Friday, January 21, 2005

Movie Review: Agnes of God

United States, 1985
Running Time: 1:38
Rated: PG-13 (Violence)
Cast: Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, Meg Tilly, Gratien Gelinas, Janine Fluet, Anne Pitoniak

Director: Norman Jewison
Producer: Patrick Palmer & Norman Jewison
Screenplay: John Pielmeier, based on the stage play by John Pielmeier
Music: Georges Delerue
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Posted by Hello
In most cases, philosophical murder mysteries are routinely contrived, tacky, and full of red herrings. Agnes of God is no exception. With a storyline that sounds as if it was pulled from the front page of "The National Inquirer," Agnes of God falls short of anything intellectually stimulating. This hit stage-play turned motion-picture repeatedly disappoints, and is nothing more than an exasperating piece of dastardly drivel.

On a quiet night within the walls of a Montreal convent, a novice nun named Agnes (Meg Tilly) is found in her quarters drenched in blood. Upon a closer inspection of her room, a dead infant, with its umbilical cord tired around its neck, is discovered in Agnes’ wastebasket. Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is called in to investigate the killing and provide a psychiatric evaluation of Agnes—the apparent mother and murderer of the child. Agnes claims that she does not recollect the conception or the birth, but Dr. Livingston is adamant to assign a definitive explanation as to both who the father is and who killed the newborn.

Considering the only male candidate who ostensibly has any access to the convent is Father Martineau (Gratein Gelinas), an elderly and slow-moving man, Mother Superior Miriam (Anne Bancroft) believes that the father of Agnes’s baby is God. She deems the conception to be immaculate and Agnes to be innocent. With this set of convictions in mind, Mother Superior attempts to discourage Dr. Livingston from interrogating and corrupting Agnes any further; however, she fails.

After a series of one-on-ones and a hypnotism or two, Dr. Livingston determines Agnes to be a very distressed woman who is haunted by her deceased mother. What else will Dr. Livingston uncover? Did Agnes have relations with a mortal man or is she a blessed woman of God (as the title alleges)?

The answer to both of the preceding questions is: one will never know. Agnes of God does not even follow the proper paradigm of a screenplay; it is lacking in both much-needed plot points and a resolution to the third act. Frustratingly, the film relies on the supernatural, and therefore its mass of inquiries that contrast between faith and agnosticism are all infuriatingly left unanswered. Agnes of God provides no closure, which makes the entire 98 minute picture practically pointless.

With the exception of two fairly-done acting portraits from Bancroft and Tilly, Agnes of God is basically just utter nonsense that leaves the audience feeling duped. It attempts to make far too many superfluous associations between its three main dislikable leads and then strives to thrive on these implicit character links; in doing so, the film flops. The picture also contains a tedious chat about what type of tobacco several saints and apostles would have used. All in all, in its weak attempts to display both the possibility of miracles through extraneous character connections and the capabilities of reason through poor dialogue, Agnes of God comes up bankrupt.

Even though the film lacks any measurable amount of aptitude, it’s still not wholly boring; nonetheless, it is entirely unfulfilling. Maybe if the film didn’t take up so much time trying to come off as an advertisement promoting chain-smoking, it could have filled in some of the vague plot elements. Regardless, by the end of the feature, one will most likely enjoy creating his/her own ending (or an ending for that matter) to replace the film’s pitiable finale. Maybe one of the Sisters was really a man; or maybe Agnes was actually a hermaphrodite. Either would have been more fitting than the meager faith-reliant explanation the film offers. Consequently, Agnes of God is one fruitless enigma that is better off disregarded. (*1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005