In Agnes of God, John Pielmeier adapts his own play into a moving, thoughtful drama about faith and doubt and the miraculous. A young nun delivers a child that then dies immediately after birth; when the mentally challenged young woman claims that the pregnancy was miraculous, an atheist psychiatrist is called in to judge her mental stability. The psychiatrist quickly falls into conflict with the hard-edged, pragmatic mother superior of the convent and the stage is quite neatly set for a rumination on faith. The performances are all very good. Anne Bancroft is the canny mother superior and her performance grounds the woman in reality and, with help from a multi-layered script, she makes the woman come to life as a real person, not simply as a cardboard cutout. Meg Tilly is a real revelation (pun intended) as the titular Agnes, a young girl that is either touched by God or very mentally disturbed or perhaps simply playing a game to avoid responsibility. Jane Fonda is also very good as the psychiatrist; she gives us hints of fragility behind the tough exterior. The direction is quite good; Jewison captures the desolate countryside and the chilly convent to perfection. The score by Georges Delerue is magnificent, one of his absolute best, an ethereal mix of strings and voices that creates a real atmosphere, a mix of traditional sounds of faith filtered through Delerue’s own perspective. The film was controversial upon release; Roger Ebert gave it one star out of a possible four. A lot of the people who had issues with the movie seemed to be expecting a resolution more concrete than the one the film provides and it is true that the film has sequences that feel very much like they’re out of a mystery-thriller. But this isn’t a mystery-thriller; it’s an exploration of faith that uses the trappings of a mystery-thriller and it’s a mistake for the viewer to expect everything to be absolutely clear at the end of the film. Personally, I found the ending to be absolutely perfect; the final scene with Tilly is one of the most beautiful and strange of the entire film in my opinion. Ultimately, I think the film adds up to being both really thought-provoking and also really emotional. I thought about the movie a lot in the following days after watching it and at the same time, it really did work on a spiritual level as well. I found it to be really compelling. The scenes where Agnes recounts her visions are beautiful; the performance, the music and the religious strangeness of the monologues all combine to really create a very unique mood. Again, this one was very controversial, but I absolutely loved it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – great performances & a wonderful script create a thoughtful, evocative, spiritual meditation on faith & miracles; don’t expect everything to be wrapped up perfectly, but why would you? 4 stars.