I was first introduced to Fried Green Tomatoes at the movie theater, in 1992. My mother thought it would be a good film for my grandmother, Mary McGraw, and for my sister and myself to enjoy; and it was. My grandmother, born on August 6, 1917; grew up as part of a large family in a small Irish town, in Western Maryland. The film would remind my grandmother of what she was used to growing up, my mother explained. The film is filled with those old large wooden houses, with the wrap around porches and the sound of a large noisy family.
My grandmother took after her mother as the family beauty, and was graced with singing, musical and artful talents. As a child I knew she loved films and TV shows and she always had the radio on to classical music. My grandmother has been for some years now, buried in Arlington National Cemetery with my grandfather, Dennis McGraw.
Every family has its own dramas, hopes and legacies. My grandmother grew up in a small town, South of the Mason Dixon line. This might be considered an old fashioned stereotype: but if there is one thing Southern American women can do: it’s talk. As well as cook…and eat…and talk some more. And so from this premise is born Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. The novel begins with the Whistle Stop Cafe news bulletin announcing the 1929 opening of the town’s only cafe. The writer’s name is Dot Weems. There are few things cuter than a little Southern woman named, Dot, working at the post office and writing weekly news bulletins in which she makes fun of her own husband half the time.
Now, if one is the kind of woman who eats ice cream sandwiches for breakfast, (me), then she would want the writer to skip to the good stuff…cafe? A Southern cafe? What is on the menu? Well, here we are:
“For lunch and supper you can have: fried chicken; pork chops and gravy; catfish; chicken and dumplings; or a bbq plate; and your choice of three vegetables, biscuits or cornbread, and your drink and dessert – for 35 cents…the vegetables are: creamed corn; fried green tomatoes; fried okra; collard or turnip greens; black eyed peas; candied yams; butter beans or lima beans. And pie for desert. My other half, Wilber, and I ate there the other night, and it was so good he says he might not ever eat at home again. Ha. Ha. I wish this were true…Dot Weems.” The Weems Weekly, Whistle Stop Alabama’s neighborhood information letter, gives all the needed information for everyone in Whistle Stop.
Then, the narrative flips to December 1985; a woman, Evelyn Couch who, with her husband, has just arrived at Rose Terrace to visit her mother-in-law, Big Momma. Evelyn cannot stand sitting around and watching television with them, so she takes the only sweet thing in her life at the moment; a candy bar, then goes to silently and singularly shove her face in the cold, sterile, visitors’ lounge.
But instead of sweetness and solace, Evelyn finds herself next to a large boned, chatty old woman; “Now, you ask me the year somebody got married…who they married…or what the bride’s mother wore, and nine times out of ten I can tell you, but for the life of me, I can’t tell you when it was I got to be so old. It just sort of slipped up on me.” The 86 year old woman, is a Mrs. Cleo Threadgood, “It’s funny, when you’re a child you think time will never go by, but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you’re on the fast train to Memphis,” Mrs. Cleo Threadgood, a.k.a. Ninny, continues. Ninny, who never had a driver’s license, and had never lived anywhere but Whistle Stop until she is at Rose Terrace.
Ninny came to keep Mrs. Otis, her friend, company. And it is a good thing she did, because Evelyn Couch needed a friend for herself more than ever. Though friendship is not what Evelyn initially sought when she entered that visiting room, but it is what she found.
Evelyn was 48 years old and had discovered the world was not as she had always been taught it would be. The bad girls in highschool who had gone “all the way,” had not ended up living in ruin and disgrace, but were either happily or unhappily married like everyone else. Evelyn had waited until her wedding night and found out it hurt. But, not nearly as much as giving birth. The doctor told her she would forget the pain as a natural defense mechanism. The doctor, was either a fool or a liar. Evelyn remembered every bit of the pain. And birthing pain hurt just as much the second time around.
She had two children, a girl and a boy. When her daughter had grown up, she wanted to know how many men Evelyn had slept with. Evelyn had only ever been with her husband. Her daughter was shocked, “Oh mother, how dumb. You don’t even know if he is any good or not. How awful.”
And her daughter was right. Evelyn had no idea if Ed was any good or not. Evelyn had been part of her highschool’s golden circle, in the 1950s. A smiling cheerleader, Evelyn never knew the names of the boys in the band nor those of the girls with the see-through blouses. She never cared to know.
And now, at 48, Evelyn Couch had woken up. Not that she hadn’t tried to be a fuller person along the way. She tried to raise her son to be sensitive but Ed told her he would turn out, “queer,” so she stopped. And her son became only an apparition to her; a stranger.
Evelyn thought about the War in Vietnam but Ed had told her that anyone against the war was a communist. So, she never argued, but it did occur to her sometime after the war was over that maybe it had not been such a “good war” after all. One day in her mid forties Evelyn, with her shopping cart, stared into a vast array of TV screens, all for sale. Evelyn honestly wondered who the fat, pretty little woman was and what she was on TV for. Then Evelyn realized with horror it was her own reflection. Time had taken Evelyn with it, and she never once demanded an answer from Time, nor ever even asked Time any questions.
Evelyn was lost. She had awoken from the dream of her life, to realize she did not know where she was nor what she was doing there. The dull torpids of Americana, stared her in the face: TV, grocery shopping, air conditioned car, a husband who spends hours at the Home Depot looking for nothing. She wanted to seek comfort from Ed, but he was just as lost as she was.
At their 30th highschool reunion Evelyn prayed for an answer. A true connection in the dark, nebulous emptiness that was her life. But all the other wives looked just as scared and confused as she felt; clinging to their drinks and husbands as if they were about to plunge over a cliff.
Evelyn had spent her whole life doing everything because someone else told her to. She feared names. She never had more than one drink at a party, as she did not want a reputation. She got married as to not be thought of as frigid, she waited until her wedding day, so she would not be called a slut. Evelyn had done everything she was supposed to her whole life…and she now had no real girlfriends nor job. She went to Christian women gatherings were she was told all those successful career women were secretly lonely and miserable. Evelyn had a hard time picturing Barbara Walters giving it all up for Ed Couch, but alright.
It was her duty to save her marriage, as far as she knew. Ed, at one point was having an affair with some woman from work and Evelyn tried to sex up her marriage by dressing up in nothing but saran wrap and answering the door for Ed. (It was what the Christian womens’ circle told her to do.) Ed just pushed her to the side when he came in from work and asked her if she had gone crazy. Self-esteem was not coming to Evelyn from all directions, to say the least.
