Last night I decided to head to the movies for lack of anything better to do. I had heard mixed reviews for the drama “Doubt” but decided to give it a try.
“Doubt” stars two cinema giants, Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Both are excellent in this film, and their scenes together are spectacular.
The story takes place in a Catholic school in 1964. Streep portrays a war-widow-turned-nun who serves as principal of the school. Hoffman plays the parish priest and coach at the school.
Sister Aloysious (Streep) comes to suspect that Father Flynn (Hoffman) has abused the only African American student in the school. The eight grade teacher Sister James (Amy Adams) reported that Hoffman had unexpectedly called the boy down to the rectory, and when he returned she smelled alcohol on his breath and noticed some odd behavior. Sister Aloysious, who references something similar with a different priest in her past, immediately assumes Flynn’s guilt, and does what she can to (in her words) “Bring him down.”
What actually happened in the rectory is never revealed. Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence is never proved.
As a survivor of Catholic School myself (St. Augustine’s School, Andover, Massachusetts, 3rd to 6th grades, 1980-84), I found myself impressed at how both Streep and Hoffman so perfectly portrayed their characters. There were instances where I was back in the early ’80s living in fear of the nuns.
Their characters, however, represent different outlooks on the Church. Aloysius, the old school Catholic Church founded on rigid discipline and unwavering enforcement of the rules. Flynn, on the other hand, is representative of the changes that began in the 1960s: the “friendly church,” so to speak.
Too friendly, perhaps?
This film does a great job of changing the audience’s perspective on what may or may not have happened, often several times in the same scene. Aloysius is convinced of his guilt without proof; Sister James is convinced of his innocence, also without proof. Flynn protests his innocence, oftentimes angrily, and yet admits to “mortal sins” in his past, which now reside in the hands of his confessor.
At times the film seems to drag a bit, but the scenes of confrontation crackle. The great thing about the film is that it provides no answer, only contradictory evidence and confusion. Sister Aloysius’s steely and unbending surety makes her hard to sympathize with; Father Flynn’s relaxed and easy manner make him easy to like.
But isn’t that the way of the pedophile?
But does that mean that every easy-going man — priest or otherwise — is a pedophile?
The final third of the film, especially concerning the boy’s mother and Sister Aloysius, contains some surprises which I shall not reveal here. They are fascinating in their way, but again, bring no answers or comfort for the viewer. Only more questions and confusion.
I can recommend seeing this film, if you are prepared for no answers and much discomfort.