If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, December 28, 2008


This afternoon I went with my wife to see the movie Doubt. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by John Patrick Shanley. It is set in a Catholic school, St. Nicholas in the Bronx, in 1964. The two main antagonists are Sister Aloysius (played amazingly by Meryl Streep), principal of the school, and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman with another wonderful performance), the parish priest. Sister Aloysius is a hard-nosed, strict, pre-Vatican II, Old School Catholic sister.

She doesn't like Father Flynn, who is post-Vatican II, compassionate, sensitive, New School, nor the reforms he would like to bring to this stodgy, oppressive school. Sister James (played marvelously by Amy Adams), an innocent, believe-the best-of all-people teacher at the school, sees some incidents that may indicate an inappropriate relationship between Father Flynn and the school's first black student, Donald Miller. When she tells Sister Aloysius, hell (or heaven?) breaks loose. After Father Flynn explains things, she is willing to believe, for a while, but not Sister Aloysius. The good sister is from that point on out to bring Father Flynn down, even though evidence of child molestation is not clear and solid. There are doubts.

And watching the movie you are filled with doubts and questions. The movie begins with a sermon on doubt and ends with the doubts of Sister Aloysius. A sign of a good movie is that the audience experiences what the movie is about. In Doubt nothing is certain. There is subtley of word and symbol that points to one antagonist being right, then the other. Clues are dropped here and there leading you down one trail, then another, like a good mystery movie. You begin to sympathize with Father Flynn, then with Sister Aloysius. I wanted the movie to end with one person proved right and the other wrong (my preference was that the uncompromising Sister Aloysius be proven wrong), but I knew before the movie was over that to be true to its theme there would be no final certainty in the end.

This movie is not a simple morality play, nor a diatribe against child abuse by priests. It leaves too many questions, too many doubts. The doubts created by the story are not about morality itself, but about how moral certainty can be abused. And maybe it does call into question how power can be used to control and destroy others. I think. But, I'm still not quite sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment