Monday, August 10, 2009


Did anyone see "Doubt"? I watched it last night. I'm terrible at reviewing movies, so I won't do that here. I read movie reviews, and I think "how did they notice that?" My eye for visual detail is not very good, and I have very little technical understanding of lighting, cinematography, sound quality, and editing. I just know what I like.

I liked "Doubt" very much. I attended an urban parish school very much like the one depicted in "Doubt" and they got it right in just about every detail. I will say that I never once heard a priest give a "sermon" at Mass; rather, it's a "homily". Still, in other details, from the stark quality of the wrought-iron and stone parish architecture to the students well-trained to jump to their feet when the principal or the pastor walk into a classroom, it's completely accurate. Our school even had a caretaker's shed similar to the one seen in the movie, and the brief conversation between Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) and the caretaker was absolutely true in every detail. I remember seeing our principal (Sister Marita Rose--it was her misfortune to be appointed principal during the height of "Welcome Back Kotter's" popularity. Her reputation as a strict disciplinarian preceded her, and it took approximately thirty seconds for the boys in my fifth-grade class to coin the phrase "up your nose with Marita Rose" as a taunt for anyone "sent down" to her office) having a similar conversation with our caretaker, Mr. Leahy. They addressed one another as "Sister" and "Mr. Leahy" and I remember the same careful formality depicted in the movie between them and among all of our sisters and lay staff.

When the movie was released, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Philip Seymour Hoffman were interviewed on the "Today" show. When the question of Father Flynn's guilt or innocence was discussed, Hoffman said that he'd decided when he created the role whether or not Father Flynn was guilty, but that he wouldn't say what he thought. I'm among the people who think that Father Flynn was guilty, and I didn't waver in that opinion even at the end. That's not to say that his performance isn't good, because it is. Amy Adams is also spectacular; I know this, because I had young, sweet, idealistic nuns just like her character as teachers. Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, though, are absolutely astonishingly good in this movie. The promotions for the movie depict Sister Aloysius as rigid, dogmatic, intolerant, humorless. She's certainly rigid and dogmatic but her intolerance is not directed at all human frailty; only at those whose behavior is intolerable. As for humor, no character without a sense of humor would tell a young nun that it doesn't matter which Pope is depicted in the framed portrait to be hung in the classroom, as it's only there so that the reflective glass can serve as a mirror to allow the nun to see what's going on behind her as she writes on the board. Nor would she confiscate a transistor radio from a student, then listen to it herself in her office. Nor would she tell a student sent to her for talking in class to "go back, then, and shut up". Finally, a humorless character would not respond to the plea "where's your compassion?" with the brilliant retort "nowhere you can get at it". All of this is to say that I liked Sister Aloysius, and found her more complex and human than any other character in the movie with the sole exception of Mrs. Miller, played by Viola Davis. In one short scene, she left me both shocked and heartbroken, all while speaking softly and barely moving the umbrella and Jackie Kennedy handbag she carries througout the scene.

I won't tell you what happens. I will tell you that very few movies can leave you believing, finally, that you know what happened, and then in the last 15 seconds, leave you gaping with "oh holy shit!" shock. "Doubt" did that for me, and remember, I didn't change my mind about Father Flynn's behavior. You'll just have to watch the movie if you want to know what I mean.


Steve said...

have not seen it but will put it on the netflix cue

susan said...

Okay, it's on mine :-) Hope I don't live in the same distribution area as Steve.

Matty Boy said...

I loved Doubt. I saw it in the theater with my friend Jodi. I went to public school, so I have no idea of how true to life the details of Catholic education are, but the acting was first rate.

There was a scene of intercutting the meal being shared by the priests drinking beer and the nuns' meal where they drank milk. The priests were laughing it up, the nuns were in perfectly rigid posture and quiet as the grave. Jodi turned to me and said, "Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy."

Jodi teaches history. The quote's from Ben Franklin.

enc said...

I can't wait to see this now.

CDP said...

Steve and Susan--no, I think there's at least 1000 miles between you so you shouldn't have a problem. Let me know when you see it!

Matty--It was great, wasn't it? I love that Franklin quote, too. Were you as shocked as I was at the end?

enc--you will not be disappointed.

Suze said...

I agree with you. It didn't change my opinion at the end either. I thought he was guilty. It brought back memories of my catholic school days and Sister Rose Bernard who would make you put your hands out and whack you with a think green stick. Not me, of course :)

CDP said...

Suze--but weren't you shocked at what the ending revealed about Sister Aloysius? (not to give anything away to anyone reading the comments). I never got whacked, either; boys were usually the victims when the nuns got physical.

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