Sister Aloysius (Meryl
Streep) is an old school nun, even in New York boroughs in 1964. The
principal at a Catholic school, she severely stalks the school hallways and
the chapel. She is waging a personal war against such modern evils as
hair barrettes, ballpoint pens, "fidgety boys" and secular Christmas music -
just listen her unintentionally hysterical explanation of the heresy behind
"Frosty the Snowman."
Father Flynn (Philip
Seymour Hoffman) is a newer type of Catholic. Young, hip, friendly and
all-inclusive. He believes that the church has to bend a little to
appeal to its parishioners. He feels that he can be people's friend as
well as confessor. He wants to convert people through kindness rather
It is the battle between
the old church and the new - one is rigid, apparently humorless and
unforgiving, the other is more inclusive, somewhat informal and sometimes
The middle ground is found
in Sister James (Amy Adams) - who is kind, giving, forgiving and just a
little naive. She is new to the convent and the school, has a bright
disposition and a natural trust of the inherent goodness in people.
Doubt is based on
the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley - who adapted his
play here as well as directing it. Shanley does have a history in
film. He won an Oscar for his 1987 screenplay for Moonstruck.
However, this is only his second job as a director - the last being almost
20 years ago with the odd Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan misfire Joe vs. the Volcano.
His work as a director has
improved immeasurably - though he does occasionally overdo it with the
symbolism of wind, etc. However, Doubt works so well because it
is mostly true to its theatrical roots. There were only four
characters in the play. The film has been spread out somewhat and
supporting characters are added, but for the most part these four are the
entire thrust of the film. The dialogue is smart and diverse, but
there is not much in the way of action.
The subject matter of
Doubt is explosive and one that has been much on the public's mind - the
possibility of sexual harassment of children by a man of the cloth.
However, Shanley isn't just trying to take a scathing look at religion and
priests. It is more a look at faith and belief and it also questions
whether a man is innocent just because he has not been proven guilty.
Sister Aloysius comes to
mistrust the Father's casual ways and asks Sister James to keep an eye on
him. Sister James doesn't like the idea of spying, so she is hesitant
to tell her superior about a disturbing encounter she had with the school's
first African-American student, a young boy who the Father has taken under
his wings. Sister Aloysius quickly comes to believe that the Father's
relationship with the boy may be inappropriate.
Sister Aloysius has no real
proof - even she acknowledges that. (When the priest asks her why she
suspected he was capable of this, she says because she saw another boy
flinch when the Father touched his hand.) But even with no proof, she
still seems to have an unwavering belief that he is guilty, even to the
point that she tells the boy's mother of her suspicions. The mother -
in a bravura supporting turn by Viola Davis - does not exactly take the news
the way the Sister would have imagined.
In the play, apparently,
the audience knows right off the bat whether or not the priest is guilty of
the crime. I think the ambiguity works better here. The audience
wants to believe that Sister Aloysius is overreacting and that Father Flynn
is innocent, because there is little proof and the alternative is too
However, that would be too
easy - the movie doesn't give us the out of proving or disproving what
happened. Father Flynn appears to be getting persecuted with very
little evidence, however he stubbornly won't seem to go so far as to prove
himself innocent. For the most part, there is enough information to think that
both of them may be right and may be wrong.
Just like religion, it's
all about faith - even when you have your doubts.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2009.