off, and Agnes herself is not exactly forthcoming with information.

Watching this film, I could see why it made such compelling theatre: the performances by all three actresses are dynamite, the dialogue is crisp and knowing, and the situation has more than sufficient intrigue to keep the viewer's attention right to the final revelation.

Unfortunately it's the final revelation that is the film's (and the play's) wet firecracker: the question that is raised is never satisfactorily answered, leaving the viewer hanging, and speaking for myself at least, feeling a little bit manipulated.

I really can't complain too much though. Fonda, Bancroft, and Tilly are so good here that the play's basic flaw does not ruin everything that came before.

So if you are in the mood to see three really great actresses strut their stuff, I highly recommend AGNES OF GOD. Despite its faults, it is compelling filmmaking.
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"Ignorance Is Next To Virginity!" - (Movie Quote)
Dalbert Pringle8 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Neither loving it, nor loathing it - 1985's "Agnes Of God" was one of those "not-quite-satisfying" films that (because of its in-your-face, religious subject matter) had me sitting on the fence when it came to offering up a rational and fair-minded opinion about it.

And, of course, while watching Agnes Of God, the following question continually came to mind - Was Agnes, in actuality, a bona-fide flake, or was she, in fact, really, truly for real?

And just like me riding the fence in my opinion of said-movie - I'd say that this film's screenwriters also chose to ride the fence, as well - Yes. All the way to the story's ending - Never, ever giving the viewer a "yes" or a "no" answer regarding the true state of Agnes's mental stability.

For the most part, Agnes Of God's story did keep its head above water in the realm of intelligence - But, when it came down to its insinuation of an honest-to-goodness "immaculate conception" (regarding Agnes's murdered baby girl), the viewer really had no choice but to take the entire story's validity with a rather large grain of salt.

All-in-all - In spite of its numerous flaws and gaping plot-holes - Agnes Of God's religiously disturbing story did, indeed, offer up strong performances from its 3 principal actresses - Anne Bancroft, Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda.

Believe me, this was definitely one of those films that one has to see for themselves so that they, in turn, can form their own judgements on its somewhat controversial subject matter.
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Excellent All Around Film
Syl7 January 2006
When Anne Bancroft died this past year, I remembered this film because of her performance. I can't forget Jane Fonda and Meg Tilly's as well. The three actresses really provided some of their finest performances for the camera. We are left with more questions than answers. But as we go through watching this film, we love Anne's role as the Mother Superior with a few secrets of her own and Jane Fonda as the psychiatrist assigned to Sister Agnes. I love the interaction between Fonda and Bancroft. They're professionals and they're good in this film. That's why the three earned Academy Award nominations. Finally a film about nuns that's not so demeaning or patronizing. Mother Superior joins the convent for her reasons or because she felt chosen to do God's work. Sister Agnes and Mother Superior's relationship is not so obvious to the viewer. YOu have to take into account every word of what is said between these three characters. You feel sorry for Fonda's childless lonely character as well. In the end, we have more questions than answers that are never really resolved but it's a great film and one of Anne's best work.
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Intriguing with hauntingly beautiful cinematography.
Greg4 January 2005
What I loved most about this movie was the beautiful cinematography. It is stunningly filmed and really evokes an emotion of spiritualness and the unknown in me. Meg Tilly was superb as the nun who gives birth to a baby that is then murdered. Her innocence, naietivty are portrayed with such adept skill. Jane Fonda's character was solid as well, playing a sympathetic yet inquisitive psychiatrist who wants answers. I also felt that Anne Bancroft did an adequate job, but was lacking something for me.

No easy answers in this movie, as religion and spirituality do not offer concrete answers. Thought provoking indeed and as I said, the film is so beautifully shot, it just adds to the spirituality of this movie. You won't find a tidy two hour movie but you will think about how religion is powerful behind many forces.
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Exemplary Film-making
jzappa26 June 2007
First off, Jane Fonda is a wonderful, riveting actress who packs a punch with every performance. In Agnes of God, she delivers on a very personal level, portraying a character very close to herself and bringing passion to the screen. She is also, in her early fifties, looking so loin-scorchingly beautiful that I could hardly restrain myself at times. Despite her wardrobe, depicting a woman who doesn't care to exhibit so loudly her heart-poundingly, blood-throbbingly luscious body, she magnetizes any heterosexual libido watching this film. Now that that's been made clear, I'll return to more practical comments upon this movie.

