Today the Sisters of Charity of New York, my IHM nun Sister Maxine Kollasch, and myself will be here on A Nun’s Life blog from 2-4 p.m. EST for a “live” discussion and Q&A on Doubt the movie. This discussion takes place right here on this page in the comment section (below this post).
I asked the Sisters of Charity a few of my own questions. Sister Connie, the community’s archivist, graciously responded.
Sister Julie: Who are the Sisters of Charity of New York? What is your spirituality and mission/ministry?
Sister Connie: The Sisters of Charity of New York are a Roman Catholic congregation of vowed religious women founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. We are in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul and from our earliest foundation our mission was to serve the poor of every type who may require our assistance. In former times our ministries centered around child care, hospital work and education. Now, however, our mission to serve the poor brings us into many different ministries. No matter where we are, we strive to bring our Logo, “Living Lives of Love” into practical loving service.
Sister Julie: What are your overall impressions of Doubt the movie?
Sister Connie: I loved the movie DOUBT! I thought it was an example of suburb, talented, acting set against a background of spectacular technical effects. All the elements of good theater combined to create a great fiction film.
Sister Julie: How did you feel the Sisters of Charity were portrayed?
Sister Connie: I thought the Sisters of Charity were portrayed as a typical Religious Community of that time, 1964. We were portrayed as educators and as a community of religious women living together. As an educator, Sister Aloysius was dedicated not only to the academic excellence of the school, but also to the protective care of each of her students, especially the most vulnerable. As a Sister in Community her loving attention to the ailing Sister Veronica was and is typical of our concern for one another.
The film was dedicated to one of our Sisters, Sister Margaret McEntee who taught the author, John Patrick Shanley in the first grade. Sister Margaret remains today a living example both of a Catholic educator, and Community woman.
Sister Julie: What was it like to meet Meryl Streep?
Sister Connie: I was introduced to Meryl Streep when she visited our Archives. Of course, I was thrilled! But on a deeper level, I was impressed with her friendly attitude and her desire to meet and talk with as many Sisters as she could. She visited two of our Retirement Houses, ate and chatted and had her picture taken with the Sisters. She also visited the Convent where Sister Margaret McEntee lives. She allowed us to take pictures and posed with endless patience. On another note, when she visited the Archives, and we showed her the clothing worn in 1964, she was very interested. She said that she would like to make her own shawl.
We’ll be here from 2-4 EST but feel free to begin posting your questions or comments here. For those who submitted questions earlier, I’ll pass them along to the Sisters. Please extend a warm welcome to the Sisters of Charity of New York, Sister Connie Brennan, SC, Sister Regina Bechtle, SC, and Sister Mary McCormick, SC. All three will be responding via Sister Regina’s comments.
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 6:58 am
Hello and welcome to our first ever “live” discussion, which simply means that Sister Connie and Sister Regina of the Sisters of Charity of New York, and Sister Maxine and I from A Nun’s Life are here RIGHT NOW to discuss the movie. We’ll be here with you until 4 p.m. EST.
I’ll do my best to keep questions/responses near one another so you can follow better. It might be a little wonky but we’ll figure it out! If you are a bit confused or would prefer to ask a question by email, send us a message via our contact page.
P.S. Refresh your screen so that you can see new comments as they come in.
Sister Maxine January 8, 2009 at 9:11 am
Dear Julia, Thanks for your comment. I can understand your apprehensions about something that might seem unfair. I went to the movie to see how issues related to doubt, certainty, holiness, faith, etc., were handled. I didn’t take offense that it involved nuns and priests. Personally I found the movie interesting, especially because it didn’t allow for quick or easy answers to moral and spiritual situations. I felt that the movie’s messages were not just for Catholics but for all people who are interested in fairness and justice.
Julia January 8, 2009 at 7:13 am
I am concerned that this is another Catholic bashing movie…and as such we should guard ourselves and not see it. Just wondering what your thoughts are about. Thank you so much and God Bless.
Dave Vanderah January 8, 2009 at 11:14 am
It would be enlightening if John Patrick Shanley, the author, would be part of this discussion. Then we might know exactly what he had in mind in the portrayals of the nun and the priest; rather than our analyzing how either of them were acting in their roles. To see the sister as completely “wrong” and impute motives not delineated in the film to her is in itself over the top. Please discuss the final scene between the mother and the siter; very pivotal and no mystery there, about how she felt about her son.
Another Sister Julie, CSSF January 8, 2009 at 10:07 am
Thanks for the link to the Sisters of Charity of New York and Doubt. I watched the preview and all the videos. The best is the Featurette where several Sisters of Charity are shown in conversation. Amazing. And what caught my attention is that they went through the changes following Vatican II like my Congregation did–slowly and in stages (I loved the story about the habit, how first the cape was shortened, then removed, etc. It took us 6 years to go from long sleeves to 3/4 sleeves, then another 6 years to get permission for 1/2 sleeves. The parishioners called it our “slow strip”! [a General Chapter is held every 6 years])
After watching the vids, I don’t have the feeling that this is another example of Catholic bashing, or nun bashing. It seems raw and honest and very, very real.
Oh, and did anyone else catch the night veil the sisters wore to bed? We had those, too (before my time). And does anyone else think that there is a strong resemblance between the young actress and the real Sr. James? Great casting!
