Doubt, a film by John Patrick Shanley from his stage play of the same name, can be classified under the genre Catholic memoir, like Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All or Agnes of God, when in something bad happens.
But unlike the usual Catholic memoir, which usually explains why the author is no longer Catholic, all is not as it seems in Doubt nor are the people the stereotypes that they appear to be. Doubt is less of a polemic about the Catholic Church than it is a tragedy about how people perceive others and about how doubt and faith can lead one stray.
Doubt is set at a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloyisius, the principle of the school, a traditional, rulers against the knuckles, rules oriented nun who believes not in coddling her students. Her superior and her antagonists is Father Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a more modern, Vatican II type of a priest, who gives interesting sermons and who disturbs Sister Aloyisius. Caught in the middle is Sister James, a young, idealistic nun who teaches eighth grade and is played by Amy Adams.
The trouble starts when Sister James thinks she might have seen Father Flynn behave “inappropriately” with a young student named Donald, the school’s sole black student in a student body of Irish and Italian Catholics. There is no direct evidence of malfeasance, but Sister James’s circumstantial evidence seems enough for Sister Aloyisius.
The tension of the story of Doubt is lent to by Philip Hoffman’s acting. He is outraged and furtive all at once by Sister Aloyisius’ accusations. Father Flynn doesn’t seem to be the sort of priest who would molest a child, yet he seems to be hiding something. At the same time Sister James, horrified by the turn her tattling on Father Flynn to Sister Aloyisius has taken, sincerely wants to believe in the man’s innocence.
And here’s the important aspect of Doubt. Sister Aloyisius is not just some conservative nut who is seizing on the suspicion of child molestation to get rid of a hated liberal priest, who is over fond of ball point pens, sugar in his tea, Frosty the Snowman, and making the Church “more welcoming.” She sincerely believes that her parish may have a viper at its bosom and is motivated with sincere concern for the students who might become victims.
Viola Davis plays Donald’s mom. Her reaction to the possible situation is, frankly, horrible, but at the same, given the cultural and historical context of the time, has a certain terrible logic to it.
The end of Doubt is neither neat nor clear. Was Sister Aloyisius’ faith that Father Flynn was a monster justified? Or should she have doubted and attempted to find some direct evidence? When is it appropriate to believe and when is it appropriate to doubt? That is the question that Doubt leaves one to ponder,
Source: Doubt, IMDB