At a convent, fragile, unearthly Sister Agnes gives birth, but the child dies and Agnes retains no memory of the event. The police soon are involved because of the death of the baby. However, the main conflict is between Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, who wants Agnes left alone, and Dr. Martha Livingston, a psychiatrist determined to help Agnes gain a stronger grasp on reality and uncover any wrongdoers.
Agnes of God is a 1985 American mystery drama film directed by Norman Jewison, written by John Pielmeier based on his play of the same name, and starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilly, about a novice nun who gives birth and insists that the dead child was the result of a virgin conception. A psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) and the mother superior (Bancroft) of the convent clash during the resulting investigation.
Despite generally mixed reviews from critics, the film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Bancroft), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Tilly), and Best Music, Original Score. Tilly also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
About the Story
In a Roman Catholic convent near Montreal, Quebec, Canada, during evening prayers, the nuns hear screams coming from the room of Sister Agnes, a young novice. Agnes is found in her room bleeding profusely, and in a wastepaper basket there is a dead baby with its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck.
Sister Agnes is suspected of killing the baby, so psychiatrist Martha Livingston is assigned by a court to determine if she is competent to stand trial. In an interview, Agnes claims she doesn’t remember being pregnant or giving birth, and shows a lack of understanding of how babies are conceived. Mother Miriam tells Livingston that Agnes is an “innocent” who was kept at home by her mother and knows nothing about the world. She is desperate to keep Agnes naive, and declares that she couldn’t have known what pregnancy was or remember the father.
Mother Miriam tells Livingston about the time Agnes stopped eating in the belief she was getting fat, and then exhibited stigmata in her hand that healed itself within a day. Agnes takes Livingston to her favorite place, a bell tower at the convent. They argue about Agnes’ mother and birth, and how much Agnes knows about sex and pregnancy.
Mother Miriam tells Livingston that Agnes must have conceived on January 23, because that is the night Agnes burned her bedsheets. While looking around the convent grounds, Livingston comes across a barn full of statues of angels and saints. She and a young monsignor argue about whether her lack of faith will leave her unable to treat Agnes with dignity. Livingston learns that Agnes’ mother sexually molested Agnes and that Agnes is Mother Miriam’s niece.
Livingston receives permission from the court to hypnotize Agnes, but Mother Miriam is strongly against it, believing it will strip her of her innocence. While hypnotized, Agnes admits she gave birth and that another woman in the convent knew she was pregnant, but will not reveal who. Livingston discovers that a secret tunnel connects the convent’s chapel with the barn. Mother Miriam tries to have Livingston removed from the case, but she appeals to the police and is retained.
Livingston obtains a second court order to put Agnes under hypnosis again. Mother Miriam admits that she knew Agnes was pregnant and put the wastebasket in her room, but denies she killed the baby. Under hypnosis, Agnes reveals that she used the tunnel to go see “Michael” in the barn. Under questioning, she appears to describe having an encounter with an “entity”. Suddenly, Agnes exhibits stigmata in her hands, and begins bleeding profusely. Agnes declares that God raped her, and that she hates God for it. She admits that Mother Miriam was present when the baby was born, and that Agnes killed the child because she believed it was a mistake.
Agnes of God (1985)
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Starring: Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, Meg Tilly, Anne Pitoniak, Winston Rekert, Gratien Gélinas, Gabriel Arcand, Françoise Faucher
Screenplay by: John Pielmeier
Production Design by: Ken Adam
Cinematography by: Sven Nykvist
Film Editing by: Antony Gibbs
Costume Design by: Renée April
Set Decoration by: Jaro Dick
Art Direction by: Carol Spier
Music by: Georges Delerue
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: August 21, 1985