Saturday, December 27, 2008
Doubt is an academy award-nominated film set in a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx in which Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) begins to have doubts about one of the priests, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who seems to have become inappropriately involved with a young African American student.
But this film is much more than a nun-takes-on-suspicious-priest drama. Beyond this surface framework, it is the story of a strict, old-style courageous nun who is outwardly fearsome and inwardly compassionate. She mercilessly chases down a priest she thinks has done wrong, yet her inner compassion is subtly revealed in her efforts to care for an ailing sister to avert the sister's removal from the convent.
The work is of value because, like so many public figures today, the charismatic priest hides his selfishness, laxity, and self-indulgence behind a veil of false compassion, dropping magic words like "kindness," "humanity," and "light in your heart" and of course "intolerance."
He attacks virtue by pitting it against kindness, yet his self-indulgence and that of the boys' club that backs him is set in sharp contrast to her modest lifestyle and dogged sense of obligation to "the working-class people of this parish."
The courageous, compassionate, furious nun follows the fire in her belly, kindled by God ("you don't step away from God when you pursue wrong-doing," she explains), to chase him from the parish, but is ultimately crushed to learn his next assignment is essentially a promotion.
To the present reviewer, whose own ecclesiastical jurisdiction is in some ways plagued by the nauseating idolatry and rock-stardom surrounding some, this film like a welcome bottle of Extra-Strength Tums.
Inspired by this one nun - whose subtle and powerful holiness left me entranced - working humbly in her parish, I was encouraged to simply serve God in a small way in my small place.
Finally, this film is a sobering reminder that spiritual authority, priestly or otherwise, is a powerful and dangerous thing and that placing it in the wrong hands at the wrong time can be devestating to its recipient as well as to those around him.