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Mother Teresa & Me 2023


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Adam R. Holz

Movie Review

If someone spontaneously asked you, “Who do you think was the most selfless person that ever lived?” how would you respond? I’m guessing that after Jesus (of course), Mother Teresa would get a lot of votes. For more than 50 years, this humble Albanian woman (born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) poured out her life to serve the poor and the wretched in the slums of Calcutta, India.

In the decades since her death at age 87 in 1997, however, unexpected details have emerged to flesh out this recently canonized Catholic saint’s secret struggle with spiritual darkness.

Mother Teresa & Me tells the story of this woman’s selfless service and her inner battle with searing spiritual doubts.

Mother Teresa’s dramatized biographical story is interwoven with a purely fictional one in the present. Here, we meet Kavita, a young British Indian woman who discovers she’s pregnant and who subsequently experiences an existential crisis of her own.

And it’s a crisis that’s ultimately reshaped by her own encounter with Mother Teresa’s legacy.

Positive Elements

Mother Teresa’s story as chronicled here begins in 1946, a year before India gained its independence from Great Britain, amid a violent, riotous uprising called “The Week of Long Knives.”

Amid rubble-strewn streets filled with corpses and the sound of mortar shells whistling their wicked way earthward, a black-robed figure crawls oh-so deliberately toward her target: a local market. Two men accost her, both shot by someone else even as they menace her. Finally, a soldier confronts the woman sternly: “What the h— are you doing here, sister?”

“I’m not a sister. I’m a mother,” Mother Teresa responds acidly. I have 300 girls who are starving. I won’t return without food.”

That vignette paints a portrait of the ferocious character of this slightly stooped nun—a woman unwilling to let anyone stand between her and her God-given mission to serve others.

It’s not long before that mission becomes more focused, however, on serving Calcutta’s poor. And for much of the rest of the movie we see how Mother Teresa does exactly that: creating a space for India’s destitute untouchables to die with dignity; meeting weekly needs at a leper colony; taking care of abandoned babies in an orphanage; teaching illiterate children to read.

She faces obstacles and antipathy at nearly every turn: first in the Catholic Church; then from the government and hospitals; and finally from fundamentalist Hindus who hate her for her faith. And we see how her five-decade obedience to her spiritual call left a legacy of service that draws volunteers to India to this day.

That story intersects the plight of Kavita. After being hit by a car in London, the young woman discovers she’s six weeks pregnant. Her beau, Paul, promptly ghosts her—refusing to answer the door, pick up calls or return her texts. He’s simply gone.

On the brink of having an abortion, Kavita decides not to go through with the procedure in that moment (though that option remains on the table for her for most of the film). Instead, she makes a spontaneous trip to India to visit her former nanny, a wise elderly woman named Deepali, who functions in a role akin to, say, a favorite aunt.

Kavita’s tight-lipped about her desperate situation, but Deepali figures it out anyway. And even as the older woman tries to give Kavita the space she needs, Deepali invites the young woman to serve as a volunteer at Mother Teresa’s ministry to the poor. It proves a transformative experience for Kavita, who both admires Mother Teresa’s perseverance amid doubt but also struggles with her staunchly pro-life rejection of abortion.

Deepali is wise and generous with Kavita and her struggle, even helping to facilitate an important reconciliation with other members of Kavita’s family. Kavita, for her part, grows stronger and more other-centered as she helps to care for the dying at the ministry Mother Teresa established—and as she learns more about Mother Teresa’s life and spiritual struggles. (More on those in a moment.)

Speaking of which, we watch as Mother Teresa and a young protégé, Sister Agnes, scour Calcutta’s streets for those who are unable to help themselves. They take one woman to a hospital, for instance, and they demand that local medical authorities give them a space for those who are terminally ill to die with dignity.

In addition to delivering very strong pro-life messages, it also powerfully affirms the beauty of adoption and the importance of orphanages in caring for abandoned children. The film also emphasizes the power of therapeutic and restorative touch for those who are suffering and dying, especially the elderly.

Spiritual Elements

The film opens with Mother Teresa angrily unleashing her anger at God for His seeming absence from her life. “You took everything from me,” she accuses. “Your love. Your love is only an illusion. I don’t believe in You. You don’t exist. So, paradise. God. These words don’t mean anything to me anymore. I have lost my faith.” When the film later returns to this scene, we see that it’s in the wake of a leper and friend having committed suicide by hanging herself, giving  the  moment a bit more context.

