Dolores Hart used to be a movie star. Now she’s a nun. “God is the Bigger Elvis” is her redacted life story in HBO documentary form and the whole, sordid, film is one sorry sad sack of an unimaginative, wasted, life:
IT is a story straight out of Hollywood. A beautiful young starlet walks away from a blossoming movie career to become a nun, and 50 years later she returns to the Academy Awards ceremony — as the subject of an Oscar-nominated film.
The real-life drama of Dolores Hart, known as Mother Prioress to the nuns here at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, unfolds in the HBO film “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” one of five nominees for best documentary (short subject). The 35-minute film examines Mother Dolores’s transformation from a Hollywood ingénue and the recipient of Elvis Presley’s first on-screen kiss to a cloistered Benedictine nun at the abbey, where for the past nine years she has been the prioress, the second in authority below the abbess, Mother David Serna.
You can’t help wondering why Dolores left California movie stardom for life in an Abbey with a bunch of other nuns — especially when the documentary makes clear her ongoing pining and strong feelings for her ex-boyfriend who appears to still be waiting for her to change her mind and return to his arms for real and to live the life she was intended to have with him and not the life she chose to misbegottenly suffer alone.
Is this documentary really about mental illness and not choices of faith? Or is the point of it all that some people need to give up all hope to convalesce with God?
If there is joy or delight or celebration of God in Dolores’ life — I didn’t see it in the movie. She is sullen and unseemly during every moment she’s on screen. What, exactly, does she do other than sing and pray and eat in silence? We are left to wonder what scared Dolores so much that she gave up a real life of a churning human being to run off and hide for half a century in Connecticut.
It was especially odd to see Dolores try to counsel a new recruit — who appeared to be having a crisis of faith — by basically telling her to just pray about it, and we, too, were left behind in the chill of Dolores’ cold shoulder.
By the end of the documentary, I realize we are likely supposed to be awed by Dolores and her sacrifice for her God — but all I was left with was a dizzying sense of sadness and loss — a talent wasted and washed away on insecurity and a whim. If a tragedy is truly made of Pity and Terror — then, Tragedy, thy name is Dolores Hart.