"The Letters" hits theaters December 4, and takes an inside look into the life of Mother Teresa by focusing on the inception of her ministry and her battles with loneliness and spiritual emptiness. Although making a film comprised of the personal letters of one of the world's most adored person of our generation may seem like a very good concept initially, after watching the movie and hearing first hand that it was not at all Mother Teresa's desire to divulge her personal battles or charity to the public, it now all seems a bit insensitive.
The film kicks off in 1998 with Vatican investigator Benjamin Praagh, played by actor Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). He visits India after a supposed ray of light emanated from a locket containing Mother Teresa's photo in it and "healed" a woman with a tumor. The scene left out, however, that there were real life reports from the patient's doctor citing that medicine was the healer and not the revered mother.
The alleged miracle was what put Mother Teresa on track to becoming a declared saint by the Vatican, which was the preface of the film. But Teresa was instead ordained "beatitude," not a saint just yet because in Catholicism in order for a deceased person to be named a saint, evidence must be presented to persuade Church officials that the person in question lived a godly life and performed at least two miracles as evidence that God worked through them.
Although "The Letters" overall paints Mother Teresa as a virtuous woman of God, it insists that she had a darkness that imprisoned her for the last 50 years of her life. That "darkness," however, was never in fact explored in the film.
The film does, however, flash back to take the viewer on a journey to the beginning of Teresa's ministry, which started in the 1940s in Calcutta, India. Actress Juliet Stevenson (Bend It Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile) plays a then Sister Teresa for the duration of the film. It explores the time she was fretful while serving as a teacher at the Loreto convent school in Entally, eastern Calcutta because of the burdened she felt to help the poor outside of the convent.
"The Letters" moves forward to 1946, the year the Albanian native received her "call within the call." While on an excursion away from her convent traveling by train, Teresa hears from God about her call to go out into the slums to serve and live among the poor.
The over zealous sister was met with great disapproval from her mother superior, nevertheless she applied to be released into the local area anyway. While waiting months to hear back from the Vatican, never once was she portrayed as disobedient or rebellious, she just reiterated that God spoke to her.
In the meantime, the film briefly explores the riots and violence that ensued when India becomes independent of Britain. That scene felt a bit random, considering everyone watching is now, like Teresa, waiting anxiously for the Vatican's response to the brave request to serve the needy in India.
The day finally comes when Pope Pius the 12th grants Sister Teresa permission to go outside the convent for one year. Before heading out into the slums of Calcutta, she receives medical training. While there, her humanity is exhibited in a scene that shows her sick to her stomach at the sight of a man filled with sores.
Once finally out and about and left to fend for herself with no food or shelter, it was made clear that the sister was not welcomed by many of the people she sought to serve. "I may not be wanted here but I am needed," she declared to the people of the slums after a confrontation.
It was then that the drama revealed that her infamous letters were written to the priest who was narrating the film. It was her longtime friend and spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem, played by Max von Sydow (Minority Report, Robinhood).
"The poor must ache in body and in soul looking for something to eat," she wrote to him while scenes of people rummaging through the trash flashed on the screen.