In this fall’s Agnes of God, an agonizing shriek and a newborn child found strangled under a nun’s bed set the stage for the indignant questions of a court-appointed psychiatrist. The government wanted Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) to determine whether Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) was sane enough to stand trial for the murder. Livingston wanted to know more: how a novice became pregnant and why it was kept secret.

Mentally drifting through Livingston’s inquisition, Agnes displayed the spaced-out sweetness of a newly converted Moonie. We could only root for a quick deprogramming. As Livingston told Mother Miriam Ruth (Anne Bancroft): “She has a right to know there’s a world out there filled with people who … fall in love, have babies, and occasionally are very happy.”

Agnes was a serious film about serious choices. Doubt, level-headed faith, and mysticism were each given their articulate moments. In a time when the roar of Rambo weapons, Mad Max vehicles, and Star Wars special effects have all but drowned out dialogue in the cinema, the human voice speaking from the heart and soul deserves our applause.

The film worked as a dramatization of philosophies in conflict, but it also worked as a mystery story—complete with hidden clues, silent witnesses, and a secret passageway. What distinguished it from other films of the genre is that the mystery really matters. We were pulled along not only by who-done-it curiosity but by a desire to know if God is really present, if miracles really happen.


The miracles this film focused on, however, are very specialized: heavenly voices, a virgin birth, and stigmata—the marks resembling Jesus’ crucifixion wounds some medieval mystics were said to have received.

From a Protestant point ...

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