The 2008 film Doubt based on a play by John Patrick Shanley. It takes place in a Catholic school in the 60s where a more traditional nun (Meryl Streep) has strong suspicions that Pastor Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is having improper relations with some of the young students. The film centers around her unofficial investigation as the audience grapples with whether or not he is guilty.
Most of the movies I’ve reviewed thus far, I’ve focused on the directors vision, however it is the script and performances that act as the backbone of this film. As it was originally a play, the directing serves to support these elements, rather than the other way around. That being said, it still manages to be very visually stimulating. Movies adapted from plays have a tendency to neglect visual elements, however the cinematography of Roger Deakins never fails to impress. While the cinematography is never distracting, the color grading perfectly sets the tone of the film and keeps your eyes focused incessantly on the screen.
Watching two actors like Streep and Hoffman battle it out at the peak of their powers makes me miss Hoffman even more. It wasn’t until after his death that I saw Capote, The Master, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love. In all of these movies, it is simply impossible to take your eyes off Hoffman in any scene. You could watch this movie thinking he was innocent, and watch this movie thinking he was guilty and his performance could support either argument. It simply depends on whether you believe Hoffman’s performance is that convincing or whether you think the character is a great actor.
“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone”
– Father Flynn
This movie would not work without the perfectly executed screenplay. Certain films like The Apartment, The Godfather, and The Before Trilogy make me immediately in awe of the film’s dialogue. As writing is often an invisible force, it takes truly brilliant writing to stand out from other elements. Doubt is in essence a character study, and thus relies heavily on subtext. It almost reminded me of a twist on the classic 12 Angry Men. In 12 Angry Men, the jury convinces itself that the boy is in fact evidence through questioning the evidence, and confronts their own biases. Almost as if 12 Angry Men had ended 45 minutes in, the audience does not come out as satisfied from Doubt because there is no jury or judge to ensure there is justice.
As a viewer, I found myself at times flip flopping between believing that Pastor Flynn was and was not a child molester. This makes it extremely difficult to grapple with because I did not know where to place my sympathy. Audiences are adjusted to stories similar to Doubt having a smoking gun show up near the end of the film, confirming or disproving the audience’s suspicions. However, Doubt flips this narrative and never resolves the situation. In fact, the ending leaves the viewer with even more questions. My own personal confusion actually forced me further into the writing and performances, and therefore away from my own emotions. I have not yet talked about Amy Adam’s incredible performance as Sister James, but she is very representative of the audience’s sentiment. She is very empathetic and wants to find what’s right, however she is sympathetic to both Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn.
My emotional confusion lead me to question the very nature of the truth itself. Based on our western values, we are always searching for justice, however it is impossible to always find this. Many viewers have probably already made up their mind going into this film depending on whether they believe too many people get away with horrid crimes or believe people are too often falsely accused. But in reality, the movie presents two equally convincing cases. While Father Flynn has developed an unconventional relationship with boys in the school, he presents a flawless counterargument for the reason the Donald was called to his office. In the end it is revealed that Sister Aloysius had falsified some of her evidence, further calling into question her moral high ground. Sister Aloysius also always had prejudice towards Flynn for his more progressive manner towards the kids, further calling into question her parity. In essence, the truth may never reveal itself therefore belief and sentiment become the truth.
This movie isn’t flashy or showy however the depth of character, moral ambiguity, and acting make this film more captivating than many epic blockbusters.