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I really enjoyed this film and it transported me back to my childhood
as both my primary and secondary schooling were in convent schools in
Northern Ireland between 1967 - 1980. Even though this school was set
in the US the nuns seem to be molded from the same cloth and even
though some other posters question the portrayal of Sister Aloysius as
being a little over the top I would say that in my experience I have
met quite a few nuns who were very similar to Sr Aloysius.
I always felt that these sisters had to be silent in a male dominated society and they worked tirelessly to educate us in the all girls schools I went to and especially in the years from 1969 to 1980 when the troubles were at their heights in Northern Ireland.
The headmistress of my secondary school was a very stern lady in a starched habit, with a square shaped veil, with her silver glasses perched on the end of her nose and which through she looked at us pupils with the sternest gaze which seemed to bore right through your soul. This nun also had a very staccato voice and we likened her speaking to us like a daleck (Dr. Who reference). This Sr. was especially frightening to younger school pupils but as the years went by and when myself and my other student friends had reached our senior years this nun showed her self to be dedicated, firm, fair and devoted to the school, the pupils and her convent.
As I have already mentioned this was during the troubles in Northern Ireland and this nun tried to educate us and make us value ourselves and others. Some of my fellow pupils left school and became involved in the struggle and ended up in prison in Armagh Jail. During this time some Irish Republicans would not recognise the court when appearing before a judge particularly when it was a diplock court, this was a trial with only judges and no jury. Sometimes these young women would end up with lengthy sentences because they would turn their backs on the court.
I know for a fact that this sister would visit these women in jail and would try to bring them comfort and pastoral care. This did not mean she approved of their involvement but she was still in a motherly way bringing them familiarity and trying to reach them.
This sister is now deceased and I think of her and her kindness and I feel that our schools are not the same without these dedicated women who gave up their lives and followed their paths and lived their lives out looking after their pupils, schools and parishes.
I also know that there were bad clergy but I have never experienced any negative Sisters or Priests in my life.
Caroline Northern Ireland
I'm not going to give a long or exhaustive review. A bazillion others
have and the movie was released over a year ago--so my giving any sort
of in-depth analysis is just needless repetition.
The movie's biggest strength is the acting. All three leading actors did a fine job and this was necessary to carry a film that has no special effects, explosions or love scenes. The vagueness of the film is also a strength. After all, the film gets you thinking and yet there is definitely no clear-cut answer as to what really occurred in the film. There is lots of room to foster discussions and debate. And, while I am a strongly opinionated person, I wouldn't have changed much of the film at all--except the very, very end when Meryl Streep's character, for the first and only time, shows some doubt and emotion. This just didn't seem true to her character. Still, this is a minor concern--and who am I to say, since I didn't win the Pulitzer Prize (last time I checked)! Some may hate the vagueness and want a very clear explanation as to what, exactly, the Father did--if anything. Some may hate that the film actually isn't vague enough (I slightly tend towards that). But what I love about all this is that so many different people see so many different things--mostly based on their own prior experiences and expectations. I could easily see someone seeing gay issues, pedophilia (and it's talked ABOUT but never even explicitly said) or a thousand other possibilities--or it could simply be a metaphor for McCarthyism. Who knows? And that makes the film so interesting.
Some of the user comments stated that the director was cheating... He didn't, he only presented the facts as they were viewed from the perspective of two nuns. This film is NOT going to show you any certain conclusions or answers, it will only show you the facts, which means that the movie doesn't contain the truth, the truth really lies inside of YOU and it is up to you, not the movie, thats why its called 'Doubt'. Many people are saying that the film is anti catholic, believe me it isn't true. This film is not only about potential abuse, but about authority and tradition vs change. The film is doesn't contain only drama but there are some funny scenes too, which I like. In my opinion, Doubt is the movie of the year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film of subtle interpretations and definitions, the dialogues of
confrontation and innuendo are alive in Doubt. Set in 1964, St. Nicolas
School, a working class Bronx neighborhood Catholic school, is rife
with change as new progressive priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour
Hoffman) butts heads with the school's conservative Principal, Sr.
