Monday, April 20, 2009

OPINION/FORUM: The Themes of Doubt (SPOILERS INCLUDED)...


I don't have a chance to see EVERY film released in a given year, as many of you may be unable to believe. In a given year, I miss a good 10-15 films that I have an interest in due to lack of release, lack of time, or lack of money. One of those films from last year happened to be Doubt.

Doubt is the film adaptation of the stage play of the same name from John Patrick Shanley who also wrote the screenplay as well as the play itself, and tells the story of a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him of abusing a young black student. The priest denies the charges, yet the nun stays steadfast in her beliefs. The play features quick dialogue and discusses the themes of religion, of course, as well as morality, sexism in the church, and to me, the idea of blind faith in personal beliefs.

I have a lot to say on this film, but I will simply set up a discussion by getting into two things:

1) The overarching crime allegedly committed in this film
2) The thematic fallout from the outcome of the end of this conflict

First off, there is the ambiguity in the crime that has been allegedly committed. The nun, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), believes that Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character, Father Flynn, has been having an inappropriate, possibly sexual, relationship, with a young, black student, Donald Miller. At the end of this film, after a confrontation between the two, Father Flynn leaves the parish, only to join another one, and is basically promoted when entering.

First, what exactly was the relationship between the two? Well, for me, it felt as though the two, Donald and Father Flynn, did not have a sexual relationship. It felt as though both characters were gay, and it was an emotional relationship, as Father Flynn simply took Donald under his wing, to keep him safe in the school. Donald's father beat him while at home (not something ever completely touched on, but possibly due to Donald being gay), and while the relationship was inappropriate, it wasn't sexual.

There is one minor scene that maybe gives more insight into this view.

There is a long scene, about 2 or 3 minutes, of Father Flynn showing his nails off to a group of students after basketball practice. His nails are long, but he says that they are clean, so it's not necisarrily a big deal. This played as a metaphor for his relationship with Donald. The relationship was inappropriate, but it was clean on the surface, yet could get him in trouble if it were outed. It even plays into he and the nun's final argument, as before she leaves, she tells him to cut his nails. It's a bit of a stretch, but due to the length of what should be a short scene otherwise, I think there is something to discuss.

That is not saying that Father Flynn did not have a sexual relationship with one of the students. One that gets little to no screen time, yet has a particular moment during Flynn's send off, is Jimmy Hurley. There is a quick shot of him smiling as he is saying his goodbyes to the congregation, and this leads me to believe that his relationship with Flynn was sexual.

Flynn's promotion at the new parish leads me to the last real thing I want to get into. First, a bit of background.

Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty! And armed with that, I will go to your last parish, and the one before that if necessary. I'll find a parent.


During the film, Aloysius stands stedfast in her belief and faith that Flynn's relationship with Donald was sexual. She stands with this belief, without any concrete evidence, and even needs to make up a lie to get Flynn to start showing a bit of fright as to what she may or may not know. However, things change at the end.

At the end of the film, Flynn leaves the parish, only to join another one and get what looks to be a promotion. This leaves shock leaves Aloysius to not only question what she had done, but her faith as a whole.

Sister Aloysius Beauvier: I have so many doubts.

When Father Flynn gets his new promotion, it shocks Aloysius. She was so certain with her belief, that when it is basically proven wrong, she doesn't know how to take it. However, it doesn't just effect her belief on that. Earlier in the film, she asks Father Flynn, "Why are you in the priesthood?" Well, the same question is being asked by her to herself at the end of the film. She is questioning not only her belief of Flynn's crime, while also beginning to question what looks to be her blind faith in the church. The line is so intense, that it may not even be about Flynn. To me, when she utters the above line, she is only speaking about her faith.

Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

The overall theme of this film, to me, is that, to question ones faith, simply makes that person either realize that he or she doesn't believe it, or makes the bond between person and faith, that much stronger. It's a sign of intelligence and competence to question ones faith, instead of sticking by the beliefs without any doubt.

This film is not a condemnation of faith as a whole, but it takes a look and is an allegory about what happens when a person believes blindly. Blind faith leads to false accusations or other falsities. This film is not only a great cinematic achievement, but it is a great allegory on blind faith. This is easily one of the 10 best films of last year, and with a brilliant cast, great film making, one hell of a script, and all of these themes, should be seen by everyone.

What do you think?

Go see something good!

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