Agnes of God

Starring: Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, Meg Tilly
Written By: John Pielmeier
Directed By: Norman Jewison
Released in 1985

A play by John Pielmeier concerning a nun who gives birth in a convent, the child found strangled in a wastebasket in her room. It was made into an excellent film starring Jane Fonda as Dr. Martha Livingston, a court-appointed psychiatrist sent to investigate the incident. Anne Bancroft plays Mother Miriam Ruth, the mother superior of the convent, who is fighting to keep Agnes out of prison. Meg Tilly won a Golden Globe for her role as Agnes, the confused, childlike novice caught in the midst of a fierce battle for her body and her soul.

Livingston is dispatched to the convent, and begins interviewing Agnes, trying to find out who might have impregnated her. Agnes first insists that baby never existed, then that it was the result of virgin birth. Dogging her heels at every step is the Mother Superior, seeking to protect Agnes from Livingston, who she believes will take Agnes from her.

The scenes between Tilly and Fonda, and Fonda and Bancroft are electric, buzzing with intensity. The pacing and structure of the adaptation is quite theatrical, recalling such film adaptations as Marsha Norman's 'Night, Mother or Six Degrees of Separation, with most of the film set up as dialogues between two or three actors in a limited space.

The parallels between this film and The Exorcist are quite pronounced, the core of both is the same: attempting to save an innocent child from the evils of the world. Both deal with the inadequacies of the church, and the darker side of religion.

The basis of the story is a real case that took place in 1977, in Brighton, New York, involving a nun named Sister Maureen. The sister claimed she couldn't remember being pregnant, and was tried in for murder. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The climax of this film is highly disturbing, and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. It is an overlooked gem.

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