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 10:10 am
Another Sister Julie … yes, I think the casting was awesome too. I also just saw Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep and am convinced that she is the best actor of our time!
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm
Marla asked if Sisters of Charity ever ran orphanages. Yes, we did. Our first mission in New York City was the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in 1817, for immigrant children. Our most famous orphanage was the New York Foundling, begun in 1869.
Tom Cloutier, SFO January 8, 2009 at 10:13 am
I found the film to be terrific; I was thinking about it long after viewing. No easy answers were given, but a number of warnings, primarily “Do not judge and you will not be judged”. With no hard evidence, Sister Aloysius goes after the priest in the film. Here was a woman who, because of her position of power (power denied her in most other sheres because of an all male clergy) allows hubris to take control and blind her to other possible reasons for what had happened. If she would have been able to stop and examine her actions, that maybe she was so hostile becuse, at least in part, she felt threatened by the changes the priest represented, and what those changes might mean for her wll-ordered life, she would not have been weeping at the films end. To give another the “Benefit” of the doubt keeps us from doing harm to ourselves and to others, harm Jesus tries to help us avoid when he reminds us that “The measure you use will be the measure you get”.
Winney January 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm
So what’s the bottom line? Did he do it or not?
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:17 pm
Elizabeth asked several questions; we’ll do our best to reply.
1. Yes, we were understandably concerned about how the film’s producers would portray us and our life. But from the beginning, our Sr. Margaret McEntee was technical adviser for the film, some of us reviewed early drafts of the script, and a number of us saw a preview of the film and made suggestions. For example, the music that originally played as Fr. Flynn said farewell to the congregation was “Tantum Ergo.” We respectfully suggested that it be changed to something more fitting…
2. A favorite line or scene? First, the conversation between Sr. Aloysius and Donald’s mother: powerful and honest. Second, some veteran educators liked the answer Sr. Aloysius gave to Sr. James, who said that her children were learning and happy, but terrified of the principal. She quipped, “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 10:20 am
Tom, I have to say that I took a liking to Sister Aloysius and felt that while she definitely had her set ways, she also had years of experience and intuition. I think that partly her hubris did get in the way, but so did her compassion for the children who were in her care. She took her responsibility as principal seriously and, as she noted, wasn’t out to have people “like” her. There are moments of her compassion that seep through now and again that compel me to believe that she was a strong woman who had to “assume” a kind of persona/role that she may or may not have wanted. Maybe both. She certainly owned her authority, and perhaps wielded it a bit too quickly at times, but I am convinced that it came from a deep place of love and compassion.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:26 pm
Margie, our understanding is that Doubt is not based on a specific factual incident. Did things like this happen? Surely.
The play’s full title was “Doubt: a Parable.” A parable has lots of levels of meaning, makes you look at reality differently, and has no clear answers, as the movie demonstrates.
The playwright set his play and film in a Catholic school because it was a setting he knew well. He attended Catholic school for 8+ years, and as you know, was devoted to his first-grade teacher. In the changing church of the 1960′s, the built-in tensions between women religious and priests, and between old and new understandings of church, lent themselves to a dramatic exploration.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm
Winney, did he do it or not? If we knew that, we’d take it to the bank! Word has it that the actors wanted to know that, too, and Shanley wasn’t for telling!
Margie January 8, 2009 at 12:30 pm
Thanks for your answer, Sr. Regina. That’s very helpful! I think that Shanley succeeded masterfully in what he wanted to do. The play/film is wonderful!
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm
Sr. Pat, we thoroughly agree with you! Formidable, even intimidating, these women had integrity and determination. They were like lionesses when it came to protecting the children in their care.
Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM January 8, 2009 at 12:41 pm
I really liked the movie, but I also had seen the play here in Boston. Understandably, the discussion so far has focused on the portrayal of Sisters, esp. Srs. of Charity. I am interested in the undercurrent concerning the sexual orientation of the priest and of the young boy. Granted, if this was in the 1950s or early 60s, this was not a theme that was “out there,” so to speak. The priest’s fetish concerning clean fingernails and his grabbing the wrist of the taller, blond boy when they were lining up (which I believe is what started Sr. Aloysius’ “suspicions” –not doubts–since she observed this looking out the window) seemed to suggest homosexuality. Also, the mother’s reference to her son’s “nature” and her husband’s repugnance toward “such a nature” is another reference. The tall blond boy “smirked” at the end, which I took to be an indication that the priest had in fact made a pass at him and that he was glad he was removed. Did others make such an interpretation?
What is problematic here is the suggestion that pedophiles (or ephebophiles – not sure of that spelling) are homosexual–which is not even true. Also (though this may be faulty recollection on my part–another rich theme in this movie!), in the play, there was a certain doubt created regarding the veracity of the young boy himself. It would be interesting to compare the script of the play with the screenplay of the movie, since the camera does a lot of “telling” that the original play did as a drama.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm
Sr. Marcia, the winds of change were certainly blowing in the church at the time Doubt takes place (1964). Many younger clergy and religious embraced the ideas of Vatican II, and the movie reflects some of that (although “Frosty the Snowman” wasn’t exacting a cutting-edge theological issue). Sr. Aloysius reflects the thinking of many of her generation, who would need to be convinced that change was for the good.
