Novitiate is defined as being a novice in a religious order. The film Novitiate follows a young woman who enters training to become a nun in the early 1960s.
Not really sure I can give you dear readers a fair and balanced account of any movie that takes Catholicism at face value. After all “by dint of hatchet stroke” I long ago cut the bonds that held me to the world of customary morality as well as my youthful Catholic upbringing.
That’s not to say, however, that I don’t appreciate a serious filmmaker tackling issues of religion in cinematic form. Some of my favorite films include Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal as well as his spiritual trilogy that consists of Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence and Winter Light.
My personal schism with religion occurred early in my life when, in the same time frame as that Novitiate takes place, I royally pissed off my mother who insisted that I have a crucifix hanging in my room. At least I had a personal room, my two younger brothers had to share a room.
On Easter while giving the family prayer before our meal I intoned “God is good, God is great, and we thank Him for our ‘monster.’” I thought if God was cool enough to bless our food he should darn well bestow consecrations on our personal collective unconscious monsters.
Needless to say that didn’t go over well. I was sent to bed without my dinner. Only when my mother entered my room she saw that I had cut and pasted a cartoon caption above the crucifix that read: “What a hell of a way to spend Easter.”
Novitiate’s writer/director Margaret Betts shows a passion for the subject at hand. Actresses include Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys) in the titular role with Julianne Nicholson (seething with fire and brimstone) as her agnostic mother. Melissa Leo plays Mother Superior with a severity that suggest the music teacher in Whiplash mixed with the drill Sgt. in Full Metal Jacket.
Leo objects to the changes that are mandatory for her station that are directed by the proceedings of The Second Vatican Council. You might need to do some research on your own if you are not familiar with this historic event as the film doesn’t exactly explain it outright. But that’s okay since less information fits into Leo’s method of running her nunnery.
Repression of desires are explored in the film’s last act.
There’s an odd sense of liberation at the end of Novitiate as we watch the maturation of the characters involved.
Novitiate opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.