It’s a far cry where she began. Not content simply to teach girls in her Calcutta (now known as Kolkata, but described with the Anglicized spelling throughout this film) convent’s school, Mother Teresa is convinced that she has clearly received “a call within a call,” as she tells her spiritual mentor, Father Celeste van Exem. Then she tells him, “Jesus said, ‘Come. Come. Carry me to the homes of the poor. Come be my light.’”

Her visage practically glows as she recounts this sense of calling. But she then faces nearly two years of delays before the Vatican finally approves her visionary plan to serve the poor in the sprawling Indian city. At that point, the idea of nuns ministering outside a convent was unprecedented and revolutionary. Father van Exem describes the plan’s approval as nothing short of a “miracle.”

But even as Teresa launches into the ministry with zeal, she has a dreamlike vision in which she senses God withdrawing His presence from her: “I could not hear You, could not feel You. I was alone.” Later she tells Father van Exem, “I’m lost, Father. He hasn’t talked to me since I started working in the slums.”

For his part, Father Exem believes that sense of God’s absence will ultimately be resolved in a redemptive way. “Faith might be obscured by the clouds of doubt, but it will come back. Be patient, Mother.”

As the years roll on, however, Mother Teresa remains in this spiritual darkness, literally writing in a letter to her spiritual mentor by candlelight one night, “I want God with all the powers of my soul. And yet there is between us a terrible separation. But I must keep this absence secret. It should never be revealed to anyone. These letters will have to be destroyed after my death, so nobody will ever know that I have lost faith.”

Later she tells the priest that she’s resolved to put on a good face as she ministers to others in public, even if her soul has capitulated to resigned anguish in private: “If my pain can comfort just one single soul, then I shall pretend to everyone that I’m a flower of God.” The priest simply nods in response, unsure, it seems, what to say.

Though the film (and, indeed, Mother Teresa’s real-world letters) never indicate that she regained a sense of God’s presence in her life, one scene finds her taking care of a former Hindu antagonist whose long hair and visage remind us of Jesus. Indeed, Teresa looks at the man, then looks a painting of Jesus with the simple caption “I thirst.”

Mother Teresa’s evangelism seems completely based on her actions instead of any Western notions about what it means to share the gospel message with words or theology. As one man dies, for instance, she whispers, “My child, pray to your god so that he takes care of you. I will also make a prayer to my God.” Whether that approach is respectful or syncretistic is certainly a conversation that could be had.

That said, a young girl at one point tells Mother Teresa, “You’re so lucky that Jesus loves you so much.” To which she replies, “He loves you, too, my child.” When she presses Mother Teresa further, asking, “Are you sure?” she replies, “Yes, he loves all of us. I’m sure of that.”

Given the fact that Mother Teresa’s ministry is established within the Catholic church, we see many other visual and verbal references to that expression of the Christian faith.

Kavita’s spiritual journey, meanwhile, doesn’t end with any kind of religious conversion. But her exposure to nuns and volunteers working to serve the poor clearly transforms her perspective on loving and serving others. It also seems to play a role in her deciding to keep her baby instead of getting an abortion.

As for Kavita’s nanny, Deepali, we see that she has an incense-lit shrine in her home with religious icons from various faiths on it, including a cross and Hindu figures. When Kativa’s surprised that there’s not more prominence given to Christianity, Deepali responds, “Christians. Hindus. Muslims—we all want the same things.” The film never really critiques or unpacks the implicit syncretism here.

As mentioned above, some Hindu fundamentalists threaten to burn down Mother Teresa’s ministry, repeatedly yelling, “Glory to Kali [a Hindu goddess]!” They’re confronted by police and health officials. But when their leader witnesses Teresa caring personally for the dying, he calls off the attack (in conjunction with authorities who also protect the ministry).

Several scenes depict ghostlike visions of Mother Teresa’s own mother, who clearly exerted a powerful influence in her daughter’s spiritual direction.

Sexual Content

Kativa and Paul kiss, and it’s alluded to that they often spend the night together. Apart from that kiss, we don’t see any other physical intimacy. Kativa’s unexpected pregnancy, however, obviously tells us that’s a part of their relationship.

Elsewhere, Kativa has a brief romantic connection with another guy named Rupert. They share a kiss.

We hear several conversations about the Indian practice of arranged marriages vs. a “love marriage.” Kativa is aghast that her parents keep trying to set her up with potential, suitable India men from prominent families. She has little, if any, respect for such an approach, and she’s determined to have a romantic relationship based on choice and love instead of parental will.

Much of Kativa’s story turns around the subject of whether or not she’ll choose to have an abortion. (More on that below.)

