Doubt (2008), or Everybody’s Favorite Organization: The Catholic Church!

20 07 2009

Ah, religious organizations. The one thing as worthless as religion itself, congregations for the multitudes of faithful have sprung up in every nation, state, district, and community of the entire world. People flock to buildings of prayer and faith, praying to ridiculous gods and asking for irrational things from the universe, all the while inventing a tapestry of superstition and misinformation to surround the Gospel truth of the “Lord”. This includes a number of human flaws and fallacies twisted to fit a moral agenda, disguised as a moral code for human beings to live by, called the Catholic priesthood. Certain people who are closer to God than we little people are measured by a higher standard and are thrown through a preposterous moral, physical, and emotional wringer to groom them for their station. Unfortunately, a disgusting number of these men who were chosen by God Himself to spread His divine will like to molest little children. Not only does this look bad for God, who is a poor judge of character to begin with because he DOES NOT EXIST, but it also looks bad for the Catholic Church, who is not the all-knowing power it once was in the past and faces ever-diminishing numbers in its parishes. My movie today, Doubt, is a simple play about a complicated and disturbing trend in a certain religious congregation. It is as powerful as it is Puritanical, an ironic condition for a movie about the Catholic Church and its supporters.

It’s not so much a who-dun-it as much as a did-he-dun-it. We are faced, as an audience, with a question, much like in my earlier review of 12 Angry Men. Did he or didn’t he? The “he” in question is Father Flynn, a priest working in the Bronx circa 1964. He is a seemingly kind man, although his recent re-locations in the past few years have left some people wondering about his character. One nun in particular, Sister Aloysius, has serious doubts about this new Father, especially after witnessing a mysterious chain of events involving a young altar boy named Donald. She can’t be certain, but she is almost positive that Flynn did something inappropriate with the child. Confiding in a younger Sister, Sister James, the two set out on a truth-seeking mission, confronting Flynn both directly and indirectly on his shadowy interactions with the young Donald, trying to oust the truth from him at every turn. Will Father Flynn crack? Will they evince some sort of confession or denial from him? Did he even DO anything?

John Patrick Shanley, director of Joe Versus The Volcano (good film, despite the name), pulls no punches here as we are drawn into the dark world near the pulse of God. Doubt is an extraordinary movie about a problem that is, tragically, not as extraordinary these days. Child molestation is rampant in the Church, and therein lies the crux of the situation. Because Father Flynn MIGHT be innocent. He might have just been an attentive priest, worried about the troubles facing one of his altar boys. All we have to go on is this one odd situation involving him and the child, Donald. There is much room for doubt, and in that room Shanley pushes our buttons to an obscene amount. If America hates any one thing as much as child molesters, it’s people being wrongly accused, and to accuse him of such a serious crime when he might be innocent or let him go when he might be guilty is a choice most people would be hard-pressed to make.

The acting is superb, if not a bit conventional. Meryl Streep has her normal nervous breakdown, Phillip Seymour Hoffman has his usual moment of unsavoriness, and Amy Adams has her usual moment of precociousness. It’s all fairly standard but well done. Everyone is perfect for their part, and their parts almost seem unnaturally suited to them. I don’t think that anybody deserved the Oscar this past year, considering what else was out in the theater, but it was very able (especially Meryl Streep; what a portrayal of division). I’ve heard a lot of commotion about Viola Davis, the actress who portrays Donald’s mother in one scene. She is a force, I’ll merit her that, but her presence really topples the tone for the next few scenes, as if her character was from an entirely different movie. I can’t say that she was unnecessary, but her plain-spokenness is rather abrasive compared to the rest of the characters and their testimonies to silent strength.

A word should also go out to Shanley as a writer, as well. He wrote the play for this in 2004, but it feels as authentic and vital as if he wrote it in 1964. What bravado to craft something so electric and so controversial that it can only take place in the strictest of confines. His dialog is superb; terse and organic. It takes a steady hand to write with such a stoic countenance in the face of intolerable crimes against children. I think it was a tasteful account of a delicate topic, and I appreciate that as a man who winces at the thought of tackling something so detestable.

So do you have any doubt? I wouldn’t have too much. The players are admirable, the direction and screenwriting is laudable, and the subject matter is something that our country seriously needs to face as we head further and further away from the harsh teachings of the largest religion in the world. We need to seriously consider what creates such a breeding ground for salacious behavior in the place closest to God’s mouth, and whether or not the paltry perception of an organized universe and an afterlife filled with rainbows and angels is worth a dangerous climate for our youth to inhabit as they find their way through this world. On this, I have absolutely NO doubt, and even if you do, this is still a perfect movie to at least get the discussion open. I give Doubt 8 1/2 Joes Versus the Volcano out of 10.

Tomorrow I watch the forgotten Kubrick classic Barry Lyndon! Yippee!

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