It seems that many media critics are not as knowledgeable about Catholic identity before and after Vatican II as they are about the world of film.
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 12:48 pm
Sister Regina et al., wasn’t the use of wind throughout the movie so appropriate?! It was everywhere, in the courtyard, in the cloister, in Sister Aloysius’s office and Sister James’ classroom.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 12:59 pm
Sr. Mary Ann, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The movie certainly seems to suggest the boy’s and the priest’s homosexuality in a way that the play didn’t, at least to our (also faulty) recollection. [There are 3 of us huddling to respond to comments; hence, "our."] As for your sense that the movie suggests that pedophiles are homosexual, we honestly hadn’t thought about it. Maybe, that too is part of the atmosphere of doubt that the playwright wants to create.
Sister Pat Farrell, OP January 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm
I’m responding to Mary Ann’s comments. I agree that any “suggestion that pedophiles (or ephebophiles – not sure of that spelling) are homosexual” is problematic. But it was the prevailing point of view in 1964. So I’m sure that the filmmakers would say that this portrayal was true to life. And while we know that that is not true, there is a more troubling issue – though not with the movie. It is that our hierarchy sometimes suggests that it is true. I am thinking that the filmmakers would say they were.
Sister Maxine January 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm
Hi Sister Marcia, I agree that there were quite a few Vatican II themes. You mentioned the open windows — also lots of wind, symbolic of the movement of the Spirit; change of seasons; etc. The tensions were interesting too — desire for structure and predictability vs. desire for greater humanity. It seemed that Sister Alyosius and Fr. Flynn each exhibited both sides of the tensions, but at different times and for different reasons. For example, Sister Alyosius wielded authority in the classroom, just as Fr. Flynn wielded authority over the sisters. And yet at times, both were very flexible with the “rules.”
David K. January 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm
I have always felt that doubt was an element of being human and totally compatible with being faithful and spiritual. To be without doubt would be to assume omniscience, and I am willing to attribute that quality only to God. Living with doubt of any kind (another’s culpability, truth in my perceptions or beliefs) might be painful, but it is always honest and more accurate than certainty.
aneesah mcnamee, op January 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm
was wondering if anyone can tell me what the two flowers on O’Flynns Office Book represented?? I believe one was in the front and on the back…..
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm
Hi Aneesah, I’m not sure. What do you think? And why did he leave one on Sister Aloysius’ desk?
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 1:13 pm
Carmela, thank you for your thoughtful comment. In the scene at the end of the movie, you can feel Sr. Aloysius’ vulnerability for the first time. Her encounters with Fr. Flynn and with Mrs. Miller seem to have shaken her to the core, and she seems to be in a place of great anguish, which she (uncharacteristically) allows Sr. James to witness.
I daresay we have all had moments like that — call them “loss of faith,” or disillusionment, or invitations to stay in the painful place and allow it to take us deeper. For sure, life after these events was not the same — for Sr. Aloysius, Sr. James, Fr. Flynn, Mrs. Miller, or any of us.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm
In support of Bren’s comments about the “Nunzilla” concept, it seems to us that Shanley wants to address that up front, in the opening scenes of the movie, by portraying the stern side of Sr. Aloysius. Then he goes on to reveal her as a far more complex character — aren’t we all? Remember her tough-love concern for the older, almost-blind sister, her desire to make Sr. James into a good teacher, and her fierce mission to protect Donald at all costs. And, lest we forget, we want to applaud efforts via this blog to debunk the many similar stereotypes of sisters.
DJC January 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm
Sr. James saying “she can’t sleep anymore”. How many times has that happen in our own lives when filled with doubt. This was a movie that raised so many questions, that we don’t have answers to. Great movie, great discussion. Thank You
aneesah mcnamee, op January 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm
am not sure about the flowers – actually one of our sisters asked me to ask you!!! i have not seen the movie – yikes – i have just checked our local theater and it is showing in 15 minutes!!!! see you – and i will look for the significance of the flowers!!! this has been a great discussion! thanks for setting it up!
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm
Aneesah, LOL! I will ponder it as well. Let us know what you think of the movie!
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Well, it’s hard to believe it’s been 2 hours! Thank you so much for joining us. Perhaps Sister Regina and nuns would like the final word. Feel free to keep the discussion going. This will always be here and I’ll be checking in later tonight and tomorrow. Blessings!
David K. January 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm
Great job. Interesting “conversation.” Dare I say “provocative?”
Margie January 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm
From what I’ve heard, “Doubt” is based on a true story, but not one that took place in a Catholic school. If this is the case, do you know why Shanley decided to situate the story in a Catholic school with a nun and a priest as the main characters?
DJC January 8, 2009 at 12:31 pm
I thought the priest was arrogant when he sat in Sr. Aloysius chair. The look she gave him said a lot about the times. I don’t think she went after the priest for any other reason then trying to protect her student.
Sr. Marcia January 8, 2009 at 12:32 pm
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Not only was the acting superb but I thought it incorporated some of the ideas of Vatican II (opening windows to let in fresh air, e.g.). At least, that is my basic understanding of that time period. I was quite surprised that none of the reviews I’ve read (admittedly only about 6) didn’t get that. Is my interpretation too literal?
