The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

In beautiful Catholic Ireland, women with illegitimate children are coerced into concentration camps run by monastic orders (of nuns). The children, actually, are taken away and given up for adoption, while the women are interned, locked up, and forgotten. They will be coerced to work in a commercial laundry facility all day to atone for their sins. There is no term limit, they will spend their whole life in the camp if nobody remembers them and gets them out.

The plot sounded like science fiction to me. Or at least some medieval spooky tale of witches, devil worship and crazy Jesuits monks brandishing the Witch Hammer at a town gathering. Turns out it’s an almost contemporary tale, with the last of the concentration camps closing in 1996. [Note: I do not think Jesuit monks are crazy. I actually know a lot of contemporary Jesuit monks, and those I know are smart, literate, considerate and kind.]

Still, an unconventional tale if you consider the revival of orthodoxy in this country. Seeing nuns taking the place of brutal SS crooks was more than I could stomach, and following the story of a few women condemned to life long incarceration was not particularly conducive to my spiritual attachment to the Church.

An excellent movie, one in which the characters shine by pure force of their own stories. The character of Crispina, the slightly mentally dissheveled character, is frankly one of the best acting performances I have seen recently. You feel so far and yet so close to her, and to all other characters; you almost share their fate with them.

And that’s probably my own grief with the movie (and it is serious grief): the plot has us believe all subjects were pure and morally innocent, while all nuns are evil, greedy, and lascivious. That weakens the story somewhat, because it becomes a caricature of reality instead of a portrayal. I suppose that works well in the context of a mainstream movie, but the availability of the original stories of the women portrayed on the DVD helped me a lot in bringing reality back to the fiction.

The existence of Magdalene houses is pure uncompromised evil. Forced labor for sins of lust is absurd, on the same level and possibly with the same uncompromising lack of Christian intent as witch trials and heretic burning. And as I know as a Catholic, all that stands between us and the return of the stake is the Age of Reason.

And that’s eroding away.

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