Agnes of God (1985)

I don’t remember who in my family wanted to tape this movie off of a network broadcast, but that was how I first saw this film.

And I’m not sure exactly when I started watching this movie repeatedly, but it must have coincided with the era in my life when I started recovering from Catholicism.

Agnes of God wasn’t a very likely movie for me to appreciate, let alone enjoy. I was extremely bitter at religion at the time, especially since so many years of doctrination made me hate myself for desiring other men.

Back then, the sell-through VHS market hadn’t quite taken off, so when I found a used VHS copy of Agnes of God when I was living in New York back in 1992-1993, I bought it.

When I bought a DVD player in 2000, one of the first movies I searched for was Agnes of God. I was rather disappointed to learn it hadn’t yet been released on DVD. I found out only a few days ago it finally reached DVD last year.

So I watched it again.

And I still enjoy it.

The story has a lot levels. At its core, it’s a murder mystery. Why did Agnes kill her baby? Who was the father? But along the way, the story addresses the nature of faith and innocence.

All three of the film’s main characters — Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda), Sister Miriam (Anne Bancroft) and Agnes herself (Meg Tilly) — have checkered pasts. But Livingston and Miriam see in Agnes faith that they had both lost, and they fight to help her in their own ways.

It makes for great conflict.

And man do all three act the living hell out of the screenplay. Bancroft and Tilly, in fact, were nominated for Academy Awards in 1986 for their performances.

But the end of the film never really resolves the mystery, which for me is the appeal. And it’s unsettling to think how Agnes’ damaged past manages to color the innocence which touches other people so deeply.

Agnes of God seems to be something of a forgotten film. I don’t think I’ve ever run into it during random channel surfing, and even the DVD itself lacks any extra features.

It’s too bad, because this film is wonderfully acted, beautifully shot and incredibly engaging.