Aloycious Beauvier (Meryl Streep). Clashing over most issues including
Christmas carols vs. secular tunes (Frosty the Snowman), ball point
pens vs. ink well penmanship, and rigid ideas of interaction between
laity and religious personnel are simply the most overt issues
identified. The young Sister James (Amy Adams) is situated between the
two polar characters, a naive young woman who would like to see the
world as simple and kind, but is made doubtful by the actions of Streep
and Hoffman's characters in the situation of the school's only Black
student, Donald Miller.
Fr. Flynn encourages a less formal hand with the children, esp. the boys whom he instructs in altar boy routines, basketball, and length of finger nails. But, he also is observed by Sr. Aloyscious from her window, and Sr. James who sees Fr. Flynn place Donald Miller's undershirt in his school locker, and later, Miller's trepidation after a one-on-one meeting with the priest during school time. Little kindnesses between priest and Miller can be seen through multiple interpretations, a small toy offered can be a bribe or simply a gift, is a hug to comfort the child or an inappropriate show of affection, these gestures are observed and noted by not only the adults, but the children, who are classmates of Miller, and respond as well to what they know. Their responses to the priest clue the observer that adults in authority might be suspect.
Perhaps most disconcerting is the dialogue between Sr. Aloyscious and Mrs. Miller, Donald's mother, whose school meeting is overseen by Fr. Flynn, and reveals significant information that color the observations of the senior Sister, and suspect actions of the priest toward the boy. Secondary to the issue of abuse by the priest are issues of race in the Civil Rights Movement era, patrilineal institutions like the Catholic Church, the nascent Women's Equal Rights Movement, and homosexuality as choice versus nature. All become revealed in conversations between the women. Trying to do right by all is not a simple issue of black and white but as revealed, the multiple shades of gray.
The Church, the diocese, the pastors of former parishes, and the male-centric brotherhood of the priests versus the women, the convent world of the Sisters, and perhaps, a woman's intuition are contrasted harshly. In their face-to-face confrontation, Fr. Flynn and Sr. Aloyscious rend the issue of truth to the bone. However, in the final scene, the returned Sr. James is the comfort of the elder sister, whose confession of "doubt" can be neither the resolution nor the solution. A soul tormented, a problem covered over and ignored, and the Church inviolate, the film's ending certainly offers nothing but second thoughts to ponder and reconcile by the audience. The film is a marvelous study of words, actions, and institutions our society continues to revere and question.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fist off, I'd like to address the frequent comments here praising the
film for keeping the audience in the dark regarding the father's guilt
or innocence. I'm puzzled. From the halfway point onward, the film
actually makes the verdict quite clear, and the ending practically slam
dunks it home (despite the attempt made immediately to back-pedal). I'm
wondering if some of the viewers fell asleep early, or are referring to
Anyway, Hoffman and Streep are outstanding here (it's a relief to see Streep working for her check again, quite frankly - she could coast on her laurels like DeNiro), although I can't say the same for some of the others, especially Amy Adams. She wasn't wrong for the part, but piling on even more innocence and weakness than she already possesses made her character cartoonishly unbelievable. Any nun/teacher I had was at least a little authoritarian; enough to control a classroom. This is one of several examples where the film doesn't trust us to understand the primary character traits regarding how dominant and submissive the characters are. Even Streep's portrayal herself seems a little over the top - but I understand the film needed to get us on the priest's side early on, rather than her's. In that sense, the writer/director did the right thing, although it still comes across as excessive manipulation. There was still room for much more subtlety in the film. Either way, the confrontation between the priest and the principal would have occurred. And the revelation that she once had a life outside of the Church seemed distracting - surely her general prudish demeanor would make more sense if she had always lived as a nun.
The only other flaw that bothered me a little bit was the unrelenting claustrophobia throughout. Again, we do get the oppressive atmosphere, but a more colorful, broader depiction might have given Hoffman's character even more room to exercise denial. He and the other men in power were portrayed as overly weak and passive-aggressive (such as in his sermons, which were swipes at her). It might have been better if the very real oppression of that time and place were revealed more in terms of how awesomely vast the advantage was for the men in charge. The film itself hinted at the growing network of higher ranking Church officials who might have/may yet come to his aid. He really could have destroyed her.