Sister Pat Farrell, OP January 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm
I am so sorry that I wasn’t able to get to the movie before this discussion. But based on what I’ve heard, I think that Meryl Streep’s portrayal was spot on. We all know and know of sisters in our congregations that were tough, no-nonsense, get-things-done, kind of women. Sometimes it causes us some discomfort to see that portrayed on the screen, whether it’s a sister or a laywoman. I am looking at the thumbnail of Teresa of Avila at the bottom of this page. I’ll bet she was formidable. The priests of her time probably felt intimidated by her.
Sr. Marcia January 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm
Sr. Mary Ann – thanks for your response. I’m glad you mentioned the blond kid. I definitely wanted to know more about him, but whether through editing or focus there wasn’t much there. I agree with you that Sr. Aloysius’s suspicions were aroused by the priest’s grabbing of the boy’s wrist and his wrenching away of his arm. He seemed to have a very visceral response to the priest that was very suggestive of someone having been approached or even abused. While his character wasn’t the most intriguing, I certainly left the theater with more questions about him than anyone else.
Carmela LaGrotte January 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm
What struck me the most was Meryl Streep’s breakdown at the end of the movie, where she expresses her own doubt. As a young Catholic, I have had many doubts about faith and life, and this poignant moment expressed that. My heart broke for her; in that scene I could see my mother, my grandmother, so many of the women in my life who have struggled to live each day holding onto one form of faith or another, despite the fact that we live in such an uncertain world. Somehow that moment was exactly when I felt for her the most, and related with her. In a sense, like Father Flynn’s sermon, the doubt was a bind. What are your thoughts on her loss of faith at the end of the film?
Myra January 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm
The actress who plays Mrs. Miller does so much with the little screen time that is allotted her. She is just trying to protect her son. Every facet of her life is driven toward giving her son a better life than she had. So, she can’t understand why Sister Aloysius wants to use her son as a pawn in her plan to push out what she believes to be immoral and unholy. She holds well up against Sister Aloysiusin her scene, and after her voice is heard, the whole feel of the movie changes from one of suspicion to one of understanding.
Sister Julie January 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm
Myra, wonderful observation. I was blown away by the content of the scene as well as the acting. The actress is Viola Davis and she was AMAZING.
DJC January 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm
The blond kid also smoked the same cigarettes as the priest. I also felt he could have been approached or abused. It certainly raised my suspicion of the priest.
Bren Ortega Murphy January 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm
As someone who very much liked both the play and the film, I’m enjoying the many insights brought out in this conversation. However, I especially want to comment on the observation that most of the professional critics know more about film than the Catholic Church & its recent history. One NYT critic asserted that this was, in part, the story of the tensions between priests [who were progressive] and “the nuns” [who weren't.] My understanding is that many women religious were quite learned and truly progressive about such things as theological and eductional reforn, even before Vatican II. The other disturbing trend in some reviews is the tendency to paint Sr. Aloysius as mean and uncaring. This doesn’t come from a close reading of the film but from the prevailing stereotype of “Nunzilla” which makes an all too convenient slot to put her in. Doubt was obviously intended to undermine such narrow-casting.
MM January 8, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Meryl Streep’s breakdown at the end of the movie was so moving for me because I identified with her doubts, in particular doubts about the Catholic Church. I found it chilling when the authorities transfer/promote the priest into a new situation where he has more authority and more access to children. For me her doubt was about the institution she is complicit in acting in a way that is harmful. The hierarchical order of the church that puts priests above nuns (shown beautifully when Hoffman’s character literally takes over Streep’s character’s chair) also echoes the women’s movement at the time. She exercises the limited power she has within the church to protect children. Hoffman’s character reminded me of the “guitar mass” priests of my childhood. In an effort to be closer to their parishioners they overstepped the bounds of appropriate and moral behavior.
DJC January 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm
I’m replying to Bren, I agree on how nuns are portrayed as mean and nasty. Yes some hit kids on the back of the head, but so did their parents, it was a different time. As far as the changes from Vatician 2 I think the nuns handle it the best.
Sister Pat Farrell, OP January 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm
Absolutely! This is wonderful!
DJC January 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm
In the scene with the mother I think it showed how much love and compassion Sr. Aloysius had for the boy. You felt her pain when she said “you’re his mother”.
amanda January 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm
I read that Meryl and Amy met with the sisters before the movie, what kind of things did you talk about? What kinds of questions did they ask? I thought they were both great. Have a nice day.
Sister Gayle OSF January 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm
Now I REALLY want to see this movie!
David K. January 8, 2009 at 1:45 pm
In response to MM and the observation about “guitar mass” priests … I am wary about any correlation between “theological orthodoxy” (or its lack) and predisposition of predatory or assaultive behavior. I think a fair look at documented inappropriate behavior by clergy (and politicians) reveals that the whole spectrum of “professed believers” has housed some perpetrators. Some of the most conservative of clergy and politicians have been as guilty as the most liberal. Sinners come in all types of appearances- they often look a great deal like us.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm
Here’s one of the lines we would want to change in the film: Sr. Aloysius’ statement to Sr. James, “When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God, but in his service.”
We don’t agree at all that seeking justice and addressing wrongdoing takes us away from God. On the contrary, it brings us closer to God, because it is in keeping with what we understand as God’s dream for humankind.
