Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Commentary - Doubt (2008)

(Summary of plot - IMDB)

Engrossing drama set in 1964 at a Bronx parochial grammar school where the nun (Meryl Streep) who serves as principal suspects a popular priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of impropriety with a 12-year-old black student, and together with a young teacher (Amy Adams), sets out to confront him. Writer-director John Patrick Shanley has successfully adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage hit, deftly recreating the Catholic milieu of the era, with outstanding performances, including that of Viola Davis as the distraught mother of the putative victim. Though sexual abuse is part of the story, it is the balance of doubt and certainty in society at large that forms the principal thematic subtext. Discreetly handled sexual abuse theme. A-III -- adults. (PG-13) 2008


Although “Doubt” revisits a dark chapter in our church’s recent history, it should resonate with the Catholic viewer. Although I wasn’t around in the 1960’s, the movie appears to be true to the way things were at that time based on what I have heard and read. The movie accurately captures mass rituals of the time just before the Second Vatican Council, something the average viewer probably wouldn’t know or notice, as well as accurate depictions of the convent, clothing and garments, the rectory etc. Although the sexual abuse of children has been much more widespread among teachers than it has been with clergy, the general public perception is that the abuse of children is primarily a concern with the clergy. No question it is always a grave sin whenever it occurs.

I believe “Doubt” accurately portrays a couple different attitudes about this dark chapter in church history that in a way helps explain how and why these scandals were not fully examined or known at the time. There are three main characters all of whom have different traits and thoughts. In my opinion, the attitudes and thinking of all three are sometimes admirable and sometimes flawed. None of the three can be considered ideal.

Father Flynn – Father Flynn appears to be a very caring man. He gives excellent homilies, he is very kind and popular with his congregation, and he is very friendly and compassionate to everyone, especially this young black kid who was bullied by other kids at school. Although the movie leaves some room for doubt in the viewer’s mind, the general conclusion of most viewers will be that the priest molested the young black boy. Obviously, this would be a VERY serious mortal sin. This insinuated weakness by the priest is always unacceptable, and despite his possible good intentions his actions can never be justified. It is not acceptable to simply be a "nice" person, if you are living in serious sin. The entire community may be deceived, but you can never deceive God.

Sister Beauvier - There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt. Sister Beauvier is the stern and strict nun and principal at the elementary school. She has an inclination that Father Flynn committed a grave sin, but can't prove anything. She is determined to discover the truth and goes to great lengths to discover the truth. Her character is not very likable, but her desire for truth and justice is respectable. Ideally one would yearn for justice and truth but do so charitably. We should not use black mail, deception, and lies to discover truth. Our purpose for discovering truth should not be anger driven. Sister Beauvier's focus on certain details sometimes causes her to miss the greater picture and her cold personality does not make her many friends. We should not live our lives with a hardened heart. Despite her personal flaws, her devotion to the teachings of the church and her desire for justice and truth is admirable. Ignorance of truth is not bliss. This is where the third character's attitude is flawed.

Sister James - Sister James is a very likable nun. She is kind and she has a good heart. It is clear that she really wants to do the right thing, but some situations are hard for her to know what is right because no matter which decision she makes it would lead to harm for someone. She is a little naïve, but her cautious approach is for the most part appropriate. She is more concerned about solving problems and not offending people than she is about finding the truth in certain situations. Sometimes it may be better to have this attitude, but when the matter is grievous we have an obligation to seek truth.

To be naïve of sin is not an excuse, and can actually be sinful itself if we consciously choose to be ignorant of the truth. The ideal society should not be one in which we all just get along and accept the failings of our neighbors, but one in which we are held accountable and take responsibility for our actions, humble ourselves by acknowledging our own sinfulness, seek forgiveness, and witness to others. We should not condemn others because of their sinfulness nor should we ignore their sinfulness, but we should respectfully bring awareness to others when they sin so that they might seek forgiveness. In doing this we are not condemning the person, but we are exhibiting great love because we care enough about them to let them know when they are living in sin so that they might seek the healing graces of reconciliation with God and with others. We should always be cautious when seeking truth that we do not jump to conclusions and make false accusations, but we must also not be naïve.

Although this movie addresses a dark chapter in the church's history, I greatly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Below is a link to the IMDB website.


No comments: