In 1952 Romania, a nun, a Catholic priest and a novice, sent by the Vatican, investigate the mysterious suicidal death of a nun at the Cârța Monastery. (Wikipedia, The Nun)
When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order's unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in 'The Conjuring 2,' as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned. (Written by Warner Bros., Internet Movie Database)
|This is what remains today of Carta Monastery in Romania where much of the film's events take place; does it look somehow familiar? It reminds me of the monastery opening the first scene of last year's The Mummy with Tom Cruise. Both Carta Monastery (pictured above) and Waverley Abbey in The Mummy are Cistercian--emphasizing self-sufficiency through labor--so the similar aesthetic would have been applied to the construction of both holy houses. By linking up with The Mummy through visual and locational clues, The Nun--in effect--wants to "quote" The Mummy and remind audiences of what they saw in The Mummy so The Nun can join-in on that same dialogue. Another important link-up (although many films do this, it's not unique to The Nun) is provide us with a specific date of something taking place in a religious house (and, by the way, neither monastery nor abbey are still in use today): The Mummy opens in 1157 and The Nun takes place in 1952, which actions of those dedicated to the service of God had taken leading to the events being depicted in the film.|
What was happening in Romania in 1952? Like the rest of Europe, Romania attempted to recover from the ravages of World War II, however, under the Paris Peace Conference of 1947, Romania fell to the Soviet Union and became communist (if you examine this brief but painful history of Romania post-WWII, you can see all the trade-marks of the brutal communist regime at work). In 1952, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej solidified his power and leadership of Romania as General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party through his party purge (getting rid of his rivals) making Romania the most loyal satellite of the USSR: this lead to the re-distribution of valuable Romanian resources to the USSR and the furthering of the communist agenda throughout the world. All of this, I am certain, is important for the understanding of this film (please see the caption below for more explanation). Now, let's turn our attention to the reason Sister Irene and Father Burke (Damian Bichir) go to Carta Monastery.
|These two stills are seen in the trailer above when Sister Irene looks down a hallway and is then followed by the nun with the blacked out face (top image), followed by an attack from another nun (bottom image). We have no idea where in the story this scene takes place, but we can still make some important deductions about it. Sister Irene walks down a hallway, and this image hearkens us back to The Conjuring II: The Enfield Poltergeist when Valak appears to Lorraine Warren in Lorraine's home at the end of her hallway. Hallways--as we have seen in both Spectre and John Wick Chapter 2--have the same symbolic significance of a bridge, that is, the hallway/bridge shows a progression, something has changed or is about to change; whereas bridges are exterior to the character (symbolizing things which are likely beyond the control of the character) hallways are interior thereby communicating to the audience that a progression takes place within the character and their free will is at play, i.e., they are about to make an important decision which will effect their own outcome. Without the sub-titles on, it's impossible to hear/understand (an excellent strategy of "noise," that is, the interference with our ability to hear because the noise serves a purpose, for example, Sister Irene has a calling to fulfill, she can hear the calling, but we can't, and the "noise" of what the nun behind her says puts us in our place and why Sister Irene has been called); so, what does the nun tell to Sister Irene? "Sister, please, this way," and when Sister Irene begins to question her instead of going down that way, the other nun side-swipes her to force Sister Irene's will.|
A word about Sister Irene: she's a novice, which means she has not yet made her final vows to become a nun, she's in the "courtship" stage and discerning whether or not the life of a nun is actually her calling. We saw Valak challenge both Ed and Lorraine regarding their calling to matrimony is The Conjuring II, and now Valak challenges Sister Irene about her calling as well (what was right for Ed and Lorraine is different compared to what is right for Sister Irene because of the individuality and gifts each have been blessed with by God; our vocations in life is how God wants us to use our gifts to glorify Him and gain salvation for our souls as well as, hopefully, the souls of others, so one cannot simply state that the religious life is absolutely the greatest good, nor the married life the greatest good; rather, the greatest good is for the one being called to a particular state to answer that call so their gifts can be maximized and their full individuality revealed: a woman might become a nun out of fear for not finding a husband, for example, and so her gift of faith is undermined by fear, while a woman who was called to become a wife might become a nun instead so she doesn't have to take care of a husband; this is what "discerning" is, not only understanding what God is calling you to do, but understanding your motivations for wanting or not wanting to do something). The name "Irene" means "peace," and we see her holding the lantern--the light symbolizes the inner "illumination" of her spirit, but also the light of illumination of her calling to be a nun and carry the light of hope to others. We see Sister Irene walking down this hallway, and we also see her looking down a hallway but not going down it; this might be a manifestation of a choice she has made or will have to make in the narrative. After she decides not to go down that hallway (what she is looking for--and this should be taken on a deeper level--isn't down that "path" the hallway represents) then the blacked face nun appears behind her, suggesting that Irene has made the right choice, so now evil has to come in and tempt her or, more likely, frighten her from taking the right path she has decided upon (the nun coming out from another hallway she didn't check). It's not a coincidence that the "tactic" the demon(s) use is reminiscent of Jurassic Park: the raptors, if you recall, hunt in groups of two, so one raptor acts as a decoy to draw the attention and focus of the desired prey, while the second raptor hunts the prey ("Clever girl"). What's the point of quoting this scene? So that we understand that, just like the raptors, these demons are hunters, and we are the hunted.