As St. Vincent de Paul would say, “And what are your thoughts?”
Sister Maxine January 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm
Bren, Interesting comment re. the movie critic who thought priests were progressive and nuns weren’t. Made me think of the depiction of Fr. Flynn. He was all for change in the church until he was challenged by Sister Alyosius. Then he quickly retreated back into his position of authority in the parish/school and refused to be accountable to anyone except the bishop. If the clerics appeared progressive because of Vatican II, it might be because they were the ones with the formal power to institute change in the Church, however grudgingly or willingly. But change had begun before the 1960s. I’m thinking of the early 1940s, when for the first time the Pope allowed Catholic scholars to study scripture using critical methods for analysis. It was a shift away from using the bible mostly to back up doctrine. Many sisters did theological studies during this time — something that also contributed to the momentum for change in the 1950s and 60s.
DJC January 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm
Sorry push the button to soon. I did not understand the comment about “taking a step away from God”.
MM January 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm
Point taken, David. I guess I’m referring to my own experience, but when I think about it I have known of “inappropriate” (criminal) behavior by both conservative and liberal priests. They do look a great deal like us, except in the case when “we” are children and “they” are adults.
MM January 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm
The way I made sense of “taking a step away from God” is a parallel to my desire to protect my own children. In an effort to protect them, you open your eyes to terrible things in the world–things you don’t want to acknowledge. In some ways, you become corrupt by trying to understand others who are corrupt.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm
Thanks for that insight, MM.
Sr. Mary Bea January 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm
What a rich conversation! I’ll be sorry when 4:00 PM comes. Three friends and I came out of the movie in silence. The questions the film raised were too profound for superficial chat. I finally said how unsettling I found it. But then as we did start to plumb the questions I realized that was the film’s genius–the ambiguity, the doubt. No pat answers, no stereotypes, no black and white character portrayal. Rather lots of layers as Sr. Regina mentions above. It’s almost 4:00, so I’ll end by saying that the final scene clinched the movie for me. Without it, the film would have lacked its profoundly unsettling genius.
Sr. Regina Bechtle January 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm
It’s been great to be part of this conversation with all of you. Thanks for the chance to share some of the story of the Sisters of Charity and Doubt, and to read your thoughtful comments. Thanks, Sr. Julie and Sr. Maxine!
aneesah mcnamee, op January 8, 2009 at 5:17 pm
i just came home from seeing the movie and i am in awe. the conversation here helped me decipher some of the points made and some of the ambiguity of it all. very profound movie. i liked it – i didn’t think it was ‘nun bashing’ – or a detriment to the church in any way – in fact i think everyone should see it. i watched closely for the flower significance. when he opened his Office Book with Sr. James in the courtyard – she noticed them – there were three pressed flowers – 2 red and one pink. he said that they reminded him of spring. toward the end of the movie he placed two of the flowers on the top of the book – a red one and a pink – i am not sure what the significance was – if in fact there is any – other than spring represents new life – change – something that was symbolic throughout the movie with the wind blowing – the open window and etc. so – i will have to let more of it run through me some more!!! i think i will read the book too – excellent! and thanks for having this important disscussion in a time of the church and of our society that holds great change
Robyn TSSF January 8, 2009 at 6:16 pm
Now I can’t wait until this movie reaches New Zealand (we usually get movies a few weeks after the rest of the w0rld). I’ve already noted to a friend that we’re going to see it! I really admire Meryl Streep – she tends to choose complex, interesting characters to portray and she acts them so well (I loved her character in “The Devil Wears Prada” – another interesting and thought-provoking movie). Will be watching for the significance of the flowers too.
Kathleen January 8, 2009 at 6:53 pm
Sorry, I was unable to participate in live discussion today. Hope this is the first of many. I love the movies and try to see one every weekend. I saw “Doubt” about 3 weeks ago and was quite moved. Now that I have read all 62 comments, I am going to see it again. Seems to be plenty that I can watch for/learn … upon second view/reflection. Curious … Father Flynn suggested that Sister Aloysius corroborate his story with another gentleman of the Church. Would that have been permissible in the 60′s? I’m guessing it may have helped Sister Aloysius with her doubts. Thanks to all for sharing insights.
Pat Spangler O.P. January 8, 2009 at 9:44 pm
Thank you for an interesting discussion. Another sister and I plan to see “Doubt” this weekend. Your comments will help me process the intriquing subtleties of this film.
Stfrancisgirl January 8, 2009 at 8:27 pm
This was a wonderful discussion. I saw the movie the day after Christmas. It makes sense that the play title includes “-a parable.” There are so many layers in this movie. It will be one to add to my DVD collection when it comes out – perhaps. I saw it alone but was deep in thought for quite some time.
Betsy January 9, 2009 at 8:16 am
Taught by the Sisters of Charity in the 60s and 70s, I truly enjoyed the film’s depiction of Catholic school during this time period. I laughed when Sister A interpreted “Frosty the Snowman.” I can remember Sr. Marilyn of St. Michael’s in Union City, NJ, asking me to select a pop song and to interpret it. My selection: “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. You can just imagine the reaction I received. Thank you Sisters for your tutelage, it certainly prepared me for all aspects of life.
