Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Doubt Some Foul Play

At a friend's command I went and saw Doubt Friday evening. As an indication of how much I trust and value this friend's opinions I should point out how seldom I visit the movie theatre. I went more than usual in 2008: I went twice.

Doubt was good. Well written. Nicely structured. Gorgeously acted. I love Philip Seymour Hoffman. Meryl Streep is always perfect. And the moral questions are rich.

You should watch it.

Of course I'd like to discuss it now. But in order to preserve the direction of my friend's interest (and to avert any spoilers) I'll invite comments as a continuation. Therein I'll share further impressions and discuss the flick without reservation. But first I'll ask my thoughtful friend a simple question (in good faith):

Why was it such an important movie?


The Ridger, FCD said...

I am willing to admit the Hoffman and Streep are brilliant and that it's well written. But the previews make it look so ... depressing.

fenhopper said...

as soon as the lights went up in the theater a woman in the back exclaimed
"well that was exhausting!"

and it was.

have you seen it? or do you know the play?

The Ridger, FCD said...

I have not seen it, though I am familiar with the play.

That woman was in the audience when I saw The Savages, I think ;-)

Casey said...

Well I think it's really difficult to structure a story that simultaneously commands us to "decide" AND refuses us to feel comfortable in our decision...

Too much was at stake to simply withhold judgment -- but judgment was a major risk.

So I'll just report where I came down: on the priest's side... I think I couldn't get over how horrible Streep's character was. My wife saw it the other way -- was convinced the priest was guilty.

Either way, the result of all this balance is a viewing-experience... something that cannot be summarized. Like life, I think.

fenhopper said...

i think it's too easy to simply say that sister aloysius is horrible. if your child was in trouble wouldn't you want her tenacity on your side? say that you're sure your kid's in danger (who cares why you're sure--you're just sure) and you get her to believe you pretty easily. are you going to think somethings wrong with that?

how presumptuous was it of father brendan to take her seat when he walked into her office? how horrible was he when he simply assumed the church's structure was meant to protect him from nuns talking to each other? he wanted to be part of a new and nice church, but also a church that would have been structured to allow him just as much freedom to rape children. whether we believe he did it or not he's guilty of some pretty nasty ideology.

and sister aloysius was in pursuit of something pretty decent.

the flaw in her character was her twice stated philosophy that in the pursuit of evil we have to move away from g-d. that's where she chose not to care about something. in that indifference she had no need for anything other than an agenda. and that's where she found herself at the end. she need more than a direction. she needed a better reason and she found herself without one. and that's regardless of whether her doubts were regarding the issue of the father brendan and donald, or more generally about her faith. she left herself without space for doubt.

fenhopper said...

as you can see of course i didn't come down on either side. because i came up with equally (un)comfortable arguments for each.

Casey said...

It sounds to me like you came down with sister Alyosius... and I know what you mean about seeing both sides of the argument. But if you were involved in the situation, staying on the sidelines wouldn't be an option.

My final "reason" for suspecting that the Priest was innocent was that Sister A. never shed a tear... that's probably a dumb reason, since Gretchy said nuns were taught to forbid themselves tearful emotion.

But then, she sided with Alyosius mostly because she thought it was "gross" how the priest was behaving in that one scene where he was eating almost-raw meat and drinking.

And she was also VERY bothered by his long fingernails... which made me pull in the opposite direction. Anyway, glad you liked it.

fenhopper said...

well that was the sister aloysius argument. don't think that just because is argue one side i stand on one side.

if i came down on one side it would only be what i 'hope' is 'true' because we know this is art and it didn't happen and he neither did it nor didn't do it. and i found myself hoping to see him vindicated for all the reasons you mention about aloysius. he was —to me— a more sympathetic character based only on the images that the work gave us. (don't let gretchen see my fingernails.)

this film gave us the opportunity to react to characters not to people. and it seemed to remind me of that difference throughout. we knew so little and there was no omniscient eye that we're often given as viewers.

the first sermon gave us a little hint of 'nudges' into character: focusing on individual characters that seemed to live the pain he was mentioning right at the time, including the focus on him when he says heavily that some have done something 'wrong' -- the oblique angles at telling times throughout the film -- the smile at the end from young master london that we can take comfort in if we've decided that father brendan is guilty but that can just as easily mean nothing -- we know nothing because there's nothing to know.

and so why did i want sister aloysius to be wrong? part of it i know is because i have sexist habits of thought. so i try to put those aside in all things including this film. i also felt that her character represented values of religion that i don't share. i saw in her a pure and faulty devotion to intention. she could have no compassion because she was only interested in her manufactured faith which left her unable to practice a responsive morality.

even tho she was presented with a genuine concern for the vulnerable she was willing to compromise more than she had to to protect them.

with father brendan we find ourselves very easily seeing that he's covering up something that we find evil. but we could just as easily see him covering up something we don't. perhaps he was able to assure donald that being gay is not evil. just telling the boy to not consider it a sin could ruin a priest. and it's easier still to understand his fear if we assume he confided in donald his own struggle with that.

there are things that the church still doesn't understand that we believe it should. and it's very easy to stand with him in fearing the church's reaction.

but again -- i'm no more convinced of +father than +sister arguments. because the facts of this 2 hour world are ±father and ±sister.

it's true that in that world we would not have such a suspension of judgment so comfortable available to us. but it's a moot point isn't it?

Daniel said...

So what about Adams' character?

And I did like how a film titled Doubt evoked from me, and if you were pleased with Hoffman's performance here, I also enjoyed him in Synecdoche, NY.


fenhopper said...

sister james is a good example of how sad a lack of conviction is. if sister aloysius is unable to show a responsive morality, sister james is over-responsive and not rooted.

her quick adoption of the most recent argument makes her weak and useless. she merely furthers the cause of the most eager recruiter.

but she does some changing. she is first convinced by the accusations, then by the defense, then briefly by the odd impression she gets by seeing the embrace in the hall. she goes back to mistrust then she repents from it when she sees what it does to her first love, the class. in the end she has worked through her ill judgment and settles on faith in father brendan. but for how long?

what i like about this movie is the urgency it gives to those things that we have to know even tho we don't (as casey said early on). so we have to rely on symbolic indications that we choose to interpret according to our desired truths.