Now, what about the black-faced nun? I would like to suggest that this is an example of "erasure," that is, something is stricken out to show that far more is being implied than what is being seen, because what the artist/film maker wants to say, is impossible to say, but some means must be employed to achieve at least a partial understanding of what the artist/film maker needs to communicate (please see Sous rature for more, as well as scrolling down to the image of the Zero Dark Thirty poster in my post for The Man From UNCLE where I discuss "under erasure" extensively). So, to try and clear-up this muddled mess, the nun's face is blacked-out because the importance and true-nature of her presence, her being, cannot be communicated, so it's "erased" to show that she is an agent of evil, and we might even add, that Sister Irene herself is at risk for losing her identity if she makes the wrong decision (the "face" symbolizes the seat of our identity, it's how others identify who we are, which is why blacking-out the nun's face is such a serious concern, it means that her devotion to evil has completely over-taken her entire being; for more on this topic, please see the first caption under the mask of Michael Myers in Lessons From Horror Films: Why People Do Stupid Things). The nun with the blacked-out face "distracts" Sister Irene while another nun out-flanks her and pins her against the wall; this is the part I think will relate to Romania in 1952, and to the rest of the world today. Romania, like Sister Irene, were going down their path, when they themselves were distracted by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej's rise to power and his purges, and--like the nun who out-flanks Sister Irene--the Soviet Union moved in Romania and took them by total surprise, pinning them down into a position from which they couldn't escape; similarly, we can interpret the nun with the blacked-out face to the distraction of identity politics throughout recent international elections (the face is the seat of identity) so that the real socialist-thrust of the movement could side-swipe us and pin us against a wall (for more on the role of identity politics in recent elections, please see this excellent article at The Intercept).
One last note about this brief scene: when Sister Irene is about to turn to look behind her and see the first nun, she switches the lantern from her left hand to the right hand; why? The left side is typically associated with evil (practicing witches, for example, refer to the path of witchcraft and Satan worship as the "Left Path") so Sister Irene, sensing she is about to face evil, switches the symbolic "light of illumination" from her weaker side--the left hand--to her stronger side, her right hand. She knows she is about to face something evil, and she's preparing herself. It's not just that God has given Irene the gift of vision to "see" the spiritual battle against Valak that must be waged; we, the audience, have also been given the gift to "see" what is happening in our country and in the world by the under-handed ploys of socialists trying to destroy the world and bring in their New World Order, and because we can "see" the evil they manifest, like Sister Irene, we, too, must fight this spiritual battle on all levels.