Ed’s affair ended and the situation settled down, but still, Evelyn did not have enough for herself. Instead of them working on losing weight together, Ed would look at Evelyn “whenever she had anything fattening to eat and said in mock surprise, ‘Is that on your diet?’” So, Evelyn ate in secret, alone with whatever she could find that was sweet. “Evelyn stared into the empty ice cream carton and wondered where the smiling girl in the school pictures had gone.” She bought the ice cream from Baskin Robbins, telling the sales clerk, it was for her grandchildren. She did not have any grandchildren.
But, if Evelyn had not escaped for something sweet she would never have met Ninny Threadgood. Ninny, with her stories of times gone by. So, when Evelyn came the following Sunday and all other Sundays, clutching her Almond Joys and her Snickers as if they were the Bible, and sat down in the visitors lounge, she really had no choice but to listen to Ninny with her stories of the Threadgood family.
“The front yard had an old chinaberry tree. I remember, we’d pick those little chinaberries all year long, and at Christmas, we’d string them and wrap them all around the tree from top to bottom.” Ninny was raised by the Threadgood family, who was the prime family of the small Southern town. Families in general, were much bigger in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, than now.
The two main characters of the family in relation to Ninny, are Buddy and Idgie, short for Eugenia; as well as Cleo, who she married. Buddy is the family darling, with a million dollar smile and the personality to match. Idgie, born a tomboy, might have been out of sorts in the family, if it were not for Buddy’s protection, for when Buddy had a football game, Idgie sat on the bench right there with him and his teammates. Buddy was popular with everyone.
When he began seeing a woman from the other side of the tracks, Buddy did what no other man in town would do. He took her right home to meet the family. It was a tragedy for everyone who knew him, when, Buddy was hit by a train while he was too busy flirting with yet another girl in town to notice the train pulling up right behind him. Trains in those days claimed, fingers, legs and lives. Children would play on the tracks and yes, one can hear the trains coming behind from behind, but not always, and especially not always fast enough.
Ninny had been kissed by Buddy, but she was one of many. Ninny always had a crush on Buddy, (who didn’t?) but she married Cleo in her 17th year. Ninny points out that the one wanted is not always the one gotten, but one can still be happy. Cleo fell in love with the tall, sweet woman who had been adopted by the Threadgood family when her parents died years before.
Evelyn learned to love and look forward to Ninny’s stories, about Idgie and Ruth especially. Ruth came into Idgie’s life the summer of 1924. Ruth was from Valdosta Georgia and was put in charge of all the Baptist Youth Activities for Momma, Mrs. Threadgood. Ruth was truly one of the most beautiful women anyone had ever seen, and Idgie was in love with her at first sight.
For some reason, for a small Southern town so viciously racist, there is little eyebrow raising toward lesbianism. It is treated the same as heterosexual love on a social basis. At least in the novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe it is. And is Idgie ever in love with Ruth.
Idgie wakes up Ruth very early one morning and with her brother’s stolen car keys, Idgie drives them both out to the country so Idgie can take Ruth on a romantic picnic. Idgie also wants to show Ruth a secret. She picks up an empty jar, walks over to where a beehive is and sticks her hand right in, to pull out some honeycomb. The bees cover Idgie head to toe in layers but by the time she walks back to where Ruth is panicking next to a tree, they have all flown away. Ruth is hysterical that Idgie might have killed herself. But Idgie was only charming bees. For Ruth, that is.
But their love was not to last that summer as Ruth was already engaged to Frank Bennett; one of the more notable lowlifes in all of literature. Frank Bennett, owned a fair amount of land from a town in Georgia and knew all the ladies. He knew them, whether they wanted to know him or not. Frank, supposedly scarred from some childhood trauma, had grown a cold heart and didn’t care what he took and who he took it from. He raped at will, with his buddies nearby, enjoying the scene or “helping” Frank Bennett along. Before the days of DNA tests and scientific proofs…if a man wanted to take in such a manner, there were only social repercussions to really stop him. And in Georgia, at that time, no one seemed to be stopping Frank Bennett.
So, when Ruth married Frank, he treated her no better than usual. All women meant one thing to Frank, including his wife. Idgie had kept an eye on Ruth since Ruth left, asking about her to the local townspeople. And when she heard from a store clerk that the clerk was not so fond of men who beat their wives, such as Frank; Idgie, went right up to Frank while he was getting a shave in the local barbershop and threatened to kill him. Then Idgie got in her car as fast as she could and drove away. The barber thought Idgie, though technically a pretty woman, must have been some crazy boy.
There was nothing more to do, until Idgie received a note from
Ruth, “Ruth 1:16-20:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for wither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
Idgie, not the symbolic sort, had no idea what the note meant. Momma Threadgood, tells her, “Well honey, it means what it says.” And she orders Idgie to take Big George, who worked for Idgie in the Cafe, and her brothers and go over to get Ruth and bring her back to Whistle Stop.
Idgie did just that, but her rescue effort met with repercussion years later when Frank ended up missing and Idgie had to stand for a murder trial in 1955. The judge threw the case out, as there was really no evidence, and in either case, the judge's daughter had died, "old before her time and living a dog’s life on the outskirts of town, because of Frank Bennett; so he really didn’t care who had killed the sonofa-.”
And so here we have a case of Southern justice. Though, Frank Bennett’s legacy is carried on in his son by Ruth, Buddy Jr., who lost an arm to the trains but not his life. Buddy Jr., then called Stump, grows to be a football hero with only one arm. And when Peggy, a highschool girl with glasses asks Stump, back from college, to the highschool dance, Stump laughs at her and tells her to come back when she’s grown some t-ts. Idgie lets Stump have it about that one, after Peggy runs into the Whistle Stop Cafe in tears and blurts the whole story out to Idgie.
Idgie outright tells Stump she did not raise him to be white trash and what if Peggy’s brother had been there? Stump said Peggy’s brother was there and he laughed too. Idgie takes the highroad and says Peggy’s brother should have had his butt whipped as well.
Idgie inquires as to Stump’s lack of dates and points out that Stump does not want to end up like Smokey Lonesome, the hobo who takes up at the Cafe from time to time. Smokey spent his childhood, or his growing years at least, in the mountains. His mother had his father arrested for making moonshine and then was bit in the face by a rattlesnake during a preaching event. Smokey and his sister were separated by surviving family, then Smokey took off for the rails and never again looked forward nor back.
Stump eventually admits to Idgie that he is afraid of being laughed at, by the girls, because of his arm. Idgie solves the problem by taking Stump over to Eva Bates’s, the same woman who Buddy loved so long before. It seems to solve the problem as when Peggy wants to go to her spring dance with Stump, despite his prior way with words toward her, he accepts.
