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Cover Title
Agnes Of God
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Running Time
90 min (NTSC) (SP)
Original Title / Year
Agnes Of God (1985)
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Videonut324 on 04/21/2014
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What unspeakable crime took place behind the third floor window? Only Agnes knows. And Dr. Martha Livingston is the one person who can unravel the mystery.

Agnes of God is an "opened up" adaptation of the minimalist stage play by John Pielmeier. Meg Tilly plays a young nun who secretly gives birth to a baby; the child's body is later found strangled to death. Court-appointed psychiatrist Jane Fonda is sent to the convent to investigate, a task made difficult by the weathervane behavior of mother superior Anne Bancroft. To draw out Tilly, who remembers nothing of the birth, Fonda suggests that hypnosis is called for. Playwright Pielmeier poses many questions--is Tilly a pure-and-simple murderess, or was there something "divine" in her act?--but offers frustratingly few answers. The evocative photography is by longtime Ingmar Bergman associate Sven Nykvist.

Agnes of God is a 1985 American film starring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilly, about a novice nun who gives birth and insists that the dead child was the result of a virgin conception. A psychiatrist (Fonda) and the mother superior (Bancroft) of the convent clash during the resulting investigation. It was adapted by John Pielmeier from his own play of the same name, and directed by Norman Jewison. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Bancroft), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Tilly) and Best Music, Original Score.

In a Roman Catholic convent near Montreal, Canada, during evening prayers, the nuns hear screams coming from the room of Sister Agnes, a young novice. Agnes is found in her room bleeding profusely, and in a wastepaper basket there is a dead baby with its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck.

Sister Agnes is suspected of killing the baby, so psychiatrist Martha Livingston is assigned by a court to determine if she is sane. In an interview, Agnes claims she doesn't remember being pregnant or giving birth, and shows a lack of understanding of how babies are conceived. Mother Miriam tells Dr. Livingston that Agnes is an "innocent" who was kept at home by her mother and knows nothing about the world. She is desperate to keep Agnes naive, and declares that she couldn't have known what pregnancy was or remember the father.

Mother Miriam tells Dr. Livingston about the time Agnes stopped eating in the belief she was getting fat, and then exhibited stigmata in her hand that healed itself within a day. Agnes takes Dr. Livingston to her favorite place, a bell tower at the convent. They argue about Agnes' mother and birth, and how much Agnes knows about sex and pregnancy.

Mother Miriam tells Dr. Livingston that Agnes must have conceived on January 23rd, because that is the night Agnes burned her bedsheets. While looking around the convent grounds, Dr Livingston comes across a barn full of statues of angels and saints. She and a young monsignor argue about whether Martha's lack of faith will leave her unable to treat Agnes with dignity. Dr Livingston learns that Agnes' mother sexually molested Agnes and that she is Mother Miriam's niece.

Dr. Livingston receives permission from the court to hypnotize Agnes, but Mother Miriam is strongly against it, believing it will strip her of her innocence. While hypnotized, Agnes admits she gave birth and that another woman in the convent knew she was pregnant, but will not reveal who. Dr. Livingston discovers that a secret tunnel connects the convent's chapel with the barn. Mother Miriam tries to have Dr. Livingston removed from the case, but she appeals to the police and is retained.

Dr. Livingston obtains a second court order to put Agnes under hypnosis again. Mother Miriam admits that she knew Agnes was pregnant and put the wastebasket in her room, but denies she killed the baby. Under hypnosis, Agnes reveals that she used the tunnel to go see "Michael" in the barn. Under questioning, she appears to describe being raped by a man. Suddenly, Agnes exhibits stigmata in her hands, and begins bleeding profusely. Agnes declares that God raped her, and that she hates God for it. She admits that Mother Miriam was present when the baby was born, and that she killed the child because she believed it was a mistake.

Agnes is found not guilty by reason of insanity. She tells the judge that she heard a man singing beneath her bedroom for six nights in a row, and then on the seventh night he lay on top of her. In a voiceover, Dr. Livingston admits she does not know if Agnes' song represents a real man who came to her, or whether the singer is merely a symbol of hope to a girl who has lived a terrible life, but she wants to believe that Agnes was blessed by God somehow.

Agnes of God was greeted with mixed reviews upon release in 1985 and has 46% on Rotten Tomatoes.[1] Reviewers praised the performances of Tilly and Bancroft, but felt that there were holes in the plot and movement. The late Gene Siskel said that it played "with some challenging ideas and some sensationalistic events, but ultimately it fails to earn its right to toy with such subjects." Roger Ebert similarly sided, giving it one star and saying that though it "deals in the basic materials of a criminal investigation (cynical cops, forensic details, courtroom testimony), it has a seriously clouded agenda."

The film was a modest financial success, as it grossed $25,627,836 domestically.

Release Date: September 13, 1985

Distrib: Columbia Pictures

Boxoffice: $25,627,836 2014: 60,279,600