Annie January 9, 2009 at 8:09 am
I just read through all of yesterday’s comments and they were so interesting! I was really surprised how many people thought the movie’s message was to not be judgmental of others as Sr. Aloysius was. I did not get that at all – I thought she was the heroine of the movie, and I understood that Fr. Flynn pretty much did admit his guilt in their last exchange. I liked Sr. Aloysius’s character; I saw her as a “tough on the exterior” but not so tough inside kind of person. And she wasn’t really mean with the kids, just stern (though slapping the girl on the head in church was a bit much) and annoyingly set in her ways.
Sister Julie January 9, 2009 at 8:11 am
Annie, I’m with you on that. I felt Sister Aloysius was the heroine too. I loved how she covered for the nun with the bad eyesight and how she tried to help Sister James become a good teacher, and of course her dogged protection of the child.
Sister Julie January 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm
Above Amanda had asked about the actors’ visit to the Sisters of Charity convents. Sister Regina checked in with her sisters and sent me this to post:
Sister Regina: Meryl Streep and her production colleagues visited our retired & infirm sisters at the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers. After introductions, Meryl said, “I’m going to be in this movie. I’d like you to tell me how to be a Mother Superior – I think I have to be a mean one! What were some of the hard things about being the one in charge?”
She asked them questions about why they became a Sister, how they knew this was the path for them, etc. She also asked about their present life in retirement.
Her costume designers were interested in our habit. The Sisters talked about who made them (us!) and the history of our habit as based on early 19th century Italian widow’s dress. They were very interested in Sr. Marilda Joseph, who is our only Sister still wearing the former habit. They watched her walk so they could see how the habit moved.
Sr. Mary Kay, the convent administrator, gave them large rosaries for each of the Sister-characters in the movie to wear. The costumers were going to make the rest of the habits.
Sr. Mary Kay asked Meryl to go to each table in the dining room to greet the sisters and have pictures taken. Many of the Sisters did not know her as a famous actress, but the staff certainly did! Everyone, including the whole dietary staff, took out cellphones and had their pictures taken with Meryl, who was most gracious through it all.
S Enrique January 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm
Thank you so very much for each of your comments, insights, impressions and thoughts. I am understudying the role of Sister Aloysius for the production of Doubt: A Parable here in San Diego, California and am so glad to have found this site in my research. As most of you have reflected, there are so many layers, sides, views, interpretations and perceptions which are so helpful delve into what Mr. Shanley has put to paper and now screen. All have furthered my feeling and belief that while we are all the same, we each have the ability to choose how to be different–and it is in those finite choices that our windows of opportunity to overcome doubt and suspicion hinge. Our humanity is not only the source of our doubt but also the source of our certainty….and each choice we make “has its consequence . . . .” Thank you so much–and to Mr. Shanley—boy, you pack a wallop! —so much, so many layers, connections!
Sister Pat Farrell, OP January 10, 2009 at 7:58 pm
I just came home from the movie. I was glad that I walked to the theatre – about a mile away – so that I could just feel the quiet. I thought “Doubt” was excellent. Meryl Streep was superb! She has such a breadth in her acting abilities. Hoffman and Adams played their roles well, too.
I agree with one of the comments above, that S. Aloysius is the heroine, and that F. Flynn pretty much admitted his guilt. And as was not so uncommon in those days, he got moved again, and even promoted. What was the source of Sister A’s doubt? Was it that she was uncertain about his guilt? Did she wonder if she had done the right thing, in that he was simply being moved to another school where he could have even more freedom and trust? Was it her own internal questioning about . . . . do the means justify the end?
I found her questioning of Flynn to be very much like a principal trying to get the truth out of a child, or a police investigator trying to get a confession. And he was definitely reacting like a child. Does that make him guilty? No.
I found Sister A’s remark, “When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God, but in his service” interesting. I think she was projecting on to Sister James her own propensity to get at the truth with whatever means she had. Perhaps that is what brought up all that emotion when Father Flynn asked her if she had ever committed a mortal sin. Perhaps that is the source of her doubt.
Thanks again for this wonderful conversation. I am glad I was able to take the experience with me to the movie, and come back again and share my thoughts.
By the way, I went to the movie wearing my “Veritas” sweatshirt.
Sister Julie January 10, 2009 at 8:03 pm
Thanks for coming back and telling us how Doubt was for you, Sister Pat. I think I’m going to go see it again, though not armed with Veritas as you were!
Ena January 10, 2009 at 10:27 pm
I saw the movie tonight with my husband who attended Catholic grade school through 8th grade in the 60′s. We found the insights in this discussion very helpful, but we interperted F. Flynn’s guilt not as having had inappropriate contact with the boy, but as being a gay man. We felt that this was the reason he agreed to resign his post. He did not want to be revealed as a homosexual, and was willing to leave rather than allow the truth to come out. However, does being gay make him a pedophile? I did not think so. I felt that he was simply a gay man helping a gay boy cope with life and an unfriendly world ( not to mention a terror of a father). I did not think that he had any inappropriate contact with that boy. As for the blond boy , he could have stolen one of F. Flynn’s cigarettes, since he was mischevious.
