Agnes of God is a 1985 film adaptation of a play of the same title written by John Pielmeier and directed by Norman Jewison. It is a story of three women with similar psychopathological problems in varying degrees: Dr. Martha Livingston, a psychiatrist; Mother Miriam, the superior of a Catholic convent; and Sister Agnes, a novice nun.The plot revolves around Agnes, who was found one night with a strangled baby in a waste basket in her room.Dr. Livingston was asked by the court investigating the matter to determine the culpability of Sister Agnes through an objective scientific psychiatric inquiry.Mother Miriam wanted to protect the innocence of Agnes and the convent's reputation, and to avoid causing more damage to Agnes's fragile spirit she wanted to treat the incident as a supernatural event. The crushing experience squeezed and revealed the dark and dramatic inner secrets of the past.Dr. Livingston's scientific objectivity turned out to be a convenient mask for an obsessive and insecure soul tormented by a childhood inferiority complex. Hated by her mother who treated her as inferior to a deceased sister who was a nun, Martha turned atheist after the death of a good friend whom she idolized for her beauty. She divorced her husband, had an abortion, and made her name as a chain-smoking feminist psychiatrist. Her weaknesses and self-doubt were revealed by her mental jousts with Mother Miriam over Agnes's case.Mother Miriam was a self-confessed failure as a wife and mother, hated by her own children for her incapacity to love. She fled the world to seek refuge in the convent, hoping to find peace and achieve a modicum of personal redemption. Rising to her position, she dispenses her duties through a noble demeanor that masked a past life of frivolity. When Agnes, who turned out to be the daughter of Miriam's scandalous sister who was notorious for her promiscuity, showed up at the convent, it would be understandable that Miriam would do all in her power to prevent the family's dark psychopathological secrets from coming out.
The encounters between these two authority figures - one religious, the other secular - revealed their similarities to each other in more ways than each one cared to admit. On one hand, Martha in her scientific obsession wanted to prove Agnes was raped, not realizing doing so could do more harm than good. On the other, Miriam's selfish desire to avoid further scandal to the family, the convent, and her authority led her to find a criminal solution. When her solution was botched, she resorted to treating Agnes's pregnancy as the result of divine intervention, a line of reasoning not based on her solid faith but on her self-conceit.
Agnes is an innocent soul damaged by the cruelties of her mother (Miriam's sister), who was ashamed of her and spent the last years of her life destroying Agnes's self-esteem by repeatedly saying her birth was a terrible mistake. Agnes attributed her dull wit to her being dropped on her head when she was a baby, which proves her mother never cared for her. Her mother physically and sexually abused her, called her ugly and dumb and never even bothered to educate her in the world and about the facts and origins of life. After her mother died, Agnes was thrown into the convent to be cared for by an unwitting Miriam, who was shocked to realize Agnes was her niece.
Soon after she learned the truth, Agnes began experiencing fits of delusion, hallucinations, and paranoia, and developed an eating disorder, claiming her mother - who may have been Miriam after all, although this is not clear in the film - appeared and told her she was too fat and sexy. She also suffered from delayed menstruation, and had visions explained as messages from the other world. She entertained masochistic thoughts and expressed a desire to suffer like the emaciated saints she looked up to as models of holiness.
Although she initially denied it, Mother Miriam (who had been a biological mother) must have seen the symptoms of