A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Broken Angels Club (aka The Inner Circle) is a 2009 coming-of-age drama in which five girls uncover the shocking practices of some of the nuns in their boarding school. There are many violent, bloody images and scenes: Nuns, as well as some of the students, practice rites of self-mortification in which they stand on beds of nails, whip themselves with spiked sticks, and bleed from blood-drawing bracelets. One of the girls is shown in a bathroom stall bleeding from between her legs; she's later revealed to have been sexually abused by her father and is pregnant as a result. One of the nuns is shown in a tub with one arm upraised and bleeding in bloody water as the other hand is between her legs. Talk of suicide of siblings, and a mother of one of the girls is strongly implied to be a prostitute. Teens drink stolen bottles of wine and smoke cigarettes. Language includes "s--t," "goddamn," and "retard." One of the girls suffers from epilepsy; one of the nuns is shown taking the girl to the restroom to dump her epilepsy medication in the toilet so that the nuns can use her seizures as part of their rituals. Although it's a sincere movie with a message about gory self-mortification rituals -- according to the movie, the church hierarchy has never spoken out against these practices -- the attempts to make this a kind of Catholic Stand by Me (a voice-over gushing with nostalgia and the epiphanies gleaned from these horrific incidents) feel discordant to a story with more than its fair share of unhappy endings. Viewers expecting a more lighthearted remembrance of the JFK years should look elsewhere.
What's the story?
While attending an all-girls Catholic boarding school in New Hampshire in the early 1960s, five girls form a tight-knit friendship in BROKEN ANGELS CLUB. While some are more rebellious than others, they're all trying to come to grips with their Catholic faith. This faith is challenged as the girls begin to witness bloody acts of self-mortification practiced by some of the older nuns, but also by the youngest nun, a mysterious and artistic woman who appears to be capable of performing miraculous acts. While challenging and questioning the strict Catholic orthodoxy professed by their nun teachers during the day, at night, they sneak off to the library to drink wine, gossip, and discover the roots of these rituals. Coupled with this, the girls' innocence is shattered as they learn of some of the horrible sins of their parents. Contending with adult authority figures of all kinds who seem either complicit or in denial about what's happening around them, the girls must look within, and to their own understanding of faith, to survive and find the courage to confront the terrible truth.
Is it any good?
Broken Angels Club (aka The Inner Circle) is a sincere but inept attempt to merge a nostalgic coming-of-age story with an important message concerning gruesome self-mortification rituals. The result is that the two cancel out each other. The sentimental voice-overs of the woman much older and wiser than the younger self we see attending an all-girls Catholic boarding school during the JFK '60s feel downright discordant when paired with the gory scenes of nuns hurting themselves in a variety of bloody ways, the story of a friend of the narrator who simply disappears, never to be heard from again after becoming pregnant by her father, the late-night talk of suicide, accidental death, mental illness, and prostitution. The Wonder Years-style narration feels forced in this context, and the blood-soaked scenes are so shocking, they also overpower themes of faith and burgeoning feminism in the face of strict Catholic orthodoxy on the cusp of the reforms of Vatican II.
Catholics hoping for a movie that shows their faith in a positive light will be frustrated by a reflection of their religion as little more than the aforementioned horrors. Those concerned about the practices in the Jansenist Movement and the church not putting a stop to it won't share the narrator's fond remembrances of her journey into womanhood. The expectations of both groups are dashed, and all that's left is a frustrating and disappointing experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about coming-of-age movies. What are some of the elements of the genre? How does Broken Angels Club compare to other movies about growing up?
Did the voice-over narration of one of the characters looking back from a vantage point of many decades after the action enhance or hinder the overall movie and story? Why?
Do the depictions of violence, injury, and death feel important to the movie's overall messages, or does it feel like it's too much?
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