Unfortunately for this film, it doesn’t quite understand what it wants to be. A commentary on religious restriction that doesn’t
mesh with human nature or a universal story about a young woman who wants to find her place but is unable to. I think it’s probably both. The film seems to touch on certain topics and paradoxes without diving too far in, instead leaving the viewer to ponder upon them. Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) wants to help people. She excels in medical studies and promises to be a very fine nurse. Her religious duties get in the way of her duty to humanity which she points out a few times. Citing that she must answer to a bell while a patient is in the middle of ‘discussing their soul’ with her. It doesn’t quite fit. Isn’t a duty to God a duty to humanity? Wouldn’t God prefer that she help people and console them in their time of need rather than go to Mass? According to the Nuns, no. Sister Luke’s duties are first and foremost to her spirtual life. As is pointed out, she didn’t enter the convent to become a nurse. She struggles with what is asked of her. They are taught not to give into pride but, when Sister Luke does something right, her natural inclination is to be proud of herself and she fails once again. It becomes a vicious cycle where she never thinks she’s good enough, that she’ll never be the ‘perfect nun’.
Her decision to join the cloistered life were misguided in the first place; confusing a duty to God with a desire to do good in the world. Perhaps not realising that one can give themselves over to God in the form of humanitarianism and that it is not necessary to give up one for the other.
The film suffers from being over long (at two and a half hours) and slightly over stuffed. The camera seems to observe the characters from a distance, not quite interacting with them. Indeed, we are never given a reason from Sister Luke herself about why she has entered the convent (besides the blatantly obvious) and her problems lie with her inability to be obedient rather than the feeling she’s not fulfilling her duty to God. In the end, the film is rather solid while providing certain insights perhaps a bit unusual for it’s time. Hepburn is as gorgeous as ever, even under that frumpy nun’s habit.