Blood Sister: One Tough Nun. By David Foster Wallace

The entertainment’s uptake is that a tough biker-chick-type girl from the mean streets of Toronto is found O.D.’d, beaten up, molested, and robbed of her leather jacket outside the portcullis of a downtown convent and is rescued, nursed, befriended, spiritually guided, and converted — ‘saved’ is the weak entendre made much of in the first act’s dialogue — by a tough-looking older nun who it turns out, she reveals (the tough older nun), had herself been hauled up out of a life of Harleys, narcotics-dealing and -addic tion by an even tougher even older nun, a nun who had herself been saved by a tough ex-biker nun, and so on. The latest saved biker-chick becomes a tough and street-smart nun in the same urban order, and is known on the mean streets as Blood Sister, and wimple or not still rides her Hawg from parish to parish and still knows akido and is not to be fucked with, is the word on the streets.
The motivational crux here being that almost this whole order of nuns is staffed by nuns who’d been saved from Toronto’s mean, dead-end streets by other older tougher saved nuns. So, endless novenas later, Blood Sister eventu ally feels this transitive spiritual urge to go out and find a troubled adolescent female of her own, to ‘save’ and bring into the order, thereby discharging her soul’s debt to the old tough nun who’d saved her. Through processes obscure (a Toronto troubled-but-savable-adolescent-girl-directory of some sort?), Blood Sister eventually takes on a burn-scarred, deeply troubled adolescent punker-type Toronto girl who is sullen and, yes, reasonably tough, but is also vulnerable and emotionally tormented (the girl’s pink shiny burn-scarred face tends to writhe in misery whenever she thinks Blood Sister’s not looking) by the terrible depredations she’s endured as a result of her rapacious and unshakable addiction to crank cocaine, the kind you have to convert and cook up yourself, and with ether, which is highly combustible, and which people used before somebody found out baking soda and temperature-flux would do the same thing, which dates the film’s  time-period even more clearly than the tough tortured punk girl’s violet stelliform coiffure.
But so Blood Sister eventually gets the girl clean, by nurturing her through Withdrawal in a locked sacristy; and the girl becomes less sullen by degrees that almost have audible clicks to them — the girl stops trying to dicky the lock of the sacramental-wine cabinet, stops farting on purpose during matins and vespers, stops going up to the Trappists who hang around the convent and asking them for the time and other sly little things to try to make them slip up and speak aloud, etc. A couple times the girl’s face writhes in emotional torment and vulnerability even when Blood Sis ter’s looking. The girl gets a severe and somewhat lesbianic haircut, and her roots establish themselves as softly brown. Blood Sister, revealing biceps like nobody’s business, beats the girl at arm-wrestling; they both laugh; they compare tattoos: this marks the start of a brutally drawn-out Getting-to-Know-and-Trust-You montage, a genre-convention, this montage involving Harley-rides at such speeds that the girl has to keep her hand on Blood Sister’s head to keep B.S.’s wimple from flying off, and long conversational walks filmed at wide-angle, and protracted and basically unwinnable games of charades with the Trappists, plus some quick scenes of Blood Sister find ing the girl’s Marlboros and dildo-facsimile lighter in the wastebasket, of the girl doing chores unsullenly under B.S.’s grudgingly approving eye, of candle-lit scripture-study sessions with the girl’s finger under each word she reads, of the girl carefully snipping the last bits of split violet ends from her soft brown hair, of the more senior tough nuns punching Blood Sister’s shoulder approvingly as the girl’s eyes start to get that impending-conversion gleam in them, then, finally, of Blood Sister and the girl habit-shopping, the girl’s burned lantern jaw and hairless Promethean brow frozen in a sunlit montage-climax shot under a novitiate wimple’s gull-wings — all accompanied by — no kidding — ‘Getting to Know You,’….This all takes about half an hour, things take a rapid turn for the splattery once the tough girl Blood Sister seemed to have saved is found bluely dead in her novitiate’s cot, her habit’s interior pockets stuffed with all kinds of sub stances and paraphernalia and her arm a veritable forest of syringes. Tight shot of B.S., face working purply, staring down at the ex-ex-punker. Sus pecting foul play instead of spiritual recidivism, Blood Sister, disregarding first the Other-Cheek pieties and then the impassioned pleas and then the direct orders of the Vice-Mother Superior — who happens now to be the tough nun who’d saved Blood Sister, way back — begins reverting to her former Toronto-mean-street pre-salvation tough-biker-chick ways: de-mufflering her Harley Hawg, hauling an age-faded stud-covered leather bike-jacket out of storage and squeezing it over her pectoral-swollen habit, unbandaging her most lurid tattoos, shaking down former altar boys for information, flipping off motorists who get in her bike’s way, meeting old street-contacts in dim saloons and tossing back jiggers with even the most cirrhotic of them, beating, bludgeoning, akido-ing, disarming thugs of power tools, avenging the desalvation and demapping of her young charge, determined to prove that the girl’s death was no accident or backslide, that Blood Sister had not failed with the soul she’d chosen to save to discharge her own soul’s debt to the tough old Vice-Mother Superior who’d saved her, Blood Sister, so far back. Several thuggish stuntmen and countless liters of potassium thiocyanate296 later, the truth does out: the novitiate girl had been murdered by the Mother Superior, the order’s top and toughest nun. This M.S. is the nun who’d saved the Vice-M.S. who’d saved Blood Sister, meaning, ironically, that the evidence Blood Sister needs to prove that her salvation-debt really was discharged is also evidence inimical to the legal interests of the tough nun to whom Blood Sister’s own saviour is obligated, so Blood Sister gets increasingly tortured and ill-tempered as evidence of the Mother Superior’s guilt accretes. In one scene she says fuck. In another she swings a