Another movie post! Hurray! I haven’t done a full movie post in a while- which are my favorite things to do! I had seen The Little Hours back at Sundance, so I had seen it ages ago, but never really wrote about it. Luckily, I have had plenty of time to formulate thoughts about it, especially in the event that it’s release was expanded this week.
The Little Hours is loosely based on The Decameron- a 14th century collection of stories by Giovanni Boccaccio. It centers around a trio of bored, foul-mouthed nuns (Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza) and the explosion of revelry and sexual awakening that follows the appearance of a handsome fugitive (Dave Franco).
The characters are far from perfect, and can be viewed as hypocrites by some viewers. I don’t believe them to be so because they never try to appear pious or hide their true natures. Alessandra (Brie) is a nun whose father has given a large sum of money to the church. She is bored with monastic life, and desires to be swept away from the convent. Fernanda (Plaza) and Genevra’s (Micucci) backgrounds are unclear, but Fernanda is unrepentant, and uninterested in religious life. She has a female “friend” outside the convent and regularly engages in illicit sexual activity and witchcraft. On the other hand, Genevra seems to be confused about who she is and has been sheltered from human pleasures. After a night experimenting with Fernanda, Genevra becomes emotionally unstable. Perhaps the most complex character of all is Sister Marea (Molly Shannon), a well-meaning leader of the convent who is in a forbidden but loving relationship with Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). Massetto serves as a catalyst for all the events in the film. He slept with his master’s wife, and as a consequence had to flee and found refuge among the nuns. He poses as a deaf-mute to discourage temptation, but his charade proves to cause more chaos. In the film, he is utilized as the scapegoat for the nuns’ frustrations- culminating in a fertility ritual at the climax of the film.
The biggest theme exhibited in The Little Hours is the conflict between the religious and societal constructs we are told to follow versus what our heart and bodies tell us to do. It’s not truly advocating a completely Bacchanalian lifestyle- just one that doesn’t involve denying life’s basic pleasures.
The film has faced condemnation from the Catholic League and other religious organizations, but the negative press hasn’t detracted from the film’s success. Based on Boccaccio’s writings, the film does have some grounding in historical fact. History has shown that many women in the medieval ages chose a life of chastity not because of their devotion to God, but because there were little options for women at the time. Some women joined to obtain an education, others to avoid the confines of marriage, and some were given as a tithe to the church, while others from large, affluent families were sent so that their families could retain wealth.
Director Jeff Baena and the cast often reiterated that The Little Hours is not mocking religion and the Catholic Church, but it is a portrayal of the humanity of religious figures, and the toxicity of sexual suppression. In its collection of 100 stories, The Decameron features many tales of this sort. Even though the book was written in the 1300’s, the characters faced the same basic human struggles that we do today and are oddly relatable.
Not finding offense in The Little Hours, I thought it opened a dialogue about the relationship between religion and sex. In Christianity, sex is portrayed as a sin outside the sanctity of marriage. It’s something that is taboo to talk about among church-goers and a very difficult subject to navigate within the confines of a bible study group. Is it at all possible to be a sex-positive Christian? There is empowerment in the choice to say yes or NO to sex, and there is empowerment in knowledge of it, and there is no shame in the act of it either. In all honesty, even in my purity I refused to be ignorant of sexuality. I sought to educate myself on it and enjoyed learning about it. Is that so wrong? I would think at times.
I’d often wondered why many Christians try to skirt past conversations of sex all together, and not properly educate its young men and women about it. The main thing I remember is the teaching of Virginity as the most valuable thing a woman has to offer- which I grew to be annoyed with. The Christian faith places emphasis on Virginity, but not the knowledge behind it, or whatever else a woman may have to offer- such as her intellect, talents, or service.
As what’s been proven time and time again, the lack of an education is more harmful than taking the time to do so. When conversations do arise, sexual acts and desires are often treated as something wicked and dirty. In admissions to sin, it seems as if the sexual kind is among the most shameful of things to admit. Homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, fornication, and even fantasizing are condemned. In my own spiritual journey, I’d often marinated over this toxic relationship. Were sexual “sins” so bad as long as they didn’t cause harm to others or the self? I grew tired of feeling tormented and watching others be tormented for things that are considered a normal part of human nature. There seems to be more harm than good in the denying of these pleasures. What I noticed is that the Church sometimes focuses too much on salvation and purity as opposed to fellowship and redemption.
As someone who used to be very involved in the church and religious organizations, I realize that my opinions may be met with a bit of contempt or confusion. In fact, I had a hard time honestly writing my opinion that I’ve been hiding for a long time, but I wanted to say it.
The Little Hours does not seek to be a scathing religious commentary, but it provides food for thought for those who are questioning it. You might just be surprised. If you are further interested, do check out The Decameron (my recommended translation is the one by Wayne A. Rebhorn). Lastly, in response to the Catholic League, not every religious depiction can be perfect. I mean, we are all human after all.
ADRIANA, THE CINEMA SOLOIST