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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

“The Innocents” Tackles History, Faith, and Doubt

While the Soviets helped defeat the Nazis to secure a World War II victory for the Allies, they brought their own brand of tyranny to the lands they took over in the ensuing years. That is the starting point for a new inspired-by-a-true-story Polish/French film called “The Innocents” (now on home video), which is set in motion by Soviet soldiers breaking into a convent in Warsaw and raping the Sisters, leaving several of them pregnant. (The sexual assaults take place before the movie begins and are only referred to in conversation).

One of the film’s themes is that God can use anyone to bring His light into people’s lives. For instance, Mathilde, the doctor who helps the nuns, is a nonbeliever. Yet her devotion reminds them that they don’t have to fear everyone and everything about the outside world. In addition to helping them deliver their babies, she provides them with understanding and compassion that offers them solace during the most trying time of their lives. And in one scene, when Mathilde allows a pregnant Sister to listen to her baby’s heartbeat, joy intercedes in a situation in which there had only been darkness.

On the other hand, the Sisters reveal a spiritual side of life to Mathilde. In one scene, Mathilde listens to the Sisters singing their morning Lauds, and she is obviously moved by the beauty of the harmony among them. She senses a bond of community among the women that makes her long for something similar in her own life. 

Through their interactions with each other, Mathilde and the Sisters become better human beings because they’ve been touched in their own unique way by beauty, truth, and goodness—all of which point to the divine.

Another noteworthy aspect of “The Innocents” has to do with the culture’s attitude toward rape victims at that time. The Sisters feel like they have sinned and brought shame on themselves in the eyes of God and society. Mathilde agrees to secretly care for the pregnant Sisters, but the fact that she has to do it this way demonstrates how flawed everyone’s thinking is on this topic. That thinking leads to an even more chilling revelation later in the film. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that while some people believe the modern Church indulges in an overabundance of mercy, “The Innocents” demonstrates the harm that a lack of mercy can do as well.

The film also deserves credit for exploring the effect this kind of crime can have on the faith of believers. Several of the Sisters struggle with doubt in the aftermath of the rapes. One Sister says, “You know, faith. At first you’re like a child, holding your father’s hand, feeling safe. Then a time comes—and I think it always comes—when your father lets go. You’re lost, alone in the dark. You cry out, but no one answers. Even if you prepare for it, you’re caught unawares. It hits you right in the heart. This is the cross we bear. Behind all joy lies the cross.”

In the end, their spiritual struggles aren’t resolved in some beatific vision from heaven, but rather in the choices the Sisters make regarding the best way to move forward—using love to navigate the fine line between faith and doubt.

Ultimately, “The Innocents” is a story of new life born out of horrific circumstances, a story of faith tested and distorted, and a story of the joy that can result when people choose love, service, and community.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, CHOOSE HOPE, SHARE HOPE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org