|Father Burke (pictured left) is portrayed by Damian Bichir, who was an interesting choice for the role (we'll discuss that later after we discover what Father Burke's "haunted past" means). Just as Sister Irene's name means "peace," I don't think "Burke" was chosen without purpose. I will be the first to admit this is a stretch and not a likely possibility, however, Edmund Burke (pictured right) was a political philosopher and conservative politician who was a defender of the moral fabric of society and the Church; when I saw that Bichir's character was named "Burke," this was my first thought, although it's probably just a stretch of my imagination. It's also possible, though not likely, that his name refers to Archbishop Raymond Burke, a staunch conservative of the Catholic Church, and one of the first leaders Pope Francis "moved" to a symbolic role away from real policy making and power. Hopefully, when the second trailer drops, we will learn more of his role, in the meantime, we will just have to keep our options open.|
|If you will recall, in The Conjuring, the Annabelle doll (which is real and actually kept locked-up in the Warrens' personal museum to this day) was dramatically changed from the original "Raggedy Ann" type doll that was the original Annabelle from which they exorcised a demon (you can find the original and The Conjuring doll at this link, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see it) and they had every right to make that artistic change; we can see the same being done with the habit of the nun on the left, vs the real Cistercian habit pictured on the right; again, they have every right to do so, however, comparison with the original helps us to draw out the differences and understand what the film makers wish to communicate with the stylized changes. So, the demonic nun's habit is predominantly black. Black, as we know, always symbolizes death: the "good death" of the devout, spiritual religious is to die to things of the world so they can nourish the spiritual values that will be their treasure in heaven; the "bad death" is to die to things of the spirit, and nourish the worldly appetites (power, sex, money, addiction, etc.). Knowing this is a demonic nun, we know she is dead to things of the spirit; why? The white piece surrounding her head and extending to her shoulders tells us. The shoulders symbolize the burdens we carry, whether we willingly take them on or they are forced upon us (super heroes, like Thor, for example, wear a red cape because he takes the burden upon himself and he is willing to spill his blood for those he has vowed to protect). The nun's white shoulder covering should symbolize the burden of faith, which is what white symbolizes; so, she wasn't willing to carry the burden of faith, and because the piece also covers her head, it might be a sign that she rationalized away her faith in God, or she didn't have sufficient faith to get her through her trials and temptations. The black belt she wears is meant to be a sign of chastity and the resisting to temptations of the flesh; when we learn more about her, we will be able to comment upon this further, but for now, it's interesting that they did, in fact, keep the belt as part of the habit. Just as a note, when we first see Valak confronting Lorraine Warren in the Amityville basement, Valak wears a brown habit (I think it's a Franciscan or Carmelite habit) because brown denotes humility in its virtue; when Valak wears brown, however, it means "dirty," of the earth, because Lorraine is being accused of Valak for marrying Ed (and having sexual relations with him) rather than becoming the Bride of Christ; they have since changed Valak's habit to make it black, however, that doesn't negate the symbolic significance of when Lorraine first encounters him wearing the brown habit.|
Her face, of course, is deathly white; why? Because of Western funeral practices today, we often don't experience this, however, when a body begins to decay in death, it turns white, and that symbolizes that the person's soul has died, and her face is, after all, the seat of her identity. Her eyes are blacked out (black make-up surrounds her eyes) because she cannot tell the difference between "good death" and "bad death" (recall our discussion of the "yellow eye" we see in the poster at the very top of this post, and please also look at the very last image montage of this post for examples of women with blacked-out eyes from other films). Her mouth is also blacked-out; why? The mouth symbolizes the appetites, so since it's black, she has an appetite for death, or things which cause death (sin). Her hands are the only other part of her body visible; hands symbolize our honor, because our hands do our deeds, and if we have done honorable deeds, our hands are clean; if we have done dirty deeds, our hands are dirty. Her hands have blackened nails and are shriveled and bony, because she's a corpse, but she's also one who has done the work of the devil, rather than the honorable work of God. This is just a superficial, general analysis, once again, when we learn more about the story-line, we can complete our understanding of why they have dressed her in this specific way.
Why is this important?
The Devil Inside about two young priests being trained by the Vatican to do exorcisms, but the two priests started doing exorcisms on their own, which means they were committing the sin of pride in thinking they knew better than the Vatican did; even though people make mistakes--including those in power--God allows these trials for us so that we can become like God (which was the promise the serpent made to Eve in the Garden in eating the forbidden fruit) but God wants us to become like Him in holy obedience because Jesus was obedient, even obedient to death on a cross.
Valac/Valak," the name of the demon possessing the nun, and whose name was given in The Conjuring II, is "an angelically winged boy riding a two-headed dragon, attributed with the power of finding treasures." The "angelically winged boy" is the "good" that appears to people that allows Valak to deceive them: for example, becoming a nun is a good thing, however, it's not what God intended for Lorraine Warren, and that disobedience to God's will, or the lack of faith that God will direct your path and where you need to go, is the two-headed dragon, the doubt or indecision (the head is where our ability to think and reason comes from, so two heads means confusion and not able to make up the mind). The ability of Valak to "find treasure" is the demon's ability to see good, Christian people and the "treasure" they are storing in heaven, and steal it from them. Remember, we see the same treasure-thief in Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit, and it's up to little Bilbo Baggins to steal back that which was taken, specifically and symbolically, our relationship with God that was robbed from us with Original Sin. For our own world, we can see Valak as presenting himself to be some good, e.g., universal income, because you don't want people to suffer, do you? And then the two-headed dragon sweeping in of people not working at all and prices rising. So, at this point, I am very excited about this film, and I all ready can't wait for the second trailer!
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