The movie “Lilies of the Field” stars a group of German nuns, Mother Maria, Sister Agnes, Gertrude, Albertine, and Elizabeth, who moved to a farm in Arizona. At the beginning of the movie Homer Smith, the main character, realizes his car radiator needs water, pulling over in front of the nuns’ house. After receiving the water for his radiator Mother Maria asked him to fix her roof and he agrees to do so for a sum of money, even though they never pay him for his labor they ask him to build their chapel, which he does. Naming the movie “Lilies of the Field” makes a subtle reference to the Nuns; toward the way, they treat Homer Smith and go about their everyday life. The references help to illustrate the complexity of the nuns and their purpose in the movie.
Lilies are flowers with many meanings ranging from societal to religious. From a societal perspective the lily symbolizes new beginnings and modesty. Naming the movie Lilies of the Field creates a parallel between the nuns journey from Germany to America. Moving because they believed they would be better off in America even if they were living off the land; the nuns made use of what they had, never chasing luxuries and always putting their life in the hands of God through prayers. It can be interpreted that the building of the chapel was another new beginning for the nuns and their community members; a place they can praise God and hold their Sunday services in a sheltered environment. This leads to the nuns’ modesty because they lived a very simple life before Homer Smith came along. The nuns would eat bread and the vegetables they grew in small portions so everyone had dinner, they would walk down the interstate to go to church because they did not have a car, and tried to find ways to build their chapel, even though they didn’t have money. Also, Lilies of a Valley symbolizes sweetness and being pure of heart which can be seen as a characteristic in the Sisters and the Mother. Mother Maria may come off as cold-hearted and mean when she is dealing with the sisters and Homer because she shows tough love rather than giving hugs and kisses. She never thanked Homer for all the work he would do for her until he built the chapel toward the end, but she would thank God for him and say God has sent him to them. Also, when he would take them to church, she introduced him to her fellow church members with pride and joy and sneaking glances at him or blatantly staring at him while he built the chapel. With the sisters, Mother Maria was tough and authoritative but would sing church songs with them and learn English together.
The lily also carries weight in the Christian religion contributing to the link between the nuns and the title of the movie. (Link) According to Garden Nerdy each part of the flower represents a different characteristic in the religion; the flower as a whole represents modesty, the white petals represent innocence and purity, and the stem symbolizes the Virgin Mary’s religious nature. From my interpretation Mother Maria and her sisters all contribute to each section of the flower, the petals being Mother Maria and the stem representing the nuns. Mother Maria is a great representation of innocence and purity because everything she fought for was in the greater good of the community. It can be interpreted that she wants to build a church because of non-gnostic views, but at the end of the movie, Mother Maria is so excited to show her fellow church members the chapel they can now do their masses in. Also, at the end of the movie, she breathlessly speaks to the priest about what still needs to be done and about booking the choir boys from the next town to sing at their next mass. This long breathless sentence listing everything that needs to be done was Mother Maria’s way of saying she wants everything to be perfect so everyone can enjoy the chapel in a closed and safe environment. Never giving up the dream of having a chapel even if the odds look slim shows that her actions were innocent and in favor of the whole community. Her purity can be symbolized by her choice to pursue more than the chapel when Mr. Ashton delivered a load of bricks to help build the chapel. She went on to express her ideas to build a hospital and school for the people since they seem to live in a rural area. The sisters can be represented as the stem of the flower because they are followers of Mother Maria keeping her afloat, helping and staying by her side no matter the occasion. Gardening the large land as a group effort, all the nuns participate in to ensuring there is dinner on the table at night, they would also help her write and send letters to famous men on Wall Street asking for money to build finish their chapel or writing invitation letters to the community and priests from Germany when their chapel was finished. The sisters never lose hope in Mother Maria or their faith can be seen as upholding the religious nature of the Virgin Mary.
On the other hand, the lily can represent humility which can be seen during the duration of the movie. In the movie, Mother Maria never thanked Homer Smith for the things he did or pay him for his labor, so he packs up his things and drives off. This led to the feeling of humility because the nuns returned to walking down the interstate to attend their Sunday service while receiving weird looks for their fellow church members because Homer Smith was no longer driving them to church. In addition, she had to explain to them that he left and the chapel they were so graciously boasting about was now hold and will not be finished. Evidently, Homer does come back and finishes the chapel, returning to his duties of dropping the nuns to their service until the church was finished.
By naming the movie Lilies of the Field the screenwriter links the nuns and their actions throughout the movie to a specific object. Making this link helps establish their character showing growth throughout the movie. The title shows that they are a unit working together for the greater good of the community and their living situations; also that they are pure, innocent, and modest.