Distributed By: Miramax Films
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
How do we keep our faith? When everything we once believed in is turned inside out and the place we once believed offered sanctuary from evil begins to actually harbor it, how does one keep their faith? Throughout the movie, Doubt, faith is put to the test – faith in the Catholic Church, faith in God, faith in all mankind, faith in ourselves – all are tested to the extreme. When your faith is tested – when everything you have ever believed in is questioned – can you continue to believe?
In Doubt, Meryl Streep is Sister Aloysius, a strict nun of the order of the Sisters of Charity of New York and an equally strict principal at the church’s attached school located in Bronx, New York. The movie takes place in the early 1960s. Sister Aloysius has faith in her God. In her calling as a Catholic nun, she has faith in her ability to carry out the teachings of her Father. But she is losing faith in her church. She has witnessed things – improprieties – things spoken of in hushed tones and dismissed as having never occurred. The church has been turning a blind eye to this evil, but Sister Aloysius can no longer keep silent. When she suspects the new priest, Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) of having an unhealthy relationship with the first African American student to ever attend their school, Sister Aloysius believes she must do everything in her power to remove this evil from her parish.
Based on a play by John Patrick Shanley, this film came to the theaters at a time when there was much public outcry against the Church for the way it has handled the improprieties visited upon children by priests and nuns alike. Knowing the subject matter of the film, I was tremendously surprised that it did not seem to receive much negative attention by the Archdiocese, but I suppose there is no real way that they can deny what has been happening – law enforcement records and news reports have made what used to be kept hush-hush very public. But I believe that one of the real factors in how the film was received by the community is that it doesn’t actually show you any actual improprieties. In fact, you are encouraged to come to your own conclusions based on what evidence Sister Aloysius and the young and naïve Sister James (Amy Adams) have pieced together.
What makes the movie unique is that it causes you to think. One is never sure who they should be siding with. Father Flynn shows incredible insight into people in his sermons. In the beginning of the film, his sermon about doubt sets the tone for the film. His next sermon – containing a parable about gossip – is simply unforgettable. He seems to be a likable and much more modern-styled priest. In contrast, Sister Aloysius is a very strict and quite unlikable nun, set in her ways and unwilling to budge. Who should we believe? What does our faith in the characters tell us? Can we trust in ourselves to make the right decision? What would you do if you were in one of the characters’ situation?
Another thing I enjoyed about this film is the use of symbolism in various ways to express the attitude of the film. Much of the movie was dark, visually reflecting the somberness of the storyline. Windy weather reflected the winds of change plaguing the members of the parish. Skewed camera angles were used to reflect Sister Aloysius’ confusion and despair after confronting Ms. Miller, the mother of the child she believes Father Flynn is having an inappropriate relationship with.
The acting in this film is incredible. I don’t think there is one movie role that Meryl Streep couldn’t pull off. Doubt ranks very high on her acting scale – up there with performances such as Sophie’s Choice, Karen Silkwood in Silkwood and Lindy Chamberlain in A Cry in the Dark. We dislike her for her attitude, but we also can relate with her need for justice. Her courage in the face of adversity – let’s face it, at the time this movie is supposed to take place, this sort of scandal is not something that a nun had any business bringing to any higher authority – is something we can definitely admire. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is terrific as Father Flynn, a charismatic and friendly priest who, in the presence of Sister Aloysius, also exudes guilt and anger. I could hardly recognize Amy Adams in this film – gone is the perpetually happy and colorful Giselle of Disney’s Enchanted and in her place is a dowdy and uncertain nun. This role shows that Amy Adams has quite the acting range. Viola Davis received quite a bit of well-deserved attention for her emotional portrayal of Ms. Miller, the mother of the young boy Sister Aloysius believes Father Flynn is having a relationship with.in
Doubt is one of those films that is more than just entertainment. It touches your soul in such a way that you are willing to believe this is a true story or perhaps that it is at least based upon one. The acting is very convincing and the storyline is very reflective of the time period it takes place in. The fact that these things still take place in our era allows viewers to be able to relate to the film’s content. Doubt offers its viewers a story that is incredibly dramatic and requires them to do a bit of thinking…to decide the ending on their own. A thinking man’s movie with an incredibly dramatic storyline – what more could any serious movie fan want?