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04 June 2013

"A Nun's Movie Review" (The Nun’s Story, 1959 Film)

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Note: Sister asked us not to put her name. She may be shy but I think she is just humble.  Yes, she is real and not fictional. She is a former student of mine)

Life is different for everyone.  Even if we have different lifestyles, everybody has strong aspirations when it comes to love. As there are many faces of people in the world, so too are there many different kinds of love. Every kind of love is beautiful and noble if we can discover ourselves through our journey looking for love. However, the search for love is a difficult journey. In spite of that, we should not give up. Only love can complete our lives.

One day, my teacher recommended that I watch a film entitled “The Nun’s Story.” It was directed by Fred Zinnemann and it starred Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch. It was based on the 1956 novel of the same title by Kathryn Hulme.  The story is about a woman named Gabriel who enjoys studying medicine because her father is a rich doctor but she would later enter the convent. She has ended her relationship with her boyfriend and she wants to find true love.


The movie made me think about life. I empathize with the character of Gabriel who later becomes Sister Luke. When life threw questions at her, she makes a genuine effort to find the answer and she honestly responds. This movie poses a challenge to us about the real meaning of life. What is the first consideration in life? The nun’s habit does not make us holy. When I was younger, I thought that if I were going to become a nun, I would finally be a free person.  However, I have realized that the important thing is the process, not the result. How I would live in the present is more important. Therefore, we have to be honest to ourselves. One has to ask oneself, “Am I happy now?”  As couples who get married make an effort to keep their love and learn how to be considerate to each other, Sister Luke also tries to learn how to love the life in the convent. She behaves in an exemplary manner but she never follows the convent’s rules blindly. Blind obedience is dangerous. It is hypocrisy and self-deceiving and not true obedience. God gave us free will and thinking capability. When she prepares to take the medical examination, the mother superior asks her to fail the exam intentionally in order to help another sister and to learn humility. This order is a little too difficult for her. She is troubled with this matter but she is honest. She disobeys and passes the test.  As a result, she is ordered to work in a mental hospital as assistant to another nurse sister instead of going Congo as a doctor. What is right and moral is sometimes difficult to discern. Obedience is one of the beautiful virtues but whenever I face a difficult situation, I am cautious as ever. I thought that the virtue of obedience will come to me naturally as time goes by but I am still stubborn.

Sister Luke is warm-hearted and she already knows how to love other individuals. She fosters harmony and friendship with people whom she meets. When she goes to Congo, she devotes herself to helping, treating and caring for the wounded. She is willing to make the necessary sacrifices for people who need help even if sometimes she has to miss her duties to obey her congregation. She often wavers between obedience and humane behavior. Which of these is true love? Her Superior Sister said, “My child, I don’t underestimate for a moment the seriousness of your faults but you must not destroy yourself with guilt and remorse. You must learn to bend a little or you’ll break. There is no resting place ever but you must have patience with yourself. Unhappy saints are lost from the beginning. Ask for God’s help and guidance and I know you will make your final vows.”

I understand what she endures. I want to tell her, “Allow me to show your weakness. It is fine. I want to embrace you.” Sometimes, we need to look at our life from a distance. If you do this, you can find a better answer. Take a step backward and look again.

When she works at a hospital in Congo, one man kills her nurse sister because of a native superstition. If he kills a white woman, his wife will get well. Therefore, he kills a sister who has served in man’s village but Sister Luke forgives him and she invites the native people to a Christmas mass. Jesus teaches us that to forgive is the best way to show love for one another. Congo’s natives, once genuinely contrite, become believers in God. Sister Luke is happy to be rewarded. However, she hears about her father’s sudden death in the hands of the Germans during the war. She is lost to grief for a long time and she finds it difficult to forgive the Germans. In this situation, what would we most probably say to Sister Luke? How can she stay calm in a situation like this? We cannot demand anything from her. We will just have to wait and see her choice. To add insult to injury, she wants to continue to work in Congo as a missionary doctor but her congregation would not allow her.

In the last scene of the movie, Sister Luke is in civilian clothes, the door quietly opening and she is leaving the convent. Does she break her vow? She will start a new journey, searching once again. She will be confronted with other questions. She will complete the love that she wants and has chosen through this process. The film’s last scene has no music because it leaves us with a question to answer. The answer is up to us. Whatever her choice is, no one has the right to criticize or point fingers at her. While there is life, there is hope. In a way, the habit is of little importance.

When I first learned how to swim, I wanted to swim wonderfully like a mermaid. However, the more I floundered in the water, the more I sank. I was too afraid to swim any more so I wanted to give up. My friend said, “Do not be afraid and start by relaxing your body.” I believed her and after that, I could float in the water. Life is like swimming in the sea. We swim. We ride the waves. Love is seizing the moment. If I meet God, what will God ask me? I guess: “Are you truly happy?” I hope to reply, “I am happy and I love you sincerely.”

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