Posted: February 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

Is it possible to be absolutely doubtless and unwavering in your faith in something?
Is such blind and total certainty sometimes a catalyst to inflexibility?
Some of the interesting questions raised by Doubt, starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The movie was nominated for 5 Oscars, and Meryl Streep won several Best Actress awards for her performance as Sister Aloysius, the tough nun who ruled her school with an iron fist, a woman certain that inducing blood-curdling fear was how discipline is attained.

The story, set in the 60s, is a philosophical beauty in the way that it questions if tradition and modernity can co-exist.
Can it?
The movie is a thought-provoking battle, between the two.

In the red corner is Sister Aloysius, Principal of St Nicholas in the Bronx.
A sharp eyed, unforgiving nun, she mourns the loss of traditional religion, hates ballpoint pens, and is feared by all for her relentless adherence to rules and discipline. Hats off to Streep for a flawless portrayal, so careful as to make the character stand out extraordinarily yet keep her credible and human.

In the blue corner, Father Flynn, parish priest loved by all.
Stands for flexibility, and calls for change in the ways of the Church. He attempts to form a friendlier approachable relationship with young parishioners than an authoritarian one, and aims to balance religion with contemporary times. In other words, Aloysius’s worst nightmare.

The two central characters battle it out with powerful blows (Flynn taking more shots to the jaw unsurprisingly),
Father Flynn: Where is your compassion?
Sister Aloysius (matter-of-factly): Nowhere you can get at it.

And along the way, the audience is given a headrush of controversial issues.
Is what we call Religion today, actually becoming a means of despotism?
Is the Truth, Right and Wrong really that simple? Black and white? Or is their infinite complexity being wrongfully condensed to a simple form by literalists?
In the process of enforcing the rules of faiths, haven’t most abandoned the foundation of those teachings: love and tolerance?
One critic says it is a movie of ‘Good religions gone bad’.

One of my favourite scenes from the movie is when Aloysius, Flynn and the innocent impressionable Sister James (Amy Adams) discuss the upcoming school Christmas pageant.
Flynn suggests they introduce a few commercial songs for fun.

Sister James: Frosty the Snowman..
Flynn: That‘s a good one! We could have one of the boys dress up as a snowman, dance around.
Aloysius: Frosty the Snowman espouses a pagan belief in magic… If the music were more sombre, people would realize the images are disturbing and the song heretical.
Sister James: Who would have thought about Frosty the Snowman like that..
Aloysius: Heh. Should be banned from the airways..
Flynn: Sooo.. No Frosty the Snowman then… (takes out notepad)
Aloysius: May I ask what you’re writing down? With that ballpoint pen.
Flynn: Oh nothing, it’s an idea for a sermon.
Aloysius: You had one right now?
Flynn: I forget them so I have to write them down.
Aloysius: What’s the idea?
Flynn: Intolerance.

Aloysius hounds Flynn when she finds his close relationship with a young student questionable, her initial suspicions transforming into an insane groundless conviction: halfway through we wonder if her quest to prove his guilt is for a greater good or simply to prove it to herself that her convictions are undoubtedly correct.

Ultimately, not all issues are resolved, which is precisely what makes the story so credible.
The movie happened to give me one resounding message though. Conforming to a philosophy with an iron inflexibility, ironically results in a corrupted form of the philosophy: intolerant and potentially destructive.
The medicine and the poison are one and the same; which depends on how you use it.
A line by Flynn from the movie comes to mind…

“There are people who will go after your humanity, Sister.
They’ll tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it.

It’s an old tactic of cruel people, to kill kindness in the name of virtue.
There’s nothing wrong with love.”

  1. Sigma says:

    On the subject of religion – people seem to forget that religion is something inside you, not outside. Going to a place of worship merely for the sake of doing so makes no sense. To me, I carry my mosque, church, kovil, temple inside me. That I am not perfect no reason to stop me from trying to be a ‘good, decent human being

  2. PseudoRandom says:

    Oooh I wanna go see this now!

  3. T says:

    i loved the movie. meryl streep just keeps getting better. two of my favorite scenes were the one about gossip and the one between sister aloysius and the little boy’s mother. intense!

  4. PseudoRandom says:

    I just saw it! It was awwwwwwesome. The acting was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Especially considering that some of the movies I had watched recently included Meryl Streep’s Mamma Mia and Devil Wears Prada and Amy Adams’ Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and I had just watched the trailer for PSH’s The Boat That Rocked!Thank you so much for making me want to see this! 🙂

  5. Makuluwo says:

    Haha my pleasure, PR. (:

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