Doubt (2008) written and directed and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning stage play by John Patrick Shanley. BBC 2.
Posted by celticman on Sun, 20 Jan 2013
The snooker was on TV and this kept getting put back until the session was finished. And at one point I doubted it ever would. My partner couldn’t stay awake to watch the film. She asked me the next day what it was about, and in a classical Freudian slip, I said , ‘trust’. Trust is the Janus face of doubt. Fling in the fairy dust of a little Catholic faith and, trust me, we have combustion.
The best storylines are often reducible to a single sentence, or at the most two. If that sentence is a question in the audiences mind that is better. The question in Doubt is: did Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sexually molest Donald Miller (Joseph Foster) a black, twelve-year old altar boy that attended a Bronx Catholic school, attached to his church, and run by the Sisters of Charity.
In Scot’s Law the jury is allowed to reach a conclusion of Guilty, Not Guilty, or Not Proven. The Not Proven verdict, especially in controversial cases, where a Guilty verdict has not been passed is seen as a cop out.
Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) the principal of the school, staffed by her order of nuns would certainly think so. She’s an Old Testament sort of matriarch that believes in punishing the wicked. There are very few that don’t fall into that category. She’s cynical about human nature in a way Sister James (Amy Adams) a young and naïve teacher at the school is optimistic. But it is Sister James that is unsettled when she notices Father Flynn returning a piece of clothing to Donald Miller’s school locker.
‘Why then do you look as if you’ve seen the devil?’ Sister Aloysius asks her when she reports it and tries to shrug it off as nothing at the same time.
There’s nothing likeable about Sister Aloysius. In the black bombazine swaddle of nineteenth century costume worn by the nuns, with a black horseshoe bonnet that acts as blinkers, her face is that of a malevolent white sprite. When Sister James in exasperation tells her that all the pupils detest her, she snorts in derision as if that at least is her due.
Sister Aloysius, in turn, accuses Sister James: ‘you want things to be easy…it’s easier that we believe him.’
Where Sister James has doubt, Sister Aloysius has faith and certainty and it is her faith and certainty that is the engine of the piece.
Father Flynn is well liked by his practitioners. Loved by the boys in the school. He also has plausible answers for what happened between himself and the boy in his care. But faced with the certainty of Sister Aloysius, his truth and answers begin to seem like convenient lies.
‘Where’s your compassion?’ He asks in one memorable exchange.
‘Somewhere you can’t get at it.’ She replies.
Who’s the hero and who’s the villain? It’s difficult to tell.