Catholic asceticism or self-deprivation, as in a convent, is not for everyone. It is not for every Christian, in fact. In the Fred Zinnemann film, The Nun’s Story (1959), strong-willed Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) becomes certain she is failing as a nun, certain she cannot adequately keep the Holy Rule she respects. Her good work as a nurse in the Congo cannot leave her with a sense of spiritual security, and so she renounces the convent life. Before leaving, Sister Luke (real name: Gabrielle) kneels to receive the sign of the cross from a fellow nun, who silently refuses to grant it. Subsequently our heroine looks at the crucifix on the wall and makes the sign herself. Communicated here is that Gabrielle no longer being a nun does not mean she is no longer a woman of God, a Christian.
How faithful the film is to Kathryn Hulme’s book I don’t know, but creditable work has been done by, among others, Zinnemann and screenwriter Robert Anderson. The movie peters out before its denouement, and reactions to the murder of a nun by a superstitious African ought to have been more affecting. All the same, Hepburn is beautifully serious and so is the film. To me it never gets boring; it gets memorable.
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