As Bob Dylan noted, the times they were a-changin’ in the early ’60s. And that change was certainly felt within the Catholic Church as the centuries-old institution found itself in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, an intensive three-year self-examination intended to reconcile its practices with the modern world. Margaret Betts’s new drama, Novitiate, depicts the sweeping effects of Vatican II — and the divisive reaction it inspired — from within the walls of a Tennessee-based Catholic school overseen by an ultra-stern Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo). In this exclusive clip from the film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, Leo is informed in no uncertain terms by the local Archbishop (Denis O’Hare) that her school will follow the new rules laid out by Vatican City. “If we were to truly embrace all these changes, it will ruin the very institution of Catholic nuns as we know it,” she responds forcefully. (Watch the clip above.)
It goes with out saying that not everyone shares the Reverend Mother’s opinion. Inside the school, several of the nuns in training feel that change is exactly what the Church as an institution needs. The film’s central character, Sister Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), for example, chafes under the strict tutelage handed down by the older nuns and enforced by the Reverend Mother. Instead of making her more devoted to the faith she’s chosen to embrace, it leads her to question whether or not to return to the secular world where her estranged mother (Julianne Nicholson) is waiting for her to come home. See how her thoughts a-change when Novitiate arrives in general release on Oct. 27.
Novitiate opens in theaters on Oct. 27.
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