When sister A. breaks down at the end and expresses doubt, I believe that it is because she realizes there is a possibility the priest was the only friend this boy had and that she forced him out unjustly, leaving the boy friendless and exposed. Furthermore, the priest’s mortal sin was his homosexuality and hers was the lie she told about calling his previous school. The only puzzling thing is that if he had confessed this fact about himself to another priest, would he not be asked to leave the priesthood? Were gay priests allowed to continue in their posts ?
One more thing….when I saw the two flowers, one red one pink, that he left on the desk at the end, I thought that they symbolized him and the boy. The red flower symbolizes him, a gay man in a suspicious, cruel world, and the pink one– the boy, facing the same grim reality. They were pressed flowers, out of season, and he appreciated their beauty, especially when it is contrasted to the gray, grim surroundings and scenery that run throughout the movie. There were only bleak shades of gray now, in the dead of winter, but perhaps his hope for spring meant he was looking forward to a time when he and the boy could be understood and appreciated instead of being persecuted.
Sister Julie January 11, 2009 at 12:07 am
Ena, Thanks for the reflections on Doubt. A couple comments … one is just a clarification on Father Flynn being a gay man. The Church does not teach that being a gay man or a lesbian woman is a mortal sin. In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in 1986, “[T]he particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin,” and underscored the dignity of the homosexual person. And, as is true with heterosexual persons, how we express ourselves sexually can be cause for mortal sin, but not by virtue of who we are.
Second, I appreciate your interpretation of the flowers. I hadn’t thought about it before that they are some of the only symbols of color in an otherwise dark movie. And the notion of the dried flowers being “out of season” … there may be something to that. Will have to think more. Thanks!
deerose January 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm
I know what the word “veritas” means, but what exactly is the significance of it on a sweatshirt? dee
Sister Julie January 11, 2009 at 6:28 pm
i think it’s just the irony of bringing Truth to a movie called Doubt.
ryan January 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm
me and some friends are unsure of the sourse of sis. A’s doubt spoken of at the end… is it she doubted the entire church, its leaders, and what she was doing as a nun? Or was she doubting the guilt of the Father? what do you think?
Sister Julie January 12, 2009 at 6:03 am
Ah, Ryan, that is the million dollar question! I don’t think that she doubted the entire Church or her life as a nun. It may be that she began to sense cracks in her seemingly rock-solid perception of things — how Church leaders should act, how mothers and fathers should care for their children, how a school should be run, how she as a nun should help others. Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. What are your thoughts on this?
Sister Gayle OSF January 12, 2009 at 7:50 am
I wanted to see this movie this weekend but could not find it playing anywhere with a 5o mile radius! Quite disappointing. I may have to wait for the DVD. I did not think this area was that out of it. Sigh.
Jan January 13, 2009 at 11:07 am
I was wondering what the sigficance of the Priest’s Bible left on the desk with the pressed flowers on top meant in the Movie “Doubt”.
Sister Julie January 14, 2009 at 6:03 am
Good question, Jan. I thought it was his prayer book, but either way, not sure of the significance. Others?
Tom January 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm
I, a cradle Catholic, read the playscript, then saw the movie … then discussed both with friends who either saw Doubt on stage, in a moviehouse, read the playscript, or some combination of two venues. My friends, here, are all lifetime Catholics, and one is our parish pastor.
While we all had varied “takes” on what was going on in the drama, we all agreed that it was a story well-told and superbly acted regardless of format; but seeing Meryl Streep vs Philip Seymour Hoffman … wow, it doesn’t get any better than that!
When Fr. Flynn was seen returning Donald’s T-shirt to his locker I gasped, and hoped that his relationship with the boy one of support and understanding of shared fears.
But the harsh, judgmental character of Sr. Aloysius startled me; she didn’t seem characteristic of ANY grammar school principals I came to know through my children, or through my years serving on a parish school board. I could not relate to her on any level.
My grammer school teachers in the mid-1930s were Wisconsin Dominicans — I can still fondly visualize 4 of them, one of them the principal — all compassionate and loving women who prepared me well for the high school and college years ahead.
Thank for offering this blogsite — I look forward to reading more posts.
Ena January 13, 2009 at 2:02 pm
Thank you for the explanation to my question. My husband and I were both surprised to learn the Church has such understanding for the gay men and women. This is not the impression you get when you read the comments in the media.
I also wanted to add a thought on Ryan’s questions regarding Sister A’s breakdown at the end. I felt that she was doubting if she had done the right thing–acted as she had, and caused the situation to develop as it did.
She not only forced Father Flynn out, but she went up against authority, she lied knowingly, and she forever changed her own image in the eyes of her young protege–the younger nun. So she may have been wondering if all that was worth it considering that she (and we) shall ever know the truth. And what if she did all that for naught? I guess my answer to her is that she had to do it – feeling as she felt, knowing what she knew, the risk of not doing anything was far greater, if indeed there was a danger to a boy, even a single boy , in the school.
It’s such a great lesson in life, that we never truly know anything, but have to weigh the options and go with our gut, hoping that we have skirted a disaster or protected the vulnerable even if there is some doubt there…..
CS January 15, 2009 at 11:06 am
Couple of questions/comments: 1. Why no kneelers in the front row of the church? Those should have been there in the 60′s. 2. Why was Fr Flynn giving his sermon at the very beginning of the Mass? That doesn’t happen. 3. What was the point of the light bulb going out so often? 4. Why the long fingernails?
