film: Mullan: The Magdalene Sisters (2002)…a second try.

It was in an unctious fit that I wrote last night’s comments on this film. In bed, some hours later, I could not close my eyes without the horrors seeping in through every crevice, as if fools themselves, to think that the moment one’s eyes are closed one is wholly insensitive. Which, I suppose, when one considers what I suffer, is precisely the misunderstanding I fancy to be true. In any case, whether I am or am not the fool, I watched this film, and I did not enjoy it, which shouldn’t be considered a demerit when it comes to judging fine art. So, is there not something? anything? that I can discuss that doesn’t relay my passions? Yes. Though very briefly.

The film plays with this convention of ‘sisterhood’ and another of isolation. The girls are not technically sisters, which is the first irony, given that their families are the ones responsible for giving these girls up to the Church and Ireland; but they are all thrown together to live like a family, or like prisoners, together, suffering the same cruel fate together, day by day. Second, we’re quite used to films following the lives of different characters who somehow come in contact with each other, affect each other’s lives, as in The Hours, Pulp Fiction, and Magnolia; that’s to say, it’s getting old. But in this case, we follow, more or less, five girls, whose names I won’t bother trying to remember. They do interact with each other, but because there are policies of forcing them into isolation even when they’re together, whether by outright corporeal punishment, or by humiliation and forcing them to withdraw inside themselves, interaction is something that nearly takes our breath away when it occurs. Explanations aren’t given, one girl steals from another, one girl saves another from suicide, and so forth, but the extent of their caring for each other stops just beyond the threshold of kindness. It seems so easy for them to rise up and rebel, but they never do. The majority of emotions in this film are displayed by the audience. So, that’s what we have, a film following the lives of four girls, that in any other situation, would twist and turn around each other’s stories in endless complication. Instead, they weave past each other, barely touching, and the fact that these girls were ever together at all, it doesn’t really matter. In the end two of the girls escape and unleash half the emotions you were hoping for, and run through what looks like a scene from La Grande Illusion, which, I think is not a poor comparison to make. In Renoir’s film there are no bad people or real conflicts, despite being a film about prisoners of war. The prisoners were out to kill someone else’s enemy, and the guards are keeping watch over someone else’s prisoners. They know they just have to play the game and they should get out okay. In Sisters, we’re dealing with an illusion even more grand, which is the Church itself. Motives become twisted when the concept of God appears–Miss Marple, Miss Marple, Miss Marple, if I just keep repeating it she’ll turn kindly again…

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