The Nun’s Story (1959)

b2aa8-nun_storyFrom director Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn, here comes a very unique film indeed. Hepburn is Gaby also known as Sister Luke, who makes it her life mission to become a Nun. She leaves behind her loving father (Dean Jagger), young love, and siblings to lead a life of solitude and sacrifice.

She learns and is disciplined at the convent, finding out what it means to “die to self.” However, it is by no means easy, because as with any human being pride and other struggles impede her progress.

Quickly she shows her skill as a nurse, and yet she is challenged to act with more humility. Sister Luke winds up not in her desired location of the Congo, but in Europe to continue to grow spiritually.

Finally, she is rewarded for her patience and goes to the Congo only to fall into her element. There she is beloved by the natives and nuns alike, while also gaining the respect of the local practicing doctor (Peter Finch) who is not a believer.

He however rightly concludes that Sister Luke is not your typical nun, because she has too much self-determination and individuality. As a good sister she tries to block out his words, but after she is sent back to the convent she must face this reality head on. World War II has erupted and the Sisters are called not to intercede on either side, but after personal tragedy Sister Luke realizes she must give up the life of the nun.

After so much loving service to her fellow man while wearing the robes, she is forced to shed them on her own accord. It is a solemn moment as Gaby once again removes her ring of commitment and walks off into the unknown world plagued by war. It is an unsatisfying conclusion but a moving ending nonetheless.

Zinnemann is often interested in the inner struggles of his protagonists and that is on display again in this film. Furthermore, his on location shooting in the Congo adds a sense of authenticity to the story. I am convinced that no actress other than Audrey Hepburn could possibly have done justice to this role, or at least no one else could have played it so wonderfully. She exudes such a sweetness and innocence it is difficult to see how anyone could every get annoyed with her. Her Sister Luke is seemingly spot on, and the lengthy film would have certainly faltered without her.

4/5 Stars

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