It's hard to believe that it's already tech week for The Taming of the Shrew and that we open in three days. If you're in the New York area in the next three weeks, be sure to pop along and say hi.
We now take a look at another Best Picture contender from 1959...
The Nun's Story
(based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme)
Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Dean Jagger, Mildred Dunnock, Beatrice Straight
The Nun's Story, as its title suggests, is the story of a nun. Gabrielle (Hepburn) is a stubborn young woman who, for some reason, chooses to enter a Belgian convent with hopes of serving as a nurse in the Congo. She endures the brutal identity-stripping training, struggling to keep up with what is expected of her, but thrives during science class as she learns all about tropical diseases. Despite topping the class, Sister Luke, as she is now known, fails to truly embrace a test of humility and is therefore deprived of her desire to be sent to the Congo. Instead, she is sent to assist at a mental hospital. Eventually, however, after proving herself, she is finally sent to the Congo where she is assigned to work alongside Dr. Fortunati (Finch). Her doubts continue to haunt her, though, especially as non-believer Fortunati challenges almost everything she has been taught.
It is perhaps unintentional, but there is a somewhat ominous feeling that pervades the first act of The Nun's Story. One by one, the rules of the convent are laid out and each one seems more cult-like than the last - give up all your possessions that elicit memories of your past, don't talk to the other nuns about anything but official business, make daily confessions about your unworthiness, rat out your fellow nuns when they commit even minor offences. It's like a sorority hazing. The most unsettling part is that it is considered strength to be able to obey all these rules.
If you're unfamiliar with this story, I recommend not watching the original trailer (or reading the following paragraph, for that matter). Assuming the viewer's familiarity with the source material, the trailer begins with the final scene from the movie, that of Gabrielle giving up her habit. After struggling for so long with the faith, the final straw seems to be the convent's order to remain neutral as World War II begins, something that Gabrielle finds excruciatingly difficult given her father was just killed by Nazis occupying Belgium. She admits that she's simply not cut out for the life of a nun, which seems to reaffirm that unsettling idea that one needs to be strong to give up one's past life and become a nun. However, as she literally hangs up her habit and walks out the door, there is a clear sense of Gabrielle achieving some semblance of freedom. To me, she proves her strength here by maintaining her identity and thinking for herself. It is a powerful and effective final moment.
The cast of The Nun's Story contains no less than five Oscar winners - Audrey Hepburn, of course, who won a few years earlier for Roman Holiday and was nominated again here; the excellent and natural Peter Finch, along with Beatrice Straight, who both won for Network; Peggy Ashcroft, a Supporting Actress winner for A Passage to India; and Dean Jagger, who had already won for Twelve O'Clock High. Also featured is perhaps the cutest blue-faced monkey I've ever seen.