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Novitiate [2017] [R] - 7.5.5



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Unlike the MPAA we do not assign one inscrutable rating based on age, but 3 objective ratings for SEX/NUDITY, VIOLENCE/GORE and PROFANITY on a scale of 0 to 10, from lowest to highest, depending on quantity and context.

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Sex & Nudity
Violence & Gore
1 to 10


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In 1954 a seven-year-old girl raised by an agnostic single mother (Julianne Nicholson) is introduced to Catholicism and as a young woman (Margaret Qualley) wins a scholarship to a Catholic school and to her mother's dismay, enters a convent. Vatican II disrupts the lives of the nuns and the novice suffers as her faith is challenged by pain, loneliness and sexual urges. Also with Melissa Leo, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor, Ashley Bell and Liana Liberato. Directed by Margaret Betts. [2:03]

SEX/NUDITY 7 - Two young women who are nuns sit on a bed, kissing passionately several times in a dark room, hugging tightly several times, touching each other's lips with their fingers and they lean over to one side as the scene ends (sex is implied). A young woman removes her nun's headpiece, sits on a bed, and she reaches below the frame and moves her arm up and down as we hear rubbing sounds and she gasps and moans; she whimpers, gasps, and stops as the scene ends. A young woman wearing a heavy gown is shown lying under covers in bed as she awakens and reaches off-screen, toward her feet, and we see her shoulder move repeatedly as she gasps and moans and the camera pans back to show her body writhing under covers.
 In a long shot, a woman walks through the back door of a convent dining hall in full frontal nudity except for a short headpiece, knee high socks and shoes (we see bare breasts and abdomen; pubic hair is not visible) as she proclaims that Vatican II has brought changes, causing some younger nuns to giggle and older nuns to hide their faces as the scene ends. A woman removes her nun's habit in close-up (we see bare shoulders) and when the woman kneels on the floor we see her in full frontal nudity, except the hidden groin area (we see her bare breasts and abdomen). In three scenes, we see the side and back of a young woman who is putting on long gowns; in another scene, we see her bare back.
 A teen girl sees a man in her mother's bedroom as he tucks his shirt into his jeans and the mother says they are just friends (sex is implied).
 A young woman confesses in a circle of novice nuns during a group confessional that she was intimate with another novice, but will not name the woman. A twenty-something nun sitting beside the infirmary bed of a sick student nun holds her hand, but then feels guilty for touching her and runs out of the room.
 A young woman complains to another student that friends in the outside world are dating boys and even having sex.

VIOLENCE/GORE 5 - A student nun receives a rope and wood scourge that ends in four lengths of cord, each with a large, heavy hardwood bead at the end; the camera cuts to her in her room with her shoulders bare as she flails herself over each shoulder, hitting her back hard 14 times and we see her bare back for three of the strikes (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details).
 A teenaged novice nun starves herself as a love sacrifice to God for many days, gets up from the dinner table one night, and collapses onto the floor; the scene cuts to the young woman in bed under covers in the infirmary, drinking soup. Nuns in teams of two carry heavy full-sized wooden crosses by kneeling on each step they take, for indeterminate distances as a form of daily discipline.
 A Mother Superior forces a group of novice nuns to kneel on a stone floor in a circle for hours and one-by-one, walk on their knees to the center and confess sins; each girl must stay in the center until she confesses sins that are bad enough for their Mother Superior and one girl shakes, cries, and stammers as the Mother Superior comes close to her face and berates her and then yells at another girl until a third girl argues with the Mother Superior and is made to crawl on her hands and knees around the circle, crying until she collapses.
 A student nun is told to flagellate herself and we see her receive the scourge, but do not see the self-beating. A Mother Superior shouts at a young woman for talking during the daytime during Grand Silence, belittles her, and forces her to crawl on her hands and knees for a long distance on a stone sidewalk while crying and reciting the Rosary several times. A nun crawls on a stone sidewalk in the rain in full habit, reciting the Rosary. A thirty-something nun upbraids and humiliates a group of student nuns for talking and looking at one another.
 A Mother Superior and two nuns march loudly into a novice nun's class and take two young women away; we later see the two students leaving the Mother Superior's office, crying as the older woman tells a nun that she expelled the two students for seeming to have an inappropriate relationship (nuns and novices were not to touch one another, look at one another or be friends). At 5:00 am every morning, a nun walks down a housing hall, clapping a double paddle loudly to wake up student nuns, who rush out of bed, trembling and crying.
 In front of a seven-year-old girl, her parents shout, scream, and use harsh obscenities in a long argument until the husband stalks out of the room and we later hear that he left the family (and we later learn that he became very ill and died). A woman argues with her teen daughter about the existence of God, mocking religion; the young woman insists she feels God's presence, and that she will become a nun, and she walks away. A man argues with a woman and tells her to institute changes in her convent or he will fire her; she complains that the nuns had no say in the changes; he says, "It doesn't work that way." A woman argues with a woman and curses at her. Two nuns argue loudly about Vatican II changes and one of the nuns quits the convent. A Mother Superior growls and swipes hundreds of pages of new orders from Vatican II off her desk. A Mother Superior enters a meeting of nuns and tearfully tells them about changes and some of the nuns cry. A Mother Superior shouts at God in a sanctuary by herself, throws herself onto the steps before the altar rail, slides down to the floor, and cries.
 Two young women walk through a graveyard containing many stone crosses.

PROFANITY 5 - About 8 F-words, 1 scatological term, 2 mild obscenities, name-calling (crazy, stupidest, ridiculous, fat, silly, invisible best friend, childish), exclamations (shut your mouth, silence, shhhh), 7 religious exclamations (e.g. Oh My God, Oh God, Blessed Be God, several silent and whispered prayers by young women kneeling at their beds, scriptures read before meals, a Bible reading in an infirmary, several prayers by women alone during the day, dozens of women genuflecting and crossing themselves in several scenes). [profanity glossary]

SUBSTANCE USE - A man takes a bottle of beer out of a refrigerator (he does not drink it). A woman smokes a cigarette in her kitchen.

DISCUSSION TOPICS - Agnosticism, faith, belief, doubt, having a calling, sacrifice, punishment, self-flagellation, starvation, abuse, changing societal mores in the 1960s, Vatican II, the life of a nun, commitment, challenges, culture shock, relationships, friendship, love, making choices.

MESSAGE - Vatican II brought freedom as well as challenges to faith from both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

Special Keywords: S7 - V5 - P5 - MPAAR

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A CAVEAT: We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and some of our early standards were not as stringent as they are now. We therefore need to revisit many older reviews, especially those written prior to 1998 or so; please keep this in mind if you're consulting a review from that period. While we plan to revisit and correct older reviews our resources are limited and it is a slow, time-consuming process.

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