Ninny tells this whole story and much, much more to Evelyn and it helps Evelyn connect, to raise her esteem and get through a hard part of her life. Ninny tells Evelyn she should sell Mary Kay cosmetics, with Evelyn’s great skin and good personality. Evelyn goes out and does just that.
After Ninny passes away, Evelyn goes to her gravesite and also receives from Ninny's old neighbor the last few items of Ninny’s life; all in a shoebox. Evelyn finds pictures and she realizes and is startled by how truly beautiful Ruth was. One of the most beautiful women to live on this earth and she breathed, loved and died in two small towns. Ruth probably never went so far east in Georgia as to see the ocean. In a photo, Evelyn sees Buddy, who she can recognize from his smile. Evelyn cries because she will never understand why people have to grow old and die. On the way back from Ninny’s grave Evelyn notices a jar of honey with a card by Ruth Jamison’s stone. The card is signed, “I’ll always remember. Your friend, The Bee Charmer.”
By Sarah Bahl
“Liberia, a West African country of 3 million people, was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. Their descendants formed an elite class, which dominated indigenous ethnic groups for more than a century. Rising tensions finally erupted into civil war in 1989. From then on, Liberians suffered a prolonged period of violence. At times, fighting was congregated to the countryside. Other times, conflict raged through the capital, Monrovia. By 2002, over 200,000 people had died. One out of three people had been displaced. There was no end in sight. Then, ordinary women did the unimaginable.”
The Liberian Civil War began on Christmas Eve 1989. Charles Taylor began in full earnestness, his bloody ascent to absolute political and financial power over Liberia. Taylor utilized whatever means necessary to formulate his path to a most vile form of power imaginable. Taylor had The Small Boys Unit, consisting of youths from the ages of nine to fifteen, commissioned as child soldiers. They were fed drugs and given weapons. The war to, “Reconstruct the minds of the people,” went on for years. Leymah Gbowee, a Social Worker, states, “Liberia had been at war so long that my children had been hungry and afraid their entire lives.”
The war was blamed on many factors including ethnic tensions, resources and wealth. But Gbowee states, “There is nothing in my mind that should make people do what they did to the children of Liberia.” Gbowee, had at one moment, to tell her three year old son that she had no food, no donut, to give him. Her son replied, that he hoped for a piece of donut all the same. This was after Gbowee, while five months pregnant, traveled with her three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter under a rain of bullets to her parents’ house.
The next series of scenes are of a boy, holding a skeleton in his hands and dancing with a group of other boys. The skeleton is of a human skull. A boy with his arm cut off looks ahead, his eyes accepting and full of fear. Another boy holds a gun to his head, the gun sounds, while a group of adolescents stand around. One of them smiles.
Charles Taylor, in a filmed interview says, “We had an opportunity, starting from 0 to reconstruct the minds of our people.” None of the soldiers seem to be over 17. Incredibly disturbing that their faces are those of frightened lost children, and at the same time, they brandish huge weapons. According to headlines, Taylor terrorized Liberia into electing him, in 1997. “We lived in fear,” Gbowee states. She prays for the killings, the shootings, and the hunger to stop. Gbowee says, “I had a dream and it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me,” to gather the women of the village in order to pray for peace.
The following scene occurs at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Monrovia, June 2002. Gbowee is a speaker for a congregation. She states, “We are tired…” and from the fear and exhaustion is born the Christian Women Peace Initiative; out of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. From the ordinary women of the village was born a great organization.
Asatu Bah Kenneth, Assistant Director of Liberian National Police attended the service as the only Muslim in the Church. “We’re all serving the same God,” Kenneth states. She promises to move the movement forward with the Muslim women. “I wanted it to be an initiative that was going to continue,” Kenneth adds. The message the co-joined womens’ forces took on was, truly a question with an obvious answer: “Can the bullet pick and choose? Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?”
In opposition to Taylor is the mens’ movement, LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. “Taylor does not listen to any peace, any negotiations. That is why we are in the bush,” says National Chairman Conneh. The Warlords of the opposing council commission male child soldiers. “The Warlords would just give these boys guns and send them off. They just told them to take whatever they wanted along the way,” Gbowee states. The countryside is terrorized.
Janet Bryant Johnson, Journalist, says, “These boys would go to your home and they would rape you in front of your children, in front of your husband, and they just do anything because, they had guns.” The Warlords are said to come for absolute power in opposition to Taylor and by March 2003, LURD controls most of the countryside. Taylor is Christian and LURD is Muslim. Refugees pour into Monrovia, in overwhelming flocks with their possessions piled on their heads. People in the camps live in absolute poverty. Complete, entire and abysmal poverty.
The womens’ group came to the camp to overview the conditions. There were tears, as there seemed no hope in terms of positive outlet for the Liberians. Tales of rape and horror by soldiers abound among the camp’s occupants. (United Nations Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, notes that, ‘civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements’…In 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, characterizing sexual violence as a tool of war and demanding its immediate cessation.) Discussion Guide, Teachers College, Columbia University.
One woman was told by soldiers; to sing, to dance, and to clap, while her husband’s head was slowly sawed off and her 12-year-old daughter was raped. The woman survived but she kept singing and clapping the same tune she sang and clapped for the soldiers that day. Her daughter became pregnant from the rape.
Many women showed unusual resiliency despite the atrocities. “These woman had seen the worst of the wars, but they still had that vibrance for life.” Hope baptized the women into their movement for peace. Taylor gives a sermon regarding his mission in life and God’s protection. But his statements do not click together, and ultimately his speech makes no sense. Gbowee: “Taylor could pray the devil out of hell, and we said if this man is so religious, we need to get to that thing, that he holds firmly to.”
The women pressurized the pastors to place influence on the bishops, so it would travel to the leaders. The women of the mosques were to place insistence for peace on their imams, who would pressurize the Warlords, in turn. Both womens’ groups spoke for an end to the violence with their religious leaders.
Still, the war was closing in and only ever increasing in violent velocity. “We needed to do something more forceful, more dramatic. We decided to have a protest,” Gbowee states. The women utilized Christian radio to get their message for peace across. The Christian women seek inspiration from The Bible, particularly Ester, who wore ashes and a sackcloth. Ester says, “I mean it.” The Liberian women then put on plain white clothes and tied their hair, to symbolize the goal for peace. Thousands of women congregated to the fish market to pray for peace. For the first time in Liberian history, Muslim and Christian women joined forces. They held a banner with the slogan, “The Women of Liberia Want Peace Now.”