Meg Tilly makes you wonder why her sister is more popular and still working these days. She is haunting as a nun who in mind and spirit is still a naive and innocent little girl, overloaded with imagination and shame for every presentation of any of the realities of being a woman. Each actress in the film matches the other, but only Tilly disturbs us and rocks our emotions.

Anne Bancroft, in maybe her best performance short of The Graduate, is wonderful because of how realistic her character is, the sad woman whose present situation brings peace but does not hinder the edge she's developed from life. Her scenes with Fonda are riveting, despite the stage-like speed at which they exchange dialogue which hardly has the effect on screen as it would in the original play. The two actresses develop a swaying arch that lasts throughout the movie, as they meet, and no matter how much they disagree and fight, can still find that one moment in the gazebo where they can connect on a relatively comfortable level. They only hate each other because of what the other represents to the other's desperately fixed opinion, and if things were different, they could get along just like anyone else. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a relationship like that done so well and so clearly in a movie before. It's a rare and odd sort of occurrence and in life that isn't often recognized, and those two actresses performed it with the sharp perception that makes them two of the greatest actresses of the 1960s through the '80s.

Agnes of God is directed by Norman Jewison with a sort of effect that films rarely live up to. I don't know if I would call it one of my favorite films, but I would call it a film that sets a perfect example of effective, atmospheric, emotional film-making. Jewison's use of director of photography Sven Nykvist, of Ingmar Bergman fame, gives the film the visual moods it has that Jewison subtly projects on us. Every prop, setting, and landscape is old, almost antique-like, and therein lies feeling and atmosphere. There's a sense of history that is never spoken of. Georges Delerue's music is so packed with weeping, heart-sinking emotion that because of it, tears will strain your eyes. The film is so subtle in its workings, especially on Jewison's handling of the cinematography and music. The music will slowly sneak into a scene and you will hardly notice it's entrance, and it will pack a scene with tension or passion or even fear in any combination of warmth, sneakiness, and atmosphere. The film entrances you because of these subtleties. Jewison will focus so deeply on one setting that it's an entire universe for us, and when a new scene takes place somewhere else, it's jolting. What a sad, powerful, atmospheric film. I cried so hard.
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A Modern Morality Play
kaljic10 December 2012
Agnes of God is one of those little gems, which while not overlooked (both Ann Bancroft and Meg Tilly were nominated for their performances), could have received more attention. The reason it did not, I believe, is that it challenges the viewer and takes a serious look at core beliefs, thus automatically taking it out of the mainstream.

The film really is about three mutually exclusive, opposing viewpoints and outlooks on life. One side is represented by Meg Tilly, playing the naive, young nun accused of murder, and who represents pure religious ecstacy. The other is played by Ann Bancroft, who plays the mother superior of the convent, and while religious, knows of and is experienced in the world. The last is Jane Fonda, who plays a court-appointed psychiatrist to determine if Meg Tilly is competent to stand trial. She represents the world of secular humanism.

On one level the movie is a drama, whose underlying plot is to determine exactly what happened that night when Meg Tilly was discovered with a dead baby. On a deeper level the movie is an examination of how each position -- humanism, religiosity, and religious ecstacy -- views the world.

This film is basically an ensemble plot that pits the performances of Fonda, Bancroft and Tilly, and their respective viewpoints, against each other. It is truly a cultural clash of these three orientations where one side attempts to understand the other. Through most of the movie there is no understanding or meeting of the minds, there is conflict and there is only misunderstanding. There is conflict in the movie not just because the screen writers wanted some dramatic tension in the film. These three viewpoint indeed are different points of view where there is little common ground.