In defense of the film (and all films, really), I've learned to forgive a film for being historically inaccurate to some degree. A filmmaker's job/intention is to make points or ask questions, and bring a script to life in a manner that is adequate for a 2 hour event. In that sense, Doubt succeeds pretty much perfectly. Pacing and dialog were consistent and efficient. Oh, and about Donald himself (the black youth who is suspected of being on the receiving end of improprieties) - he hardly gets a voice at all. At first I wondered if that was fair. But guess what - it was (if harsh). That's the point. He had no say. I wasn't molested in Catholic school, but I did experience something odd and unjust enough at the hands of the harsh female principal when I was 6 to make most adults and parents uncomfortable - and therefore doubtful. I even got punished for revealing what happened. No dice. At least Donald had an adult advocate (assuming he needed one - heh, note my lame attempt to keep the lid on the spoilers long after that barn door has been ripped from its hinges), even though the odds were against his advocate; far more than the film would have us believe.
In summary, it's an intelligent film, when it's not engaging in too much caricaturing, and certainly as thought-provoking as the original playwright intended. Oh, and there's one scene where the principal meets Donald's mother, and is startled and appalled by her take on what might be happening to her son. This scene helps broaden the film's scope, and partially rescues it from the badly-damaged sense of balance it tries to draw us in with.
I LOVED this film, but was annoyed by one small detail: The priest was shown several times incorrectly vested for Mass - a mistake that I've seen several other films as well: Catholic priests did NOT wear their stoles OVER their chasubles until the early 1970's, when it became a fad of sorts to do so. In the early 60's, stoles were worn UNDER the chasuble, and priests at that time also still wore a vestment called the maniple, a rectangular piece of cloth the draped over the forearm. Though some priests today do wear their stoles over their chasubles, official directives still say that they are to be worn under them. Why go to all the trouble to create a great early 60's setting via costumes, but not do research into how priestly vestments were worn at that time?
This is a movie filled with memorable scenes. It really captures the Catholic private school milieu of the sixties. The nuns run the school and are overseen by a priest, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Things are a bit harsh, but deliberately so. Meryl Streep plays the principal of the school and is on a continuous campaign to keep the new wave of education reform out of her school. She becomes suspicious of the priest when he takes interest in the only black child in the school. She becomes particularly obsessed when the boy is called out of class for private council. This was in the pre-catholic priest as pedophile days, but it really strikes a chord today. What we are involved with is Streep's acting on her suspicions, coming from a possession of weakness (though she is not weak) as her role relates to the church. She is determined to get him, though she has no hard evidence. This isn't a big movie with flashy events. It takes place behind closed doors. One of the strongest characters in the movie is the boy's mother, who is called in to talk with the principal. There is a scene that will be viewed as one of the best and most real I've ever witnessed. Everyone has their A-game going here. This is an actor's movie.
It's 1963, ten years away from the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating its previous definition of homosexuality as a clinical mental disorder. What's important to remember is that this film is not about acts of sexuality, but about insinuations and the harm they can do. In 1963, people were blackmailed for their sexuality, and that is really what this is about. Was the priest gay? Undoubtedly. Did he have inappropriate sex with the boy? No. But it was enough, based on a cruel intuition of a very controlling person, who essentially guessed correctly. Sister Aloysius is extremely unlikable and then there are flashes of charm and warmthwe are asked to take sides. The fact is, in this situation Father Flynn is an extremely good priest. His empathy with the Miller boy is appreciated and in what has to be one of the great speeches about brotherhood, the mother understands, which is truly, truly unique. This film is directed like a poem: no line of dialogue, no gesture, no nuance is meaningless. And in the scene where the nun brings in the dead mouse, it is the metaphor for the movie-a cat and mouse chase. She has suspicions and a deep sense of injustice that priest have so much authority. She doesn't like Flynn as they are by nature, opposites. Father Flynn and Sister James are life-affirming, progressive people in an environment that has animus towards change. Father Flynn has a speech about how we are all guilty of something, and in in the shooting gallery of sins, Sister Aloysius picks homosexuality. Is he guilty? In theory, no. The church says it is OK to be homosexual, but not physical acts of homosexuality. Father Flynn is guilty of something although we are not exactly aware of what it is, but it is enough to make him leave. The end, the doubts that Sister Aloysius confesses seem to more about the nature of the church and her own faith, then that she forced a good priest to leave. She is demoted by her action, thus, confirming her own distrust of the institution. This may be a film about good versus evil, kindness over control, faith versus trust. It is also about the church itself, which does in fact, reward priests who have moved on from empathy to sexuality. The truth is always seen at an angle, and it depends on where you're standing. The fact that the truth is usually so complex, so multi-layered is the essence of this film.