Over 2,500 women lined up with the placards for peace. President Taylor’s convert slows, as it goes by on the road, but does not stop and the women are left unharmed. The woman sang for peace. And danced for peace. Still, neither Taylor nor the rebels would come to the peace table. The women then presented a position statement to the government of Liberia. The women demanded peace. They were not appealing. They continue to protest wearing white.
Finally Taylor agreed to the peace talks. The talks are strained, as with Taylor it is known he could be smiling at you and the next moment order the recipient of his gaze to be killed. Peace talks occur in Ghana while Monrovia is engulfed in war. Everyone is trapped inside, away from the gunfire, without proper food supplies. Still, the women continue to sing, “Liberia is my home.” Though, the peace talks turned into discussions of how to divvy out the power, rather than how to employ peace. The missiles rain down as the women still sing and pray.
Some of the women went to Ghana and held the men inside with their protests. One of the warlords came to the door to exit and was pushed back by the women. The women wanted peace. Finally, it is agreed at the discussions for Taylor to be exiled to Liberia and for a UN peacekeeping force to enter Monrovia. A transitional government is established. On August 4, 2003, International Peacekeeping forces enter Liberia. Taylor leaves for exile, saying; “God willing, I will be back.”
The women come back from Ghana celebrating. One woman was asked how she managed and dressed in white, she replied: “With this T-shirt, I am powerful.” The violence is hard to forgive. Liberia becomes the first country in Africa with an elected female president. After 2 ½ years the womens’ peace campaign comes to a successful end.
By Sarah Bahl.
Now we turn our thoughts to the less than fun loving world of The Magdalene Sisters (2002), directed by Peter Mullen. The film's setting begins in the county of Dublin Ireland; the year is 1964. It is a film based on the reality of thousands of women, who worked within the Magdalene asylums.
The first series of scenes takes place at a wedding. A priest sings a beautiful and sensual ballad to the wedding couple while they hold hands and the guests smoke and listen intently to the beauty of the drumming and the priest's melodic voice. At this wedding, there is Margaret, the first represented of a set of girls who will soon become well acquainted with a Magdalene laundry asylum.
Margaret is adorable and simply pretty without being of any particular or unusual beauty. She wears a blue dress, a cardigan and a blue ribbon sits in her hair to off-set her simple, large, brown and trusting eyes. None of the women in the scene, are wearing makeup or at least very little of it, though they are dressed for a wedding.
Margaret speaks to a woman who sits next to her, and her manner of doing so evokes the sensibility of longstanding acquaintance between the two women; either as relatives, friends or both. Margaret's acquaintance is larger than her, a very pretty woman with blond hair and large dark eyes. Her hair is done up in a braid with flowers twisted through. The way her hair is done reveals a sentiment toward the beauty and natural rhythms of life that match with the words of the music; a song of green groves and lilies, down in the valley. The priest plays the drum as if he were making love to it.
The song ends, the bride and groom kiss and the audience applauds with fervor. Margaret is approached by Kevin, her cousin, who leads her upstairs, as he has told her he has something to show her. She follows him upstairs, honestly believing there must be some secret he has to show her. He of course, has nothing but begins to kiss her forcefully. Margaret pushes him away and slaps him, "What would your father say?" she tells him.
Kevin appears to admit defeat, and leaves but just as Margaret opens the door to leave after him, Kevin rams the door back open, hitting her strongly in the face with it and stunning her. Kevin proceeds to rape Margaret, while the music and dancing continue below. Then, Margaret comes downstairs after Kevin. He takes a drink of beer and watches the dancing. He is uncomfortable to watch, as his gaze is vacant and he stares too long at something the viewer cannot see. Margaret sits down and though she is watching the dancing too, she is obviously shaken up. Her plain, unmade face is tearful and lost seeming. Margaret doesn't know what to do.
Margaret's friend, with the flowers in her hair, approaches her and asks her questions. None of the spoken words are evident as all the viewer hears is the wedding music. The setting is very realistic in this manner. The viewer is a watcher of a scene, as it would be playing out in real life.
But, despite the lack of verbal testimony, it is obvious her friend is asking Margaret what happened and a tearful Margaret informs her of the rape. Her friend immediately confronts Kevin with outright anger and disgust. The friend then also tells the priest, Margaret's father, and another man, perhaps Kevin's father. And while Margaret looks on with embarrassment, sadness, anger and hope in her eyes; the male relatives and the priest escort Kevin into a separate room for questioning and then out of the house. Margaret looks, as if to say, "It is going to be o.k., right?"
What is odd is Margaret's mother's behavior. She coolly watches the scene, takes a sip of her drink and looks almost entertained. The mother does not get up to ask why her daughter is in tears nor why a cousin of Margaret's is being led by other men, out of the house. The mother simply sits and watches. It seems an almost unnatural reaction.
The next scene is of a car, driving up a country lane with Queen Anne's Lace on either side of the unpaved road. Margaret's father wakes her in a room she shares with a couple of siblings. Margaret quickly rises out of bed and puts on a simple and comforting skirt and sweater. She seems trusting though Margaret's brother does not look so certain of what will happen to her.
Her brother asks Margaret what is going on and she says, "I don't know," then nods toward her sleeping siblings, and tells her brother to hush. After going downstairs, Margaret is placed in the car, being driven by a priest. Her bag has already been packed by her parents. She looks angry, confused, even shattered. Her brother shouts out the window, "Da, where is Margaret going?" There is no reply as the car's engine tunes up and the vehicle pulls away.
The mother gazes out the window at the scene, her lips pursed yet smiling. She appears jealous of Margaret and glad to be rid of her. When her son asks, "Ma, where is Margaret going?" the mother winces, closing her eyes. Sweet, trusting, loyal and put together Margaret, was raised this whole time by parents who never really loved her. Margaret's brother loves her, but he is too young to do anything for her yet. He can only ask questions, that for now, go unanswered.
Then next, there is Bernadette, a beautiful girl, who also happens to be an orphan at St. Attracta. Bernadette, has raven dark hair, enormous eyes, arched eyebrows and full lips. She is awoken by two other orphan girls, who look to be of about nine years of age, demanding to use her brush. One of them farts in Bernadette's face, in order to obtain the item. "Jesus, how do you do it?" Bernadette asks the farter. Bernadette then gives in and pulls the brush, a beautiful item, made of silver and with a portrait on its back, out from under her pillow. "Here, take the damn thing," she tells the rambunctious pair.
