Freddy Versus Jason. For a real horror show, try The Magdalene
Sisters. Exposing the hair-raising abuse and inhumanity that
flourished at Ireland's Magdalene Asylums in the 1960s, Peter
Mullan's film wants to outrage. Like Rabbit Proof Fence,
his movie, with the deftness of a surgeon's scalpel, cuts to the
heart of a decades-deep institutional cover-up/scandal and finds
religious arrogance gone frighteningly round the bend.
the film's get-go, we're thrown into the harsh predicaments of
three Dublin adolescents. It's 1964. During a lively wedding shindig
full of percussive music and sweaty socializing, young Margaret
(Anne-Marie Duff) is raped by a lustful cousin. Meanwhile, Rose
(Dorothy Duffy) pleads with her parents to allow one last look
at a newborn son being swept away into forced adoption. Then there's
the lovely, orphaned Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), exchanging
playful glances with some curious boys from across a courtyard
their dubious conduct as evil betrayals by 'fallen' temptresses,
their strict Catholic caregivers withdraw support. All three 'morally
endangered' young women find themselves disowned, denounced, and
dumped at a Dublin workhouse run by iron-fisted Sisters of Mercy.
Their sentences will be indefinite, the 364-day work schedule
grueling. Their sanity will be challenged by verbal, physical
and sexual abuse on a casual, consistent basis.
this ain't Hogwarts, there's full-scale witchery being practiced
behind Magdalene's locked doors. The girls are rounded up by a
grinning, habit-wearing hag and told to strip, before their breasts
and bottoms are ridiculed and mocked. Mother Superior Bridget
(Geraldine McEwan) hacks off hair and issues concentration camp
cuts to girls who attempt escape. And when a particularly fragile
resident publicly protests the relentless sexual favors demanded
by a priest, she's whisked away to a mental hospital.
three lead actresses forge memorable portraits of survivors defying
the spirit-snapping conditions to which they're condemned, pumping
humanity and spirit into a film that could have been unbearable,
even as they warp and strain from the cumulative damage of their
shared experiences. Noone's Bernadette is the most fiery and fierce
of the three, enraged that her (non-crime of) attractiveness has
resulted in enforced servitude and humiliation. Meanwhile, she's
not beyond using her beauty to seduce a horny delivery boy, if
only to provide the illusion of free choice.
is more tentative, unwilling to flee even after stumbling across
an overlooked, open door in the estate's garden. Her actions hint
at a life shackled by years of societal submissiveness, rejection,
and criticism. Perhaps this is my lot in life, Duff's tired eyes
seem to reflect.
Rose's heartbreak and hurt in a worried glance, or an anxious
shuffle, as when her character provides another mother with forbidden
glimpses of the son she hardly knows.
an acclaimed thespian and winner of the Best Actor award at the
1998 Cannes Film Festival, strives for a visual style as dire
and unpleasant as his subject matter. Drab earth tones choke off
any hint of vibrancy or color. Enshrouded in steam, the laundry
scenes elicit the swelter and sweat of the sauna. The nuns' pale
faces are a grotesque collection of folds, slits, and flab. Scrubbed
and cadaver-like, their mugs would not look out of place on mortician's
reaction to The Magdalene Sisters is to ask: was it really
that bad? The answer might rest in the Vatican's quick condemnation
of the film as an "angry and rancorous provocation,"
and complaints from victims who insist that their experiences
were actually much worse than those depicted in Mullan's film.
Meanwhile, it's startling to consider that Magdalene Asylums were
still in operation as recently as 1996.
Sisters shows how innocents are victimized when society casts
a blind eye towards corrupt institutions, allowing them to fester
for decades. It's a story that needs to be told.