Doubt could easily be dismissed as an Oscar-bait movie. An argument
could be made that people are just distracted by the star-studded cast.
This movie, however, is a testimony to how a performance driven film
can be powerful, have substance, and hold its own against other, more
exciting plot lines and visual effects. I've come to admire a movie
that can stick to the script with no frills and Doubt surprised me in
that it kept my attention all the way through with nothing but
excellent character acting and a mystery.
Sr. Aloysius (Meryl Streep) plays a hard-tact nun with a strict obedience policy. When she learns from Sr. James (Amy Adams) about a possible odd occurrence between the parish priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the school's first black student, Donald Miller, Sr. Aloysius embarks on a crusade to prove Father Flynn's guilt. She has almost no proof whatsoever, but she has fervor and total conviction and she's convinced herself that nothing will stand in her way of doing the right thing. Flynn, the church's new, young priest has a substantial argument to confirm that he is completely blameless for any suspicions. Each side has a convincing stance but is he guilty or isn't he? The sparks fly from the confrontations that happen between the two powerhouses of Streep and Hoffman. Their characters are so easy to make into villains but each portrays such strong convictions toward the greater good that it is near impossible to decide which is wrong. Streep is an absolute force of nature. Her portrayal of Aloysius is one of unchecked authority. In order to play a woman who nobody would dare question (lest they have a death wish), you must be believable, and Streep is purely authentic. Hoffman, too, blew me away. I can't imagine a more difficult person to portray, but he managed to pull off one of the most original performances I've ever seen.
In such an emotionally charged film, there also needs to be a strong protagonist. In this case, that role belongs to Sr. James, played in all her sweet, naïve glory by Adams.
The point in the movie in which the story fully rounds itself out is the confrontation between Sr. Aloysius and Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis). With a mere 12 minutes of screen time, Davis expels an incredible flood of emotion with careful restraint. Her performance is heart wrenching and beautiful at the same time.
I've noticed that some critics complain that the story lacks a big conclusion considering the heavy subject matter, but I think the final confrontation between Aloysius and Flynn is something of a grand finale. It tells you and I, as viewers, that we're pretty much never going to know who is blameworthy. Both of them will not budge and the story comes to a screeching halt. Ending the movie the way they did end it was a brave choice. They didn't simply hand us the answer to the main question, they allow us to figure it out for ourselves.
My grade: A-
In 1964, the authoritarian and intolerant Principal of the Saint
Nichols School, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), rules her
school with iron hand, demanding strong discipline to the students and
pressing the nuns under her command. When the naive Sister James (Amy
Adams) raises suspicious against the progressive and charismatic Father
Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to Sister Beauvier, believing
that he might have made advances against the needy and only black
student in the school, the prepotent nun begins a campaign to step the
priest aside the parochial church, distrusting his explanations and
without any evidence against him.
"Doubt" is a powerful drama about doubts and questionable certainties taking place in a Catholic school in the 60's. This feature is supported first by the magnificent performances of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead roles, and Amy Adams and Viola Davis in the support roles; the quartet really deserved their nominations to the Oscar. The theme doubt is justified by the awesome screenplay, with strong and witty lines, that gives powerful elements for the duel between the authoritarian Sister Beauvier that believes that she owns the absolute truth, and the supportive Father Flynn that wishes a progressive education and a welcoming church for his community. The priest's lectures about gossip, intolerance and farewell are simple, but vigorous and effective. The set decoration, landscapes and costumes show the lifestyle in Bronx in the 60's. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Dúvida" ("Doubt")
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