In 1968, two nuns walked the streets of Chicago and asked strangers, “Are you happy?”
The result, as filmed by directors Gordon Quinn and Jerry Temaner in their documentary, “Inquiring Nuns,” is a cinema verité case study for the concept of happiness, with the responses of people from different walks painting a beautiful portrait of Chicago.
For its 50th anniversary, “Inquiring Nuns” is back with a new restoration, allowing another chance for this delightful look into society to connect with modern audiences.
Sisters Marie Arne and Mary Campion are nervous at first, having never done such a thing before. In the first few minutes of the film, they sit in the vehicle as they drive to their first location, wondering aloud what exactly the filmmakers want from their interactions and learning how to use the microphone.
But once the sisters take to the streets, their courage materializes, culminating in a series of great snapshots of the lives of people in Chicago. We see people of all ages, varying ethnicities, at varying locations such as churches, art museums, etc. And as the sisters approach each individual, we see a variety of reactions. Some are guarded at first and then slowly open up, warming up to the question, and some are immediately open and honest.
And then there are those who are guarded the whole time—still answering the sisters’ questions, but with a look on their faces: “What is this for?” “How do they want me to answer?”
This factor is nearly as interesting as the answers they produce, for one might guess that it influences those answers. We hear a lot of responses related to spirituality, and even the sisters’ faces at times reflect the question, “Are you answering this way because we are nuns?”
Reactions aside, the answers that these strangers give are compelling in their own right.
“I look to people,” one woman responds when asked what makes her happy. “People are the only variables, it seems, in the whole life environment, and then the things that are most important. Nobody means much by themselves.”
Some answers are more composed—the speakers have definitely thought about this subject before—and some are more off-the-cuff, formulated as the words slip out of their mouths. There is even a child who, when asked what makes her happy, honestly responds, “I don’t know.” Each answer gives us a different shade of humanity, a different ingredient added to the pot for this living, breathing, evolving recipe for society.
This film is a must-see for those who love studying people. It is hard to describe the satisfaction that such a simple idea put into motion can produce, but suffice it to say that you will enjoy this documentary.
“Inquiring Nuns” begins on April 5 at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
Thursday, April 4, 7:30 p.m.
24 Hours of Potter
Friday, April 5, 9:30 p.m., until April 6, 9:30 p.m.
Down in Front! Presents
“Night of the Ghouls” (1959)
Friday, April 12, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“Office Space” (1999)
Friday, April 19, 9:30 p.m.
National Theatre Live
“All About Eve”
Monday, April 29, 7 p.m.