Novitiate details the quest of a teenager, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), to become a nun. She decides, at the age of 17, to dedicate her life to God—despite being raised without a religious affiliation. The vast majority of the movie takes place within the convent and showcases the difficulties faced by the prospective nuns—much of which comes straight from the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is as old-school as they come.
That certainly doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable movie out there, and Novitiate isn’t very fun, it’s true. At times, it’s quite the opposite—to the point of being a little shocking. The goal is to weed out those who cannot accept a lifetime living as a nun, so the Reverend Mother employs more than a couple of cruel techniques to do so. Do these girls have both the faith and the dedication to make it? Well, we get to find out. Novitiate isn’t anti-religion but it certainly doesn’t pull its punches when showcasing how cruel its leaders can be.
It’s also really good. Both as an in-depth, almost documentary-level showcase of its subject matter and as a character study of Cathleen and the Reverend Mother. It treats its subject very seriously, while also giving us a lot of time to learn who its two most prominently featured characters are, what motivates them, and what they’re feeling. While it can be tough to watch at times, it’s a fascinating movie that manages to make what could have been a dull subject interesting and engaging enough to justify its two-hour running time.
Conclusion: Novitiate is an engaging movie about a subject matter that could have been boring.
Recommendation: If you have any interest in the inner-workings of a convent or what it takes to become a nun, check out Novitiate.