February 02, 2006

The Magdalene sisters

Posted by Xun  |  No comments

The name Magdalene was planted in my head by my reading of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code". Since then, I kept meeting the name in various articles and books that quote copiously the passages concerning Magdalene in the Bible. But I remain undecided (indifferent too) about her role and the story of Jesus and Magdalene supposedly love and marriage. Like a child who neither could appreciate nor care the complexity or multiple dimensions in a person, the incessant inquiry and debate about her annoys me; like a child, I somehow wish there is only one parental voice, with every bit unquestionable certainty, declare that: "hey, do not worry about it. This is a bad (good) guy!"

But that is not the reason that I picked the movie The Magdalene sisters. It just offers another example how this name kept on sneaking into my consciousness. It also offers an example why we cannot relinquish our right of independent thinking and decision-making to religion.

(The Magdalene Sisters is a harrowing look at institutional cruelty, perpetrated by the Catholic Church in Ireland, and justified by a perverted hysteria about sex (Roger Ebert), and in the name of religion, sin or redemption or whatever self-righteousness suits the perpetrators of the virtual prison and slavery. The name Magdalene is borrowed because, by the Bible, she represents sexual shame and repentance and ultimate forgiveness by Jesus.)

Throughout the movie, I sat quietly, fixated and confused, chill slowly seeped through my body.

I was puzzled by the many sudden changing faces and moods of Sister Bridget (the head of the Magdalene laundry) possess and various odd acts she did. On a few occasions, ferociously she whipped the girls, she half shaved and half pulled out the girls hair; on another, she demanded the girls all standing in rows, naked, and compared their breasts and pubic hair; then in a rare moment, she coyly declared her love for movies, then she watched one movie with tears glistening in her eyes.

From moment to moment, I was confused also because of quality of the movie: raw, gritty, authentic sometimes almost grainy. The main characters in the movie are presented as so homely, their dialogues, though few and terse, are so direct and unembellished, as if they were really talks of miserable peasant girls. Together with the grayish, austere setting, plus an almost non-existence of music, it makes me wonder if I was really watching an home video. But powerful moments come from direct, powerful and desperate inquiry: "What in God's name have we done to deserve this?"

I am glad the movie is not turned into a heroic escape story with one inspiring hero, one ingeniously devised plan and soaring music. Like Shawsank. Instead, it assembles four very different females. One intelligent and quiet (Margerett), one compliant and eager to please (Rose), one temptuous and rebellious (Brendette), one so simple almost retarded (Clipinski). Their journeys of getting out were vastly different too. Margerett was simply taken away by her brother, Clipinski was sent to a facility for the insane, Rose and Brendette outpowered the senile and dumbfounded nuns, and ran, ran, ran the hell out of the asylum.

The scrolling close credits disclose that Magdalene laundry ensnared about 30,000 woman and it flourished between the 60s and 70s. It also disclosed the fates of the four females the movie featured.

Thursday, February 02, 2006
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