Sister Julie January 15, 2009 at 11:57 am
Hi CS, I don’t have all the answers but here’s a shot. 1. church buildings that don’t have kneelers in the front row normally would have expected persons seated in the front rows to kneel on the floor or around the altar as many altars are up a few steps. 2. In some parishes it is the custom for the priest to give a kind of pre-homily at the beginning of Mass after the opening prayers. It is not a substitute for a homily following the Gospel. 3. I remarked the light bulb thing as well, but its meaning eludes me. 4. I think the point about long, clean fingernails was to imply that Father Flynn could be gay. Other responses for CS?
CS January 15, 2009 at 4:04 pm
Thanks for the reply, Sister Julie. This website is fun. My unCatholic friend and I saw the movie last night and talked about it forever. She was really hooked on that light bulb. She also wondered why those girls in the opening choir scene had kleenex on their heads. I told her it was a Catholic thing that she’d never understand. Glad this site is here for us lay, average people. You movie-types know everything! Peace
+ Alan January 15, 2009 at 9:34 pm
Hello Sisters and siblings. I just saw the movie tonight so it’s fresh on my mind. I’ve been waiting to read all this until I saw it. It was a great movie – very intense. It was pretty dark but I went through a range of emotions during the movie. There were some fairly funny parts. I actually laughed when she smacked that kid on the back of the head. It was just funny. And the looks on some of those kid’s faces when they got caught doing whatever – classic.
Of course there was anger – I think overall at the harsh and rather inflexible nature of the Church of those days. I didn’t personally experience things back then (only 42). I did go to Catholic school with Sister of Notre Dame teaching us and remember Sr. Mary Herman Joseph standing over me, the last boy left at lunch, making me eat everything on my plate and calling me “pokey” – ha! But she wasn’t evil or anything.
I don’t want to get into too much – just a couple of thoughts. I wonder, were these kinds of “cases” so common at that time, and known so well that Nuns were watching for them behind every collar? I found that interesting. Maybe now, but then? In connection with that, and I’ve not seen this in the comments thus far, did no one else hear Sr. Aloysius say a couple of times that she had experience with this before – you get that she had seen this before, perhaps more “for real” than this time. That’s perhaps part of what made her “see” things that weren’t necessarily anything to “see” in Fr. Flynn.
I didn’t really see Fr. Flynn admitting what she thinks he did in that scene. I didn’t think about the homosexual thing – possibly. I did feel the “doubt” though – the doubt that had been raised about him – after you hear it, it’s never the same. You want to believe he’s innocent, and he may well be, but it doesn’t matter – the “feathers” are everywhere now – too late. That gossip homily was powerful. For all of us, the feathers are everywhere. Sad.
One little tiny thing – I noticed his prayer book – let me know if I’m wrong, but it was a modern Liturgy of the Hours black leather edition – same contemporary stylized Chi Rho on the front – and it was in English. It would likely have been in Latin even in ’64 wouldn’t it? Just a little inconsistency.
At the end, when she broke down, I nearly did myself. I had to sit there for a while, and even in the car I was ready to break down crying. It seemed to me that was about not her regret, but what she really believed was true of the Priest, of the Bishop, of the Church she’s given herself to all these years. Back to the fact that she had seen it before, now (for her), again. I’m not convinced he was guilty in the movie, but it doesn’t matter – many were, and they were shuffled around, and her faith was shaken by seeing that – what have these men done to our Church? Aweful, aweful thoughts. So much doubt. Peace to all of you.
Vi January 17, 2009 at 2:04 pm
Like a previous poster, the movie has been yanked from movies within a fifty mile radius round me. I find it hard to believe that that is because it was a bad movie. Nothing with Streep can be anything but great. Did the Catholic Church recommend that their followers stay away or what?
Sister Julie January 18, 2009 at 7:10 am
Might just be the film industry — probably preparing it for DVD asap to keep sales going. I haven’t heard anything that suggests that the Church recommended folks not see it.
Elizabeth January 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm
I think every scene there could be something to talk about , like even that scene where the boy gets in trouble by Sr James for saying the answer out loud for Donald and then gets sent down to Sr Aloysius. She tells him to go back and shut up – and then he starts acting out in class. There had to be a point to that. Was it he realized Donald needed special protection, which the sisters didn’t get- and he was getting punished for it too. Or maybe the scene was just so Sr James could get upset back.
What kind of accent was Meryl Streep trying to do? It was really rough
I’m from NY, I don’t know. If she was trying to do Bronx- I don’t think she got it
Hoosier January 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm
Wow, that was intense… Here is what I thought (it seems we all get to make the film fit to our own ideas). I might be crazy, you tell me.
• Yes, I agree with others that the long nails is our hint the priest MIGHT be gay.
• The black student was going to get killed at public school because of his demeanor, and his father would kill him as well. He was gay.
• The boy’s mother spoke as if she had been molested as well when younger and you just have to get through it, and she told the sister she didn’t really know about life. I felt like she thought is was just part of life’s struggles from her limited world view.
• The priest had molested or attempted to molest the blond boy. He jerked away from him and showed anger at a priest who was being friendly, and leaned away from