Bernadette has her hair brushed by the little girls, who fight over whose turn it is to brush based on whether or not the count has gotten to twenty. One of them asks Bernadette whether it is a sin to be beautiful and Bernadette intelligently replies, "No, it is a sin to be vain," and cites the Virgin Mary as an example of beauty. Bernadette is down to earth and tolerant of the little girls who so want to brush her hair.
Later, on the school/orphanage's playground, Bernadette has attracted a group of teenage boy admirers, and though she is wasting her time talking to them, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Bernadette is the type to stand up for herself and she is just as curious as the boys are. The school principal, a very severe professional appearing woman tells the boys to move it or she will call the guards. But, as soon as the principal leaves, the boys flock right back into place by the fence and start paying attention to Bernadette. The bell chimes, and everyone returns back to their place except for Bernadette, who remains by the fence with the boys. The same two little girls appear and tug Bernadette toward the school.
Watching Bernadette this whole time, is the school principal and an unknown man, standing next to her. Next we see see the brush, underneath Bernadette's old bed, with other scattered belongings. The bed has been emptied and the mattress and sheets are all rolled up. The little girls rush toward the bed as is their usual morning routine, but this time stop and gaze at the scene a moment for it is clear Bernadette is gone. Then after their singular pause, they swoop in and one of the little orphan girls takes the brush. They do not seem to question that Bernadette is gone, which is not abnormal for their age.
The next series of scenes takes place at the maternity section of a hospital. We see a woman, still in bed, holding a newborn. This is Rose, who has just given birth to a newborn son. Rose begs her mother to just look at her grandson, as her mother sits, stiffly upright in a chair next to Rose's hospital bed.
Rose is a large girl, fair, with pale blue thoughtful eyes. Her mother stares ahead coldly. Rose, says she knows what she did is a sin, but surely the baby boy cannot be blamed for something he has nothing to do with. The mother is unmoved.
Rose is then called out into the hallway and with her father sitting next to them, she is coerced by a priest to sign paperwork, waiving all known rights to her son. Rose signs, but then quickly regrets the decision and fights her father, crying out, "I want my baby." The father appears to feel bad, but still keeps Rose from seeing her newborn son. A nurse, holding the baby, crisply walks away, down the hall with the priest next to her. They both ignore Rose's heartfelt cries, as does Rose's mother.
The three girls are taken to what is a combination of a convent and laundry asylum. They now wear shapeless long brown dresses. They no longer have any worldly possessions. No books, no journals, no personal brushes, no photographs. Nothing. Everything that is theirs belongs to the convent.
Rose, Bernadette and Margaret are paraded up a staircase and into Sister Bridget's, office room. Sr. Bridget, the head of the cloister, gives her newbie lecture to the young women as she counts bills with a rubber thimble, on her finger, that makes it easier to accurately shift through the vast amounts of money. Saint Mary Magdalene, was a sinner of the worst kind, Sr. Bridget informs the girls. Magdalene gave of her flesh to the lustful and depraved, in return for financial compensation. So, in the spirit of Magdalene, the philosophy is a simple one; here at the order of Magdalene the fallen may rectify their bodies and souls for lusts of passion and sins of the flesh through penitence and ritual labor. Salvation came for Magdalene by her forsaking all pleasures of the flesh and working beyond all human withstanding.
It is ignored that even if society did have a right to judge these women; Bernadette is a virgin, Margaret was raped, and Rose, though a sinner would have made an excellent mother all the same. The facts are the least of the knowledge base by which the Magdalene Asylums were run. Sr. Bridget, after her less than welcome speech, stands up and faces each girl individually. She reminds each of them directly how they are stupid, whoring outcasts. To Bernadette, she informs that she is acquaintances with St. Attracta's head principal and has heard all about Bernadette and her wayward manner. Sr. Bridget renames Rose, Patricia, as the asylum already has another Rose. Patricia is Rose's confirmation name.
After, Sr. Bridget has completely insulted the girls' sexuality, intelligence, social standing, as well as integrity at large; the three are quickly sent to work in the godforsaken laundry rooms. They are made to wear large blue aprons to cover their shapeless uniform dresses. And so, they work; scrubbing, ironing and sweating in silence. Sr. Bridget as part of her "welcome speech" also informs them the laundry is not just clothes and sheets but is the same as their souls and the girls must work to remove from the clothes, the stains they see before them and in doing so they are removing the stains from their very souls for all the whoring sins they ever committed throughout their short teenage lives.
Later that night, Patricia wakes up Bernadette and asks Bernadette to help her to the bathroom. Patricia is shuffling and hunched. Once they get to the bathroom, Bernadette cups her hands under the running faucet and crouches down to have Patricia drink from her enclosed hands. Patricia says it is so painful and she is probably going to faint, then she sinks to the ground. Bernadette who had never been pregnant and had never been close to anyone who ever was so, had no advice to give Patricia.
Another woman comes in to pee, and asks Patricia if her milk is stuck. Patricia says she doesn't know but the pain is terrible. The girl, on the toilet tells Patricia not to touch her breasts because if Patricia does, she will start leaking, and the nuns go crazy if anyone leaks, so it is best to take the pain that should be gone in a couple days.
Bernadette helps Patricia back to bed and there is nothing more to be done. The girl, also warns both Bernadette and Patricia not to talk or be friendly for the nuns will be enraged if they catch the girls conversing in any manner for any reason. The next morning, bright and early before breakfast all the asylum girls are awoken by an obnoxiously perky nun who demands to know if any of them saw Una O'Connor leave or heard anything during the night. It has to be before six am and the girls stand there in their bedclothes, either unable or unwilling to answer.
The girls are then piled into two lines and down the long hallway, following a nun to breakfast they go. While sneaking in breakfast the same girl, who warned Bernadette and Patricia about talking, recites the daily morning prayer. She tumbles over some of the words and one wonders as to her level of education.
Prayers are recited for most, if not all of breakfast. The girls eat, what looks like some sort of yogurt or porridge. While the nuns have deli meats and fresh bread. The nuns argue in whispers over what happened to Una O'Connor.
The day is spent in the sweat shop of a laundry in silence, except for Crispina, a homely woman who has some sort of speech or learning disability, either organically or through abuse. An old woman, Katie, still wearing the brown dress she probably initially donned as a young girl, yells at the girls for talking. Crispina keeps on chatting, no matter what it seems. Though, no talking among the inmates is allowed at the laundry. Probably to keep them from sharing information or forming bonds.
Most of the girls do not know each others' names. (In reality probably no one ever really knew some of the girls' names after awhile. Many if not most, who remained in the laundry for life, were buried sans names and in unmarked graves.) They are never introduced to each other, they are just thrown into work.
