What You Need To Know:
Several reviewers thought that DOUBT was a boring movie, but those who have faith will find it filled with a lot of tension. This is a battle between conservative, traditional religion and progressive, so-called tolerant, religion. Although DOUBT has many Christian elements in it, the point of the movie is to cast doubt on true religion, especially traditional, conservative, biblical Christianity. Meryl Streep is so monotone that her jumping character conflict at the end of the movie almost destroys it.
(PaPa, HH, AbAb, CC, Ho, L, V, S, A, D, MM) Mixed eclectic pagan worldview with some humanist elements casting doubt on religion (especially traditional, biblical religion) and content that shows intolerance toward traditional, conservative and biblical Christianity, but set in a strong Christian setting that lacks true faith and a vile, dogmatic, hyper-righteous, mean-spirited Catholic nun opposing progressive, sweet, compassionate Christian priest, plus some homosexual references; three obscenities; minor violence when nun slaps the back of a boy’s head, grabs his arm and otherwise uses physical discipline on students at a Roman Catholic school; discussions about homosexuality and an accusation that a priest is homosexual; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, strong miscellaneous immorality and problems such as lying, gossip, bullying, and rebellion against authority.
DOUBT is reminiscent of the subtly anti-Catholic movies of forty years ago. That said, it tells the story of two opposing philosophies in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sister Aloysius Beauvier, played in monotone by Meryl Streep, is the iron-gloved, traditional principal of St. Nicholas School in the Bronx who understands the sinfulness of man and believes in the rule of law and order. She gets upset when the new priest, Father Flynn, played well by Philip Seymour Hoffman, preaches a sermon on doubt. She tells the nuns at dinner that sermons come from something inside you and tells them to watch Father Flynn.
Young Sister James, played wonderfully by Amy Adams, is a naïve, kind-hearted, compassionate woman. Sister Aloysius contends that Sister James doesn’t send enough boys to the principal’s office. Sister James reports that Father Flynn invited the new black student, Donald Moore, up to his office, and Donald returned with the smell of alcohol on his breath.
These suspicions grow into a crusade against Father Flynn. Flynn contends that Donald, while serving as an altar boy, drank some of the wine, and he called him up to his office to reprimand him. He didn’t want to put out a report, because then Donald couldn’t serve as an altar boy. Sister Aloysius talks to Donald’s mother, who defends Father Flynn because her husband beats Donald, and she contends Donald has these tendencies, never defined, as an act of God. Father Flynn eventually convinces Sister James of his innocence, but the poison of gossip has gone too far.
Several reviewers thought that DOUBT was a boring movie, but those who have faith will find it filled with a lot of tension. This is a battle between conservative, traditional religion and progressive, so-called tolerant, religion. Although the rabid conservative seems to win, at the end there’s a shocking revelation and, in truth, the movie is intolerant of traditional Christianity.
DOUBT also gets theology wrong. It is not Law opposed to Grace; it is both Law and Grace, with Paul telling us that the Law is a tutor that leads us to understand the love of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this movie is mainly non-religious. Tolerance and discipline oppose each other, but there seems to be very little faith in the movie. There is a supernatural, because things go bump in the night, but the real presence of Jesus is noticeably absent from the movie, though the choir sings traditional hymns about Jesus.
Sister Aloysius is almost stereotypical. She is easy to hate, and it becomes clear that in pursuit of her maniacal, legalistic religion, she’s willing to lie and cheat. She is portrayed in some scenes with the wind blowing, almost like she’s carrying a broomstick, reminiscent of James Joyce’s subtle description of a witch riding the trolley in Dubliners.
Underneath this battle is the lurking issue of homosexuality and pedophilia, although neither are mentioned. The bad Sister Aloysius clearly stands against homosexuality. Everyone else believes, as the mother says, that God made him to be this way, referring to her son Donald. Of course, the Bible says that God created us male and female, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. The ultimate point of the movie is to cast doubt on religion, and it is kind enough to tell us up front, but in fact, for those who can still exercise media wisdom and read between the lines, it just shows its own intolerance.
Amy Adams deserves consideration for an Academy Award. Meryl Streep is so monotone that her jumping character conflict at the end almost destroys the movie. Hoffman does a very subtle portrayal of a conflicted, compassionate priest.
This movie is not all bad. Its subtlety takes it out of the blasphemous or excessive realm. It does have many Christian elements in it. Having gone to a seminary where the Law versus Love argument was intense, this movie is an inside portrait of religion. That said, the secular audience will get the message of doubt and anti-fundamentalism, and the movie is not good enough to be recommended viewing for people of faith and values.
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