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The Letters (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 111 minutes not including credits.

OK for children.

The basics of the story of Mother Teresa are pretty well known. She was a young woman from a close-knit family who became a nun and left teaching in India to devote her life to the poor.

This movie picks up her life in 1946, when she was 36 years. She has a “calling” on a train trip and applied to the Vatican to go out on her own to help the poor. When she left the relatively safe life teaching in a girls’ school in Calcutta and took to the streets in 1948, she did so with only five rupees to her name. One of the characters in the film states that 5 rupees was the equivalent of one English pound at the time or one American dollar. In fact, however, this is inaccurate. The value of the rupee was pegged at 13 rupees to the pound from 1927-1966. In 1948 the English pound was worth $4.03, so one rupee would have been worth 31 American cents. Five rupees would have been worth $1.55, or only a little more than a third of an English pound. That’s how much she had when she walked into the streets of the poor in Calcutta in 1948 completely alone.

So this is the compelling tale of how she started out and what she accomplished. Juliet Stevenson gives a brilliant performance as Mother Teresa. The story is told by Celeste van Exem (85 year old Max von Sydow) as a flashback.

Apparently she wrote letters to her spiritual superiors throughout her lifetime that reveal that she was a tortured soul. She wanted them destroyed but the Vatican priest in charge of the investigation about her becoming a saint, Fr. Benjamin Praagh (Rutger Hauer), has them and uses him in his investigation. According to Fr. Praagh, “She suffered greatly, stemming from her belief that she had been abandoned by God.”

The letters reveal the spiritual turbulence and the intensity of her life and work over a period of 60 years.

Throughout the movie van Exem refers to the “darkness” of her life, something that never came through in all the stories about her. This is a fascinating study of a woman who was one thing to the world but something completely different to herself.