Doubt

Vodafone, who supply my internet connection, gave me a little present the other day: a year's free subscription to Neon. In the unlikely event that I ever decide I want to watch Bob the Builder or  Game of Thrones after all, then all the episodes, every single one of them, are sitting there waiting for me. Also sitting there is a not bad supply of movies including a few I've always been meaning to see but somehow never got around to viewing.

The 2008 film Doubt is one such. I saw it last night and I'm very pleased I did. Technically it's a tour de force with superb cinematography in a suitable limited but highly contrasted pallete, intelligent editing, certain direction,  brilliant casting and some outstanding performances. The central roles of an embittered nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a young and na├»ve history teacher, Sister James and a popular parish priest, Father Flynn, played by Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman respectively are as strong and convincing and as finely nuanced as you might expect from such a stellar ensemble. The most powerful performance though is Viola Davis, playing Mrs. Miller, the mother of the boy at the centre of the narrative.  Her role is small but utterly compelling as she tries to protect her son from being destroyed by the various levels of ensconced privilege: white, male, priestly power.

I'm not going to write a full review here. There's plenty of those online. I was impressed by the way liturgical symbols - wine, water, smoke, bread - were used throughout the movie. There were also Biblical images, a dove for example, but pre-eminently wind.  The image of wind (as in the wind of change, the wind of the spirit, having the wind taken out of one's sails, putting the wind up someone, being long winded) is present in almost every scene and at times runs the risk of being just a little heavy handed but this is a movie with a great deal of theological sophistication.

The movie begins with a sermon, and a very good one too, being delivered by Father Flynn on the subject of doubt. He says that it is our doubts, not our certainties, which most unite us, and the rest of the movie is a working through of this thesis. Set just before Vatican II, the story is a conflict between two mutually exclusive views of what it means to be the church and about the winds of change which are sweeping all before them. It is also about priestly misconduct, the role of women in the church, and the power systems which both effect and resist change. Sister Aloyisius is convinced, despite a lack of  any real evidence, that Father Flynn is a paedophile and she sets about removing him from the parish. In the end she succeeds, but the audience must form their own views of Father Flynn's guilt or innocence and we do this on the basis of our own preconceived ideas and prejudices. The movie, in other words, confronts us with our own doubts, and true to the opening sermon, we find ourselves paradoxically drawn to those characters who are least certain, most doubting and repelled by the one person, Sister Aloyisius who is most certain.

I will watch it again, but Neon has a lot more for me to see yet before my year is up.

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