September 18, 2003

The Magdalene Sisters

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The problem with most movies nowadays lies within their attempts to distract you from the actual plot or, in most cases, lack of plot. Continuous emphasis on ornamentation begets a slew of clever, yet unjustified dialogue and exciting, yet unmotivated action sequences. This sell-out mentality is thankfully absent in Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters, a film that tells a story with such uncompromising dedication that audience response is guaranteed.

Taking place entirely within the world of Catholic Ireland in the 1970s, Magdalene tells the story of three young women involuntarily locked up in a convent for their individual acts of “sexual promiscuity.” There is Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) who was raped by a relative, Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) who flirted with boys, and Rose (Dorothy Duffy) who bore a child out of wedlock. At the convent, along with other women in similar situations, they were forced to toil in laundries under the watchful eye of cruel nuns. These Magdalene Laundries were prevalent throughout Ireland, profiting off the slave labor of unjustly imprisoned women. Despite being perpetrators of outrageous abuse, the Magdalene Laundries were never contested.

Mullan is effective in making a point because he forgoes the modern practice of reiterating a “moral of the story.” Instead, he opts to layer the plot progression with incidents and revealing dialogue that allows the audience to come to their own conclusions. Actions speak louder than words, and Mullan capitalizes on this clich