censer like a mace and brains an old verger who’s one of the Mother Superior’s stooges, knocking his toothless head clean off. Then, in Act III, a veritable orgy of retribution follows the full emergence of the sordid truth: it seems that the tough old Vice-Mother Superior, viz. the nun who’d saved Blood Sister, had in fact not been saved, truly, after all — had in fact, during 20+ years of exemplary novena-saying and wafer-baking, been suffering a kind of hidden degenerative recidivist soul-rot, and had resumed, the Více-M.S., at about the time Blood Sister had donned the habit of full nunhood, had not only resumed Substance-dependence but had started actually dealing in serious weights of whatever at the time was most profitable (which after 20+ years had changed from Marseillese heroin to Colombian freebaseable-grade Bing Crosby) to support her own hidden habit, covertly operating a high-volume retail operation out of the order’s Community Outreach Rescue Mission’s little-used confessionals. This nun’s superior, the top tough Mother Superior nun, stumbling onto the drug-operation after the now-demapped verger informed her that a suspicious number of limousines were discharging gold-chained and not very penitent-looking persons into the order’s Community Outreach Rescue Mission, and disastrously unable to summon the pious humility to accept the fact that she’d failed, it seemed, at truly and forever saving the ex-dealer whose salva tion the Mother Superior required to discharge the debt to the now-retired octogenarian nun who’d saved her — this Mother Superior herself is the one who murdered Blood Sister’s ex-punk novitiate, to silence the girl. What emerges is that Blood Sister’s addicted punk-girl’s Substance-copping venue, when she was Out There pre-salvation, had been nothing other than the Vice-Mother Superior’s infamous Community Outreach Rescue Mission. In other words, the nun who’d saved Blood Sister but had herself been secretly unsaved had been the tough girl’s Bing-dealer, is why the tough non-Catholic girl’d been so mysteriously adept at the Confiteor. The order’s Mother Supe rior had figured that it was only a matter of time before the girl’s conversion and salvation reached the sort of spiritual pitch where her guarded silence broke and she told Blood Sister the seamy truth about the nun she (Blood Sister) thought had saved her (Blood Sister). So she (the Mother Superior) had eliminated the girl’s map — ostensibly, she (the Mother Superior) told her lieutenant, the Vice-Mother Superior, to save her (the Vice-Mother Superior) from exposure and excommunication and maybe worse, if the girl weren’t silenced.
This narratively prolix and tangled stuff all gets explicated at near-Kabuki volume during an appalling free-for-all in the office of the Mother Superior who hadn’t saved the Vice-M.S. who’d saved Blood Sister, with the two senior nuns — who’d been tough and unsaved back in the Ontarian days when men were men and so were drug-addicted bike-chicks — teaming up and kicking Blood Sister’s ass, the fight-scene a blur of swirling habite-ments and serious martial arts against the spot-lit backdrop of the wall’s huge decorative mahogany crucifix, with Blood Sister giving a good account of herself but still getting her wimple beat in and finally, after several whirl ing kicks to the forehead, starting to bid adieu to her corporeal map and commend herself to the arms of God; until the unsaved recidivist Vice-Mother Superior nun who’d saved Blood Sister, wiping blood from her eyes after a head-butt and seeing the Mother Superior about to decapitate Blood Sister with the souvenir Champlain-era tomahawk the Huron nun who’d been saved by the original founder of the Toronto tough-girl-saving order had used to decapitate Jesuit missionaries before she (the tough Huron nun) had been saved, seeing the tomahawk raised with both arms before the normally pious-eyed old Mother Superior’s face — a face now rendered in describable in aspect by the absence of humility and the passion for truth-silencing that add up to pure and radical evil — seeing now the upraised hatchet and demonized face of the M.S., the unsaved Vice-nun has a mo ment of epiphanic anti-recidivist spiritual clarity, and averts Blood Sister’s demapping by leaping across the office and cold-cocking the Mother Supe rior with a large decorative mahogany Christian object so symbolically ob vious it needn’t even be named. Now Blood Sister has the Champlain-era hatchet, and the unsaved nun who’d saved her has an unnamed object whose mahogany’s no match for a hatchet, and they stand facing each other over the prone Mother Superior’s puddle of skirts, chests heaving, and the Vice-M.S. has a writhing expression under her askew wimple like Go ahead, make the circle of recidivist retribution against the nun you thought had saved you but ultimately couldn’t even save herself complete, complete the lapsarian circuit or whatever. They stare at each other for countless frames, the office wall behind them cruciformly pale where the unnamed object’d hung. Then Blood Sister shrugs in resignation and drops the tomahawk, and turns and with an ironic little obeisance walks out the Mother Superior’s office door and through the little sacristy and over the altar and down the little convent nave (bike boots echoing on the tile, emphasizing the silence) and out the big doors whose tympanum overhead is carved with a sword and a ploughshare and a syringe and a soup-ladle and the motto CON-TRARIA SUNT COMPLEMENTA, “opposites are complementary”. We’re still following the tough nun (or ex-nun). The fact that the hatchet she resignedly dropped fetched the prone Mother Supe rior a pretty healthy knock is presented as clearly accidental… because she (Blood Sister) is still walking away from the convent, moving emphatically and in a gradually deepening focus. Limping toughly eastward into the twit tering Toronto dawn. The cartridge’s closing sequence shows her astride her Hawg on Toronto’s meanest street. About to lapse? Backslide back into her tough pre-saved ways? It’s unclear in a way that’s supposed to be rich: her expression is agnostic at best, but the huge sign of a discount Harley-muffler outlet juts just at the horizon she’s roaring toward. The closing credits are the odd lime-green of bugs on a windshield.


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