Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Magdalene Sisters (Movie Review)

This isn't an easy film to watch. And yet: I'd recommend it to just about anyone.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002) is based on several first-hand accounts of Ireland's "Magdalene Laundries" — an asylum of sorts that existed for over 150 years. They were founded by the Roman Catholic Church as a means to reform prostitutes, but over the course of time they became institutions where parents and priests alike would send wayward daughters who became pregnant out of wedlock. Even developmentally delayed women would be sent there, or girls whose only "lustful" crime was a simple matter of flirtation, or — get this — women who were raped.

At these laundries, women were subjected to harsh physical punishment even if they spoke. There was no touching, only limited amounts of talking, and absolutely no contact with the outside world. Many women were sent to these asylums as teenagers, and stayed there until they died.

But that's not to say their lives were spent in vain — they did get to do the laundry of townsfolk, who paid the church (not the women) a decent wage to have their linens washed by the supposed strumpets.

[This is the part where I smirk.]

Peter Mullan's Magdalene Sisters tells the story of a handful of women sent to one such Laundry on the outskirts of Dublin. The end result is a haunting film that really makes you think. Add to that you genuinely care about the characters, and you can't help but root for even the smallest little good thing to happen to these women. You want for someone to visit. You want for them to escape. You want for them to get presents at Christmas, or hold their newborn son.

And if you watch this film, there will most assuredly be a point where you think the drama has gone on for a little too long. You'll grow a tad weary of the darkness and hope that a happy ending is right around the corner.

Whether it is or not, you'll have to watch for yourself to see. It's worth it. I promise you.

The only downsides that keep this film from getting a solid "A" are things I shouldn't really fault it for: it is quite dark, with too few moments of respite. And it is rather one-sided (though with so many accounts of women from these asylums adding up to the same big picture, I'm not sure there's much else that could've been done here, from a cinematic standpoint).

I'll close with this: if you think women were altogether "liberated" decades ago. Or if you think slavery in the so-called "developed" world is a thing of the very distant past.

Then you should know the last "Laundry" didn't shut down until 1996.

Something to keep in mind when you watch the film.



Stacy said...

What! 1996?

Pamela said...

I'd read about this -

I saw in the news the other day where some couple from another country had a sl*ve in (New York?) and she finally escaped and they were being prosecuted.

of course there is massive sl*v*ry in some of the countries on the Afr*c*n continent and m*ddle and f*r e*st