The legal system must proceed, but Fonda (secular humanism) wants very much to understand the obvious genuineness of Meg Tilly's religious fervor. Is this a reflection of her own (secular humanism's) own vacuity? She works a little harder than she would have done if this were an other case. And the viewer too wants to believe as well. The viewer does not want to believe that Tilly was molested or abused. The viewer's hopes are anchored on the great depth of Tilly's faith. There is enough evidence to make the viewer believe that perhaps Tilly is pure and did not kill the baby, because when she is caught up in her religious zeal, she bleeds. Some of the most poignant scenes in the movie is where, personally confused and conflicted by all the attention paying upon her, Meg Tilly spontaneously bleeds on the palms of her hands. The establishment (Ann Bancroft) will always have an interest in clearing the matter quickly and neatly. Whether the film presented such a resolution only the viewer can answer.

All performances are strong and all the main actresses were Oscar-nominated for good reason. Fonda's performance deserved a nomination as well, but she wasn't for whatever reason.

This movie is thought-provoking. If there was any movie not meant for casual viewing, it is this one. It deserves five stars for its brilliant treatment on the topic portrayed.
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Truth Versus Miracles
Eumenides_01 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Agnes of God opens with screams in a convent. As nuns rush to the room where the screams come from, the viewer is confronted with the scene of a novice nun, Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly), covered in blood; in a paper wastebasket next to her a dead newborn is found. The authorities want to know what happened, but Sister Agnes has blocked all memories from that night, so Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda), has the inglorious task of discovering the truth.

Norman Jewison has made a name for himself tackling hot issues in his movies: cold war paranoia (The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming), racism (In the Heat of the Night; A Soldier's Story), corruption in the legal system (… And Justice for All). In Agnes of God he portrays the touchy relationship between religion and secular authority. A murder probably occurred in the convent but, like a judge says, no one wants to send a nun to prison. They'll be content with declaring Agnes insane and temporarily locking her away in an institution. What makes Dr. Livingston's task so inglorious is that she's fighting alone, against the state and the church, to find the truth.

Appointed by court to analyse Sister Agnes' state of mind, Dr. Livingston starts asking interesting questions that no one else cares about: who was the father? Did any of the nuns know about the pregnancy? Why was Sister Agnes' room the only one with a paper wastebasket? And, more importantly, was the death an accident or a premeditated murder? Opposing the investigation is Mother Miriam Ruth (Anne Bancroft), the head of the convent, a disillusioned woman looking for miracles in the modern world and who wants to believe that Sister Agnes' presumed virgin pregnancy is the work of God.

The movie's main strength lies in the confrontation between these two great actresses. Although the narrative is weak at times, the screenplay fleshed out the characters very well, giving the viewer a lot of information about their past. We learn that Dr. Livingston had a Catholic upbringing but became an atheist after a traumatic experience in her childhood. She sees Sister Agnes as a victim that must be saved from a world that wants her to live in ignorance.

Mother Miriam, who could easily have been portrayed as a sinister antagonist, since it's always easy to make religious figures in cinema evil or crazy, is one o the most compassionate character in the movie, wishing only to protect Sister Agnes from an outside world that only brought pain and misery to the young woman. Sister Agnes, with her devotion and piousness, also reminds Mother Miriam of a time when she still had faith and so becomes an ideal worth fighting for.

Meg Tilly also stands out. Always dressed in white, in opposition to the black garments worn by other nuns, Sister Agnes, with her baby-like face, is a beacon of innocence and kindness. She loves everyone, knows nothing about the world outside the convent, and may be visited by angels. Most of her performance consists of just looking angelic. But when she starts talking about the baby her soft voice takes a sorrowful, angry tone that temporarily upstages the veteran actresses.

It's a pity, however, that her most dramatic scenes come up while she's under hypnosis. That's one my few complaints about the movie. Hypnosis should always be used judiciously since it resolves things too easily. The screenplay could have been stronger – I have nothing to say about the dialogues, which are mesmerising, but the narrative could have had some tweaking.

