Movie Review: “The Magdalene Sisters”

Short story: PLEASE watch both the movie and the documentary. NOT FOR CHILDREN.

(NOTE: I'm not sure I'm very good at "official" reviews, so I'll probably end up telling about this movie the way I'd describe a book to a friend.)

"The Magdalene Sisters" is based on a documentary, "Sex in a Cold Climate" - the DVD includes the documentary). The movie reflects not only the truth that "power corrupts - and absolute power corrupts absolutely", it also reflects the era of the time, when victims were blamed for their own rapes, when girls were "gotten rid of" for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, but the boys got off with nothing, when beauty was looked on with suspicion.

It's the story of four women who were incarcerated for forced labor in a "Magdalene asylum" in the 1960's. One woman was sent there by her father because she had a child out of wedlock, another was sent there after being raped, the third was sent there because she was pretty and the fourth (appearing to be mildly mentally impaired) also had a baby out of wedlock. The nun in charge of the laundry bluntly told the girls when they arrived (I'm paraphrasing): The philosophy here is simple. Your sins will be purged through the washing of laundry. By doing penance here, you will earn your salvation.

They quickly learned that escape was not just difficult, it was nearly impossible. One scene showed an escapee who ran to her home, only to be returned by her angry father. She begged, "I just want to go home." He beat her with a belt, yelling, "You have no home! You have no parents! You killed them!" This girl eventually became a nun and joined the order, the only safe place. When Bernadette tried to escape, she was beaten and her hair was shorn. Sister Brigid forced her to look into a mirror, blood running in her eyes - "you're not so pretty now!"

In a nutshell, "The Magdalene Sisters" showed works-based salvation taken to extreme. The emphasis was all on working off your own sin and earning your salvation through your own work and suffering.

It is a difficult movie to watch and I had to take a couple of breaks. I watched the movie before the documentary and immediately called the friend that told me to watch it and asked, "It said *based* on the true story. Is the story true or are these 4 women true." He said, "Yes." There are a few additions to "flesh out" the attitudes and actions within the asylums - but there was stuff that was left out also that would have made a great emotional impact on any feeling human being watching. Nothing that contradicted the documentary.

Watch BOTH!

Next up: the history...

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4 thoughts on “Movie Review: “The Magdalene Sisters”

  1. I'm buying it...I found the story very disturbing - more so, since I've also read that the "sisters of mercy" and asylums are being opened in Asia and Africa.

    Please let me know what you think.

  2. Anonymous

    It also shows the bizarre and twisted sexual attitudes Catholicism has led to. Many of these girls were punished for the crime of being pretty - of being temptations to men because they were pretty. It plays into the Catholic attitude that women are inferior and dirty but necessary creatures, and that sex is essentially dirty and corrupt but must be entered into in order to make babies.

    And it also shows how ultimately dehumanizing Catholicism can be - many of these girls who never left the convents and who died there were buried in unmarked graves with no records of their deaths kept or even given to their families. They became non-people in the Church's eyes. Because they were female.

  3. The documentary that went along with the movie was just as touching (to me, anyway). "Sex in a Cold Climate" interviews the three women that the movie was based on - very touching and sad.

    What is frightening is that one source said that Magdalene laundries are beginning to show up in remote places in Asia and Africa.

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