The Innocents

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Innocents Movie Poster Image
Intense post-World War II drama has rape, violence.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 115 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

In terrible times, evil can be done even by people we assume to be good. Obeying orders demanded by religious superiors can be compared to obeying orders given by army officers. "Faith is 24 hours of doubt and one minute of hope." Some people face tragedy by doing their best and others face it by doing their worst.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mathilde feels responsible for helping pregnant nuns despite being banned from the convent by a publicity-fearing Mother Superior. Mathilde is dedicated and dogged as she insists on helping the nuns.

Violence

A soldier fondles a woman through her clothes and tries to rape her as other soldiers watch approvingly and wait in line for their turns. Although the war is over, roaming bands of armed soldiers still menace civilians. Difficult births are portrayed. Babies are mistreated. A bloody newborn is seen. The sound of flesh being cut is heard during an operation. A woman was given syphilis by her rapist. A nun throws herself off of a ledge.

 

Sex

A man and woman are seen under covers in bed after sex. She is clothed. A soldier fondles a woman through her clothes and tries to rape her as other soldiers watch approvingly and wait in line for their turn. Numerous nuns were raped by soldiers and are now pregnant. A nun says that before she took her vows, she had had sex.

Language

"S--t" and "piss."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine and smoke cigarettes. Children sell cigarettes.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Innocents features the aftermath of gang-rapes of Polish nuns during World War II by Russian soldiers. The movie is based on the experiences of a French medical student who worked for the Red Cross in Poland. One attempted rape is thwarted. Someone jumps to her death out of despair; some blood is seen around her head. Women give birth, one without having known that she was pregnant. Note that the cruelty and harshness don't end with the rapes: The fate of several newborns is questionable. The wisdom of religious zealotry is also brought into question. The sound of flesh being cut is heard during an operation. A woman was given syphilis by her rapist. "S--t" and "piss" are heard.

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What's the story?

THE INNOCENTS is set in Poland of 1945, after Hitler's defeat. Fighting has ceased but danger continues, and Europe reels as the victors divide their spoils and war-weary soldiers roam the countryside. Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) sneaks out of her convent and runs through woods and snow to the nearest village seeking a non-Polish doctor. She persuades a French Red Cross worker named Mathilde (Lou de Laage) to accompany her back to her isolated convent. There a nun is in painful labor, her baby in breach position. She refuses to be touched or examined because of her vows of chastity, but through persuasion and urgency, Mathilde performs an emergency C-section by lantern light. Sister Maria explains that Russian soldiers gang-raped most of the 20 or so nuns, several times, and many are now pregnant. Mathilde says she will return the next day to check on the mother and child. The Mother Superior (Agate Kulesza) doesn't trust Mathilde to be discreet and fears shame will be brought on the convent if townspeople find out. Maria sneaks Mathilde in the next morning, and she learns that the baby has already been sent to relatives for care. The Mother Superior tries to banish Mathilde, but Mathilde threatens to tell her boss about the nuns unless she is allowed to care for the pregnant women. Mathilde is also attacked by Russian soldiers who maul her and line up to rape her. An officer steps in and sends her on her way, shaken but safe. As more babies are born, Mathilde brings help: a Jewish-French doctor named Samuel Lehman (Vincent Macaigne), with whom she is having a casual affair. The Mother Superior displays her anti-Semitism, hesitant to let him help. Spoiler alert: One nun wants to keep a baby and discovers that the Mother Superior hasn't been placing the babies with adoptive parents but instead has been leaving them out in the cold to die, to save the convent from scandal and shame. Mathilde suggests that to hide the origins of the babies from the disapproving townspeople, the convent should take in the town's young orphans and become an orphanage. The cover works and integrates the convent into the community as a joyful and generous resource.

Is it any good?

Investigations into the horrors of World War II generally focus on evildoers doing their evil, but The Innocents deftly, affectingly, and shockingly reveals evil done by the good. The Innocents slowly and strategically gives us real villains -- Russian army rapists who ravish a convent full of nuns -- and then, slowly, we are also introduced to the suggestion that in that community of God-fearing peacefulness, religious rules are adding to the injury by punishing the victims of the barbarity. And when it becomes clear that those religious rules are promoting and justifying other kinds of barbarity, the filmmaker slyly pushes us into the realization that evil can hide anywhere. Older teens may ponder such justifications, which may make for great conversations about the purpose of religion and about the philosophy of ends justifying the means. In the wake of revelations about decades of covered-up sexual abuse by clergy, the film resonates even more strongly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Mathilde's dedication to caring for the nuns in The Innocents. Although a Catholic herself, she balks at the orders given her by an uncooperative Mother Superior. What do you think Mathilde's attitude toward religion is, based on the events shown?

  • What role do you think religion should play in society, especially during times of war and other hardships? Should the religious offer help to those being attacked?

  • Hitler's plan was to conquer and rule as much of the world as his armies could manage, which made most countries fear him, but he was especially focused on killing as many Jews as possible. So it was ironic that conquered Poles hated Hitler but also supported his plan for Jewish extermination. The backdrop to the movie is the anti-Semitism of both the Poles and the French during World War II. What scenes suggest that history?

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