Also, those who watch this movie may not realise that it contains one of the best scores ever composed for cinema. Georges Delerue, who composed the music for Contempt, Day for Night, A Little Romance, Platoon and other classics, composed a score here that creates a relaxed feeling of harmony, perfect for meditation, and with beautiful church-like choral music – and it's hardly heard in the movie. It's a strange decision (and ironic since Delerue got his fifth Oscar nomination for it) because seldom have a score and movie complemented each other so well.

Nevertheless, this character-driven mystery should satisfy anyone looking for some thought provoking ideas. Although Norman Jewison is not hailed as one of cinema's greatest, his ability to raise controversial topics and get unforgettable performances from his actors always makes his movies interesting to watch.
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Suppose the saints would have smoked if tobacco'd been popular back then?
lastliberal18 August 2008
A Golden Globe performance for Meg Tilly and Oscar nominations for Tilly and Anne Bancroft. This is a story that brings into question stigmata, belief, along with the possibility of virgin birth.

A nun (Tilly) has a baby, which is found dead, and she is brought up on manslaughter charges. She claims no knowledge of the baby or how to even have a baby.

Jane Fonda, an obvious skeptic, is a psychiatrist appointed to examine the situation. What is a to be a psychiatric examination turns into an investigation of the convent. Secrets come out bit by bit as Nancy Drew, I mean the psychiatrist, discovers the one secret that can explain everything.

But does it? Simple seduction or a miracle? It is left for the viewer to decide.

What is not left to the viewer to decide is the excellent performances by the three stars above. They were miraculous.
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Riveting performances!
sdave759610 August 2008
Three actresses shine in this hit stage play turned into a movie. "Agnes of God" focuses on the story of isolated nuns in a convent in Canada. A young naive nun named Agnes (Meg Tilly) somehow conceives a child, giving birth, and the baby ends up dead. Finding out what happened here is the job of a somewhat jaded and burned out psychiatrist (Jane Fonda). The psychiatrist seems to have a bit of an ax to grind against the Catholic Church and in particular the way the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) has shielded the young nun. The film is absorbing in the way it weaves this story - showing that everyone, including the church, has secrets. The Mother Superior tries to convince the psychiatrist that Agnes is "touched by God" and that he permitted the conception. Just how she did conceive is never explained -leaving it up to the viewer to decide. Meg Tilly is excellent in a very early film role, and Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft are at their best locking horns over what to do about Agnes. The film shows both the beauty of the Catholic Church and its reputation for secrecy.
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My brief review of the film
sol-7 March 2005
A somewhat interesting yet always rather ordinary nunnery mystery film, it suffers from a poor execution of thought provoking ideas, and being never really clear about anything in the end leaves the film unsatisfying overall. But the film nevertheless has enough to keep one watching with Meg Tilly being a particular virtue to it. She plays the part of a child-like naive and altruistic nun so well that she is able to light up every scene she is in. And, she is the best-remembered part of the whole production afterwards. Her performance is not enough reason to go out and see this, but it is enough reason to keep watching it throughout its duration if the film is on the menu anyway.
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A movie that poses questions and rightly leaves the viewer to search for the answers.
rondine15 August 1999
I liked this movie for many reasons. I love the atmosphere and the beautiful scenery. The quiet and sometimes enviable looking life of a cloistered nun. The haunting music by Georges Delerue. And the committed acting by the 3 lead women. This movie's basic question that we are left with is, are miracles possible and do they still happen? People who felt they were left hanging by the ending are right. This movie doesn't attempt to answer these questions, merely to make us think about it. I personally love movies that make me think and take me to another place- which this movie does.
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Well-done, but muddled.
gridoon24 May 2001
This film is thematically interesting, to be sure, examining such conflicts as agnosticism vs. faith and spirituality vs. scientific explanations. But the result comes across as infuriatingly confused and muddled. The ending, supposed to lead to some kind of resolution, is a mixture of half-baked ideas that contradict each other. (**1/2)
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