Convent horrors: From the frying pan into the fire

While searching our county library’s database for items listed under “Roman Catholicism,” I stumbled across this very interesting French film:

The Nun (La religieuse)

  • Directed by Guillaume Nicloux
  • Based on Denis Diderot’s popular 18th-century novel, “The Nun (La religieuse),” and adapted to the screen by Guillaume Nicloux and Jérôme Beaujour
  • Featuring Pauline Etienne as Suzanne Simonin, Isabelle Huppert as Supérieure Saint-Eutrope, and Louise Bourgoin as Supérieure Christine
  • Distributed by Le Pacte (France), 2013, Running Time: 100 minutes

Plot

In mid-17th-century France, a 17-year-old girl, Suzanne, is placed in a convent by her parents for supposedly only a limited period of time. Suzanne subsequently learns from the friendly mother superior (Francois Lebrun) that her parents intend for her to remain in the convent and become a nun. The girl rebels against the rigidity of convent life, refusing to take her “final vows” at the last second, and is sent back to her parents.

Suzanne’s mother reveals to the girl that she is her illegitimate child and that she will not be sharing in the family’s dwindling estate. Suzanne is sent back to the convent, much to her displeasure, but sadness turns to terror when the friendly mother superior dies and is replaced by the harsh Supérieure Christine, who is determined to crush the girl’s rebellious spirit. Suzanne manages to smuggle out a plea for help to sympathetic parties, and Supérieure Christine retaliates by relentlessly punishing the girl to the brink of death.

Suzanne’s outside benefactors are able to arrange her transfer to a different convent, which initially appears to be much less harsh. However, it’s soon revealed that the nun in charge, Supérieure Saint-Eutrope, is a lesbian who preys upon her younger charges. Saint-Eutrope makes several advances upon Suzanne, but the girl is able to rebuff her. Suzanne reveals the sordid goings on within the convent to a visiting priest confessor, who then works in league with her benefactors to stage her escape.

After traveling all night, Suzanne awakes inside a sprawling estate. She learns her wealthy benefactor, who had saved her from the horrors of the convent, was her biological father, who had died during the night. She can look forward to a secure future on the estate with her half-brother.

Commentary

It’s disturbing to follow Suzanne’s horrific experiences within the two convent hell-holes. However, this fictional story is an excellent portrayal of the real abuse that routinely took place within Catholic convents, rectories, seminaries, and the palaces of prelates century after century. Suzanne’s character represents the millions of women and men, girls and boys who were physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused over the course of a millennia by the “celibate” Catholic clergy. Sadder still are all of the Roman Catholic souls who have been misled by their church’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit.

Actress Pauline Etienne does an excellent job in her portrayal of a young woman caught in her religion’s legalism, ritualism, and extreme asceticism, which all veiled the unspeakable corruption at its core.

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Supérieure Christine devises another “discipline” for the rebellious Suzanne.
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15 thoughts on “Convent horrors: From the frying pan into the fire

  1. Wow this sounds like a disturbing movie but at the same time it portray the realities of Convents less than pretty side (mildly stated). I know you mentioned about literature of former priests, monks, frairs and nuns in the past who left Catholicism for Born Again trust in Christ. This movie sounds like some of those situations maybe minus the rich benefactor. I think it capture the side of Catholicism I see in some sense, in Southern California Catholics where there’s a swing between those who are religiously legalistic and those who are rebelliously libertines but still culturally Catholic in name. I wonder often how does the legalists priests and nuns deal with those who are into all kinds of sexual perversions…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve read that the 18th century French novel this film was based on created a lot of scandal, with Catholic prelates dismissing it as “anti-Catholic fantasy.” Of course, the headlines over the last twenty-years have vindicated those convent escape narratives of yesteryear. The author’s sister had been consigned to a convent her whole life due to “delicate mental health.” Convents became the last stop for many Catholic girls and women with “problems.”
      RE: I wonder often how does the legalists priests and nuns deal with those who are into all kinds of sexual perversions…

      Interesting question. I’m just speculating out loud, but I can see where it’s often the most legalistic types who are the most deviant (like Cardinal Spellman, the militant prelate who ran the American Catholic church with an iron fist from 1939 to 1967 while preying on young men). I’ve seen a few documentaries which showed that some clerical deviants were sent to monasteries and retreat institutions and they remained there until it was deemed they could return. Those establishments were all over the country.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, convents were dangerous places to be because self-mortification and physical suffering were expectations as means to “higher spirituality.” Abuses in such an atmosphere were built-in. There were several nuns who were canonized as “saints” who subsisted solely on water and daily communion wafers and thereby starved themselves to death.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. She learns from the marquis (who happens to be her half-brother) who greets her in the morning that her biological father, who had arranged her rescue, had died during the night. So the presumption is, after enduring the horrors of the convent, she now has a secure future with her half-brother at the estate.

      Liked by 1 person

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