Thursday, April 30, 2009


Although it has already been discussed here and here, now that I have seen the 2008 film Doubt, during a 12 hour flight across the Pacific, I will throw in my two cents. Meryl Streep was great as Sr. Aloysius, but then I expected nothing less. The other performances were strong as well, with Philip Seymour Hoffman exuding all the classic unctuousness of a predator. I would have suspected him, too. It was Sr. Aloysius' sacred duty to protect her students; she handled the situation well.

However, in my years of attending parochial school and later as a lay teacher at a girls' academy run by nuns, I never saw a sister shriek across the schoolyard the way Sr. Aloysius does in the movie. I never saw a nun strike a child at Mass. I know such things happened but not in my experience. Now the nuns who taught us at St. John's in Frederick may have raised their voices but they did not shriek and usually they could maintain order just by a glance. The sound of the Sr. Mariana's heels clicking down the corridor was enough to send a shiver of silence throughout the school. Most nuns whom I have known have been able to command respect without histrionics. I think it has something to do with the discipline of the religious life; striving to master oneself makes it easier to master others.

Also, real nuns are not afraid of what anyone thinks. They do not mince words; they will tell you what you need to hear if they think it is for your own good, which is a terrifying prospect indeed. The good effect of this is that if you have been around nuns long enough, you can lose your own inordinate fears of what people think. In this regard, the portrayal of Sr. Aloysius was on target.

My main criticism of the film is that there was not a single admirable male character to counterbalance the creepy priest with long fingernails, the indifferent bishop, and the father who beats up his little boy. I wish they had shown at least one positive clerical character to give lie to the idea that the Catholic Church was infested by perverts. It is such an insult to the majority of priests who have given their lives to serve God's people.

The breviary with the green covers bothered me, especially since the camera kept focusing on it. Certainly it would not have been terribly difficult to find a black breviary with red edged pages such as was used at the time. The producers must think we are ignorant of our own religion.

And I did not understand why Sr. Aloysius was weeping about having "doubts" at the end of the film. The only matter for doubt in her regard was when she said to Fr. Flynn that she was going to expose him, even if it meant sending her own soul to hell. Perhaps she said it just for effect...I was taught never to make a risky statement about the afterlife, especially about one's potential damnation, never. It was one of the aspects of Doubt that struck a bizarre note in an otherwise excellent production. Share


Sarah said...

Thank you for the review. I haven't seen the film yet, nor do I know if I will. But I appreciated reading your review very much. It was helpful.

elena maria vidal said...

So glad you found the review helpful, Sarah!

Kirt Higdon said...

I saw the movie, not the play, and I know from talking with friends and family members who saw the movie that I am not the only one who was in doubt at the end concerning the priest's guilt or innocence. I don't know if this involved a real life case which was resolved with certainty or if the play indicated the priest's clear guilt. But when there is doubt, doesn't Christian charity oblige us to assume innocence? Doesn't Christian charity demand of us at least as much as the law does?

There is no surer way to ruin a person's life than to accuse him or her of sexual predation. No proof need be offered and the alleged offense can be decades in the past, making it impossible to defend against, but the best the accused can hope for is to escape prison. He will lose his job, his children (if he has any), his reputation, and all but his truest friends. It is this reality which discourages men not just from the priesthood, but causes them to leave or avoid any occupation involving contact with children.

elena maria vidal said...

I think I need to make a disclaimer that the reflections I have shared about the film "Doubt" apply ONLY to the film, not to any real cases involving accusations against priests and not to the way the scandals have been handled in the Church.

Yes, Kirt, there have been false accusations made and, tragically, there have been innocent lives ruined by lies.

Guilty or innocent, however, Fr. Flynn's life did not appear to be ruined.

Christian charity also obliges us to protect innocent children from predators. A child's life and faith can be destroyed by such abuse. To me, from cases of predators of which I have first hand knowledge, there was enough circumstantial evidence for Sr. Aloysius to be on her guard. She did not report to the bishop about Fr. Flynn, she did not go to the police about him. She merely confronted him. Her tactics in confronting him may be questionable. In the end, Fr. Flynn went on to another and better parish. He did not end up in jail, and an official inquiry was not even made to discern his guilt or innocence. His reputation was pretty much left intact. We are left to wonder what happened in his new parish.