Crispina has a son, her sister brings to the asylum, though of course not actually within the asylum, to visit. The sister, with her nephew stand at the back gates and sometimes, when there is laundry to be hung outdoors to dry, Crispina gets to see her son. She loves her son and exclaims, "Isn't he the biggest boy you've ever seen?" to Patricia. Crispina's son is two and when he comes Crispina pulls out a Saint Christopher medal so she can talk to the boy, as he holds the same type of medal.
(In reality, many "Magdalenes" worked next to the orphanages where their bastard children had been placed and women would beg to see their children. Just to know what the child looked like. Some Magdalenes would spend much of their lives working next to their child and would never get to see him or her.)
Later that night, Margaret puts on her day dress under her nightdress and prepares to sneak out on her own but hears shouting and noise outside the locked door, so she shuffles back into bed and throws the covers back over herself. Margaret watches as the lights go on and Una O'Connor, her face bloodied, is dragged back in by her father. Una screams that she hates it there, and the father returns to beat her with his belt, as Una hides under the blankets in her bed.
Una's father then tells her while holding her face close to his, that she doesn't have a mother or a father anymore. He blames Una for killing them both. Sr. Bridget, in her nightcap, tells the father to leave. It's odd to see Sr. Bridget act as if she had compassion, no matter how little.
The next day, Bernadette and Crispina end up in Sr. Bridget's office. Bernadette for demanding to see Sr. Bridget, after a working boy, Brendan, who came to collect the laundry asks her to suck his cock and Crispina, for asking a nun the symbolic name for the use of her St. Christopher medallion. The word being, "telephone."
Sr. Bridget is in the process of shaving Una's head, to keep her from running away again. Una tries to pick up the pieces of her own hair, causing Sr. Bridget to ask Una if she has lost her mind, as her hair is no good to her anymore. It is to be sold and the money will go to the black babies, Sr. Bridget states.
(Perhaps Sr. Bridget is telling the truth but I doubt it. There were so few black babies in Ireland in the 1960s. The nuns probably sold the hair and kept the money.)
Bernadette wants to know why she is there in the first place, as she has never been with a boy. Sr. Bridget informs her that wanting to be with a boy and being with one are the same thing and since Bernadette shows interest in boys she is automatically a sinner. And beside, Bernadette is stupid, according to Sr. Bridget, and therefore it is more likely for boys to get their fingers inside of her the same as with Crispina.
Crispina agrees, though she admits she was not listening, which could be a sign of lack of intelligence or a simple reflection of her environment, or both; as it really does not make much of a difference if Crispina listens or not, they are all still stuck there for invisible reasons. Sr. Bridget switches Bernadette and Crispina on the back of the legs for their insolence. Bernadette decides that if she is a rotten whore as a virgin, she might as well sell herself to get out of there. The next day Bernadette gives Brendan, a look at what she has in exchange for him to come later that night with the key to let her out.
Katie, the simple minded silencer, witnesses the scene and runs, threatening to tell the nuns. Bernadette chases after Katie and they get involved in a dramatic moral argument. Bernadette is arguing with Katie as an adult would bargain with a child. Bernadette tells Katie that if Katie tells the nuns, then Brendan will never marry her, and if he doesn't marry her, then Katie will have committed a sin on both their parts. Katie informs Bernadette, that if she does tell the nuns, then Bernadette will be punished most severely, kept by the nuns forever and all her sins will be erased by the punishment. Bernadette counters by telling Katie, that if Katie rats she will kill herself and both of them will go straight to hell, as suicide is a huge mortal as compared to venial sin.
Katie does not tell and Brendan actually does come by himself on his bike at night. He opens the door and then shuts it again, nervously jiggling the key, waiting for Bernadette to come. She has to break out of the dorm, they are locked in and get down multiple flights of stairs. The convent is huge. Brendan tells himself, that it is madness, what they are doing, and just before Bernadette gets to the door, he changes his mind and locks it.
Through the closed, thick, wooden door Brendan tells Bernadette that he has changed his mind and that he does not even know her name. "Bernadette. My name is Bernadette!" But it is too late. Brendon tells her, that his brother was put in jail for a term of six years for stealing apples from the nuns. What would they do to him if he were caught letting Bernadette out? He says he is sorry but he cannot. Bernadette loses it and starts chipping at the door with an iron bar, all in vain, as the nuns have come and are watching her. She turns toward them, with the bar in her hands, temporarily at a loss for what to do. Though, once captured by the nuns, Bernadette keeps on fighting. She is bloodied as they chop off her hair.
Bernadette, Crispina, Patricia, Margaret, as well as the other girls have to endure a continuous lonely and grueling life at the Magdalene laundry while the nuns rake in the money. Before tea the girls jog, naked, in silence, in front of two of the nuns. The nuns decide which girl has the smallest breasts, the biggest breasts, the biggest bottom and the hairiest pubic region. Crispina is the hairiest and when given this honor directly and verbally by one of the nuns, Crispina begins to cry. The girls gaze at the nuns as if they are executors, which they really rather are. The nun honestly does not seem to understand why Crispina is crying. The nun tells her, "You've won. It's a game."
There are constant hints that the nuns did not begin as total abusive psychos. It is indicative they became this way over time. The girls are born into a culture of sin and guilt. (The Catholic Church ruled and contraception was banned.) A person is either an abuser or victim. There seems little room for anything else. The world is as black and white as the robes and head-dresses of the nuns.
The seasons go by and in the late spring/summer Father Fitzroy, the priest who says mass and hears confession at the convent, is caught enjoying a blow job from the simple Crispina, by Margaret, who stops to tie a shoe and sees them through a window. Margaret tells Crispina, "He is not a man of God." Crispina soaks her nightdress before bed one evening and tries to die of the flu. The ever sweet Margaret takes care of her, but in falling from her illness, Crispina loses her St. Christopher. Margaret promises Crispina she will find the medal. It is Bernadette who has it, as she found it on a table.
Bernadette would have given it back but she decides Crispina is probably not going to make it anyway, and so it is best to just finish her off. So Bernadette keeps the medal. Margaret, spurred on by accusations from Crispina goes through Bernadette's few items and finds the medal. The two, Bernadette and Margaret, get into a fight over it, as the medal is the one real thing Crispina has. Even after receiving the medal Crispina tries to kill herself, by hanging with sheets. Margaret catches her and the girls are able to lower Crispina down in time. Margaret asks Crispina, "Why would you want to kill yourself?"
"Jesus, that's a stupid thing to ask in this place," retorts a watchful Bernadette, who further says she does not know why Margaret is bothering to save Crispina. Each girl reacts differently to being in that place. Bernadette is aggressive and realistic to the point where she becomes a bully herself. Margaret is aggressively protective and sweet, which is why she butts heads with Bernadette. Patricia is helpful and caring wherever she can be. Crispina seems to know her odds and is losing it. Una goes from escapee to nun to be, and the system carries on.
Margaret is eventually rescued by her brother. Bernadette realizes that unless she gets out, she will become just as abusive as the nuns. The tolerant girl who got her hair brushed at the orphanage is disappearing. Bernadette breaks free with Patricia's help.
Patricia does find her son, 33 years after he was taken from her. Bernadette becomes a hairdresser. Crispina is the only one who did not make it, to have her own life. Her real name was Harriet, and after being placed in an insane asylum, she died of anorexia at the age of 24.
And so, I have not relayed all the scenes in exact order, but give much of a thorough and accurate portrayal of the film as is fitting. And of the women who saw the film, the remaining Magdalene laundry survivors, according to reports online, said the reality was far worse. "Tragically, it seems that there may indeed be truth to these charges. While The Magdalene Sisters is a work of fiction, the abuses it depicts are allegedly based on credible survivor accounts of life in the Magdalene institutions, which are said to have taken in as many as 30,000 women between their inception in the 1880s and their final closing in 1996. In fact, there are reports that, according to some survivors, the abuses depicted in The Magdalene Sisters actually fall short of the worst that really happened, and the director himself has commented that he refrained from recreating the most terrible reported incidents for fear of overwhelming and alienating the audience." -Steven D. Greydanus
The director, Mullen, is reported to have been inspired to create the film after watching, Sex in a Cold Climate, a documentary depicting the conditions within the walls of such places. (And please; let this writing not be a reflection of nuns as a whole. Almost every nun I have known has been incredibly sweet and sincere. I was raised as Roman Catholic). It is more a revelation of the abuses that come when any given group has absolute power within the bounds of a confined world.
By Sarah Bahl
Viva Laldjérie is a film about three very different women trying to survive on a daily basis in a man’s world, when there is no man. The year is 2003, and Algeria is dealing with a rise in internal terrorist activities, due to rallying from 9/11. Goucem is the lead protagonist, living in a world, of conflicted emotions.
She works in a camera shop during the day, for a Mr. Mouffok. She is bi-lingual and able to speak English, though; she never speaks about her educational background. Goucem is 27, gorgeous, and having an affair with a married surgeon, named Aniss. Goucem and Aniss argue over having dinner in public together. Goucem is angry at Aniss for not spending the weekend with her. And when he drops her off at what appears to be an Algerian version of a piazza, a stranger sees her get out of Aniss’s car and realizes she has money. Though, the money Goucem has, is her own. Mr. Mouffok had paid her that day.
Her payment is stolen out of her purse, and the scene skips to Goucem, with a couple boxes of pizza, sitting with the restaurant owners after closing. Goucem is in shock and asks to use the phone. She does not have a cell phone. She either cannot afford one or else does not want one in order to protect herself from potential terrorist operations toward her. Or both.
She calls Aniss, who does not pick up. She leaves a message. Then Goucem is at home, in her small apartment, with her mother, Papicha, who is rather masculine seeming, an ugly woman to be honest – the mother, does not seem to have much to do. She eats the pizza Goucem brought home and comments on what Goucem is doing, getting dressed, clubbing up to go out.
When Goucem leaves the apartment she puts on a body cover, an elegant type of long poncho and a hijab, over her club dress. At the club she plays pool by herself. She meets a man there and they hook up in some sort of weird empty warehouse by the sea. The man asks to see her again. She rebuffs him.
Also pursuing Goucem is the sweet and understanding Samir, who stops by her work fairly often only to ask her banal questions about passports and photos. Samir admires Goucem’s spirit, though of course she treats him terribly because of how the surgeon lover, is treating her. Goucem is also earnestly afraid to lose Aniss because he seems like a protector in an insecure world.
Goucem’s father has passed away at the age of 51, and she and her mother never discuss why. They visit the grave of the father- and on the way to the headstone, they pass a man with a beard and Papicha becomes afraid, that he recognizes her. The reason for this fear is due to Goucem and Papicha laying low from terrorists because Papicha used to be a dancer. It is implied they have moved from the suburbs after the death of the father, to a small apartment in the city, to avoid notice and survive.
Goucem confronts the bearded man directly, asking him if he recognizes her mother. He does not. Also, when Goucem and Papicha first leave their apartment complex to visit the deceased father, with flowers, Goucem sees Aniss’s car. She cries, “Aniss!” and begins to chase the vehicle. The car never stops. Then, Goucem gets to deal with the further dignity of being drilled by her mother as to whether that really was Aniss’s car.
The only friend in Goucem’s life is Fifi. The prostitute next door. Fifi’s character takes the whole, whore with a heart of gold cliché to another higher note. Fifi protects Goucem, by listening to Goucem and caring.
Then Goucem is bored, after a fight with her mother over how to handle their lives, and she enters Fifi’s room. She goes through Fifi’s client’s clothes, while Fifi and he are in the bath. Goucem steals the client’s gun and leaves.
Perhaps Goucem is jealous of Fifi. Goucem is sometimes spoken to as a whore by her mother, and treated like one by her lover, while she is trying to make a non sexual related living. These mental undertones might have lead to Goucem taking the gun. The gun gives Goucem a sense of empowerment. When Fifi states her client is missing his gun and he wants it back Goucem says nothing.
Fifi listens to Goucem and she takes Goucem to the local fortune teller. Fifi pays a large sum for this. Fortunes do not come for free. With Fifi there, all the other women are asked to leave for the day so Goucem can have more time with the fortune teller. Goucem asks the fortune teller, an otherworldly woman with a white painted face, if Aniss loves her at least. The fortune teller does not answer, but asks Goucem, if she loves Aniss. Goucem cannot say yes.
Later, Goucem tries to visit with Aniss, but his wife starts screaming about it and she leaves. Aniss; in this series of scenes is not revealed as the strong distant protector Goucem feels he is. He is a man, tired and not sexy, pulling socks off a laundry line and with a screaming wife, now that Aniss is remarrying. Though, not to Goucem.
Aniss’s son tells Goucem as she is leaving Aniss’s apartment complex, not to come there anymore, and to do it at the hospital. Goucem tells the son, she is more than happy to point out to Aniss that his son is homosexual. This stops the son from being more of a jerk than he would be otherwise.
Goucem, then has a sandwich type meal by herself, sitting on some steps outside of the complex. (Aniss’s wife was having pasta alone). Goucem and her mother eat separately. Everyone in the film eats by himself or herself, for the most part. There is one scene where people are eating together, and that is for business.
While Fifi is at the fortune teller her client breaks into her room to look for his gun. Though, the manner he goes about it, implies he is not just looking for the gun. He does not like Fifi hooking up with anyone else (nevermind she is a professional) he also does not like her financial independence. On the way back from the fortune teller’s Fifi sees her client and comes up to him to say hello. He throws her in a car with a driver who is huge and has cold distant, pale eyes. Fifi tells the client, that they have been friends for awhile and if she needed a gun, she would have asked him for it. She asks him if he needs money. He says no, that he wants his gun. The client happens to work for “National Security.” Fifi asks where she is being taken and the client refuses to say.
Meantime in Fifi’s apartment her items are being removed and stolen. She has nice taste and very fine things. Three men come and clean out her apartment in silence, and give away to the residence what they do not take. The landlord steals Fifi’s things before she is even killed. Giving them to his children. His wife tells the children their father bought Fifi’s items at a market. Goucem sees a child wearing a shawl of Fifi’s and freaks. She goes to her room and pulls the gun out from under the bed. Goucem realizes what she has done.
The car Fifi is in, stops because of a wedding party blocking traffic. Fifi gets out and starts to run. She gets in one of the wedding party cars. No one questions her, as she is dressed like a lady. Fifi is discovered when a child in the front seat turns around and says, “Why are you crying?” There are only other women in the car. They take Fifi seriously and try to get through to the anti-terrorist brigade, but cannot because of a poor phone connection and the noise from the wedding party. When they cannot get through to the brigade, they kick Fifi out of the car due to the safety of the group, especially the boy.
Fifi increasingly panics for her life. Her eyes are huge and she starts to hyperventilate and cry and clings to the women, who push her away. She is removed from the car, under orders of the family matriarch. And she begins to run. The driver with the pale eyes, silently follows on foot.
Goucem goes to the police to report her friend as missing. They tell her they do not deal with terrorist kidnappings. Goucem says she does not know. At the police station Goucem runs into Aniss’s son, who got into a fight with another man. They leave the station together and Goucem saves Aniss’s son from an attack by pointing the gun at the assailant. Fifi was a much better person than the son. It is not fair. But it is the happenstance of life under a strange system.
Aniss helps Goucem retrieve Fifi’s body from the morgue. A strange place in the basement of the hospital with a foot of water. Aniss finally becomes good for something. Goucem loved Fifi. For many reasons.She mourns incredibly for her friend, holding Fifi's head and wailing. Aniss tries to comfort Goucem, but she shrugs him off.
Goucem is the only person attending at Fifi's grave. Then, she catches the bus, as there is a highway right next to the grave site. Goucem sees Samir playing a ball game with friends in a court yard. She gets the bus to stop, and joins Samir and his friends. She watches him play while speaking to his friends, who she seems to have things in common with.
Her mother, Papicha, has now found a job as a singer, as she is too old for dancing. Papicha comes across as beautiful onstage, her facial features are interesting this way. And so life goes on in Algeria. Whether fair or no.
By Sarah Bahl
Farewell, My Queen (Les adieux a la reine) directed by Benoît Jacquot; provides a uniquely intimate portrait regarding the ending climax of King Louis XVI's reign. The intimacy is due to the perceptions of the story being told from the perspective, not of the reigning nobility, but from that of a top end servant girl, who works and lives among the most powerful members of court-life at Versailles Palace (about 14 miles from Paris).
The film begins with a very realistic opening scene of Sidonie Laborde, on July 14th 1789. Sidonie, is the servant who drowsily and slowly wakes within a sun filled simple room, wearing loose fitted white night clothes and scratching mosquito bites as flies buzz around her. It is easy to feel the heat of the day in the room and one wonders how the nobility manage wearing so many layers of clothes during the summer. I find Sidonie's daytime work outfit to be beautiful and intricate. Her hair is simply placed on top of her head uncovered and she wears no makeup.
Despite Sidonie's natural beauty, I realize what she wears is nothing compared to the detail and marked sophistication of Queen Marie Antoinette's unusually stunning garb. The Queen's eyebrows are light and when at court she wears full make-up. Within her private chambers, she does not.
There are details within the film, that reveal the lack of hygiene behind the daily lives of those in court, despite all the finery. For instance; Sidonie's arms are covered in welts from bites and she wears the same dress everyday, except for one. How much the smell could have matched with the look is of question.It appears Sidonie only has three outfits. One, her nightdress which might be the same as what she wears under her day dress. Then there is a formal dress of her own she wears toward the end of the film. Though, the hygiene efforts do speak of the general standards throughout Europe at the time, it still causes one to wonder: if this is the standard for the fairly well off Sidonie, how much are the multitude of persons within France suffering on a daily basis?
The servants seem to have enough to eat but no table manners. Sidonie, despite her well read proficiency toward life, has no idea how to eat from a fork, nor what to do with her elbows. It is a reminder of how, despite her education and natural intelligence, she is a servant. Kept to a certain place. Sidonie is awoken by a chiming clock, a rare treat for a servant girl to have in her possession. Sidonie is given the task of reading to the Queen. The Queen's attentions flit from one task to another. From plays to fashion designs, to rosewater ointment for Sidonie's welts.
The Queen is married to the King, but they are never seen directly together until the King leaves Versailles. Why he is separated from his wife and children during such dangerous times for the family is not explained.
It is not made known the Queen has children until toward the end of the film. It is a film very much about adult needs, desires, and games. The Queen makes her appetites readily known and she is familiar with both genders on the subject. Her true love appears to be for a high ranking noble woman and this love is known both to the King and the whole court. Marie Antoinette and the King see each other for one very dry, awkward parting farewell kiss with the children present.
Sidonie holds true love for the Queen in her heart, until she realizes, she is just a pawn, in a brutal game of survival among falling powers. The Queen gets what she wants for the most part, and she plays very aptly with Sidonie's lonely emotions, in order to cull her into submission. Sidonie is also outnumbered both by individual powers and circumstance. There is really no outlet for an independent voice of her own within the confines of court life on the eve of the French Revolution. The most human factor in the film, is another one of the Queen's personal attendants, who implores Sidonie not to do what the Queen is about to ask her.
By Sarah Bahl