The Song of Bernadette, Henry King’s 1943 film about a young woman who believes she has visions of a mysterious lady in a grotto, has much to recommend it—the technical nuance, the less-sentimental-than-expected portrayal of miraculous events, and a fine performance by the lead actress, Jennifer Jones.
That said, let’s state up front: this is a film about a saint. As such, the dramatic conflict comes less from within Bernadette, and more from the resistance she meets outside herself. I say less because while a saintly figure, Bernadette is also a young woman, and as such is given to bouts of frustration. But in spite of her youth, after seeing the vision she never doubts it, she always answers in perfect concert with the mysterious lady’s intentions in mind, and she carries a kind of tranquil manner about her.
In the events and characters that swirl around Bernadette, the film goes to great pains to create doubt, whether by the filming of certain events, or by the incessant questions raised by the bishop and certain government officials. This works to a large degree in keeping the narrative engaging, though cutting ten or twenty minutes from the 140+ minute-film wouldn’t hurt.
Without a doubt, the film is straight-up hagiography, which is not at all meant as a criticism, but rather as a descriptive term. Personally, I don’t tend to go in for these kinds of stories, but in the case of Bernadette, the film wore down most of my defenses. The key factor in this has to be the innate simplicity that Jones brings to the role of Bernadette—there’s an appealing naivete about the young woman that engaged me.
The world I live in has too little simplicity in it. Everything’s complicated, so some say. Well, yes and no. Everything is complicated, but like that very statement—and depending on how you look at life—many things are simpler than they seem. Bernadette was a nice reminder of what a simple life lived in simple faith might look like.