Violent Content

As mentioned above, the opening scene shows dead bodies among debris, and two men are shot before they can attack Mother Teresa in an abandoned market. Text onscreen tells us that the riotous “Week of Long Knives” claimed the lives of 5,000 people, wounded 15,000 more and left 100,000 people in Calcutta homeless. Telltale clouds of smoke rise from the city skyline as munitions boom in the background. the sound of munitions falling.

Teresa (and others in the ministry she founds) treats the open sores and wounds of multiple people on the verge of death. Kativa likewise tries to ease the suffering of a very elderly woman close to death. Teresa and Agnes travel to a leper colony weekly, where the ravages of the flesh-destroying disease are clearly visible on its victims’ faces.

One leper, a close friend of Mother Teresa, hangs herself; we see Teresa cradle the woman’s lifeless body as Agnes lets the rope down in a pouring rain.

Untouchables, known as Dalits in India, are treated as subhuman and not worthy of care, concern or even the dignity of burial after they die on the streets. Teresa is determined to confront traditional Indian culture’s indifference (as it’s presented here) to the violent, illness-infected and alienated plight of the country’s poorest people. She believes every life has deep dignity, and she’s utterly determined to save, rescue and comfort as many as she can.

Teresa may privately waver in her faith, but she’s staunchly against abortion, even in cases of rape. Kavita is aghast at Mother Teresa’s uncompromising stance, even though she’s ultimately influenced in a positive way by it with regard to her own pregnancy.

Kavita is horrified by Mother Teresa’s convictions because raped women and their children are treated as unclean and rejected by Indian society. (That belief is stated by more than one person in the film.) She believes an abortion is a lesser evil than what she sees as condemning women to a life of rejection that likely will lead them into prostitution to survive. [Spoiler Warning] We see Kavita in an abortion clinic, but she leaves after she sees a weeping Muslim woman after, apparently, having had an abortion.

Teresa  never wavers from her belief that abortion is always, unequivocally wrong. She tells young female students in a class she teaches (before beginning her ministry among the poor), “A mother killing her own child is the beginning of all violence.”

A fire set by an angry, drunken man consumes an impoverished family’s shed. Angry Hindu fundamentalists threaten to burn down a building. A woman dies in childbirth, and we see her in a dress drenched with blood. Impoverished dead and dying men are often shirtless, and people comment on the rank smell among the poor who rarely are able to bathe.

Crude or Profane Language

Twice we see graffiti that reads “S—house to Penthouse” on a large urban building. We hear one spoken s-word. God’s name is misused four times, and we hear one misuse of Jesus’ name. There are three uses of “h—.”

Drug and Alcohol Content


Other Negative Elements

In an angry, despairing moment, Mother Teresa lashes out against a young nun whom Teresa doesn’t think is mopping her facility’s stairs correctly.


Is Mother Teresa and Me (a Fathom Events film in theaters Thursday, October 5 only) a Christian film? I think it is. But certainly not in the way we’ve come to use that label.

The story unpacks Teresa’s silent spiritual torment, her longing to hear from the God who called her to lay down her life for the poor. She does so, tenaciously, with the fierce protective instinct of a mother tiger. Her life, her faith, her unwavering attention to others, is truly remarkable.

In solitude, however, desolation. Spiritual doubt clawed at Teresa’s soul. to the point that she repeatedly exclaims angrily that she has no faith left: “I have lost my faith. I’m alone. There is no God, and I’m alone, and that’s the truth.” Elsewhere: “I did exactly what He told me to do. Exactly. I’ve been good. I’ve been good.”

So what do we do with those confessions, even as she says she’s determined to “pretend” to be “God’s flower” in order to comfort others? Is that determination hypocrisy and dishonesty? Is it evidence of perseverance in her faith even as she verbally suggests no such belief remains?

Unlike many Christian movies that would never leave such haunting questions hanging in the air, this one gives no answers. Do Mother Teresa’s words speak louder than her faithful actions? That’s a question worth discussing after this deeply spiritual—but also deeply unsettling—look at Teresa’s life. And the dramatic depiction of this famous saint’s deep doubts may bring comfort to those who’ve traversed their own bleak spiritual wastelands.

If that question isn’t ultimately answered, however, there are others that are—unabashedly. When multiple people try to force Teresa into admitting that some situations (like rape) might justify abortion, she will not hear it. For Teresa, every life has immense dignity, both at the beginning of life and at the end. And she pours out her life sacrificially in the service of that ideal, always in the name of Jesus.

Death, violence, suffering and occasional profanity also make their way into this story. These images jolt us out of complacency and force us to face the desperate condition of humanity in ways we may be tempted to turn away from.

Mother Teresa never flinched from facing that suffering, from giving her life to the call of God upon her life … even as she agonized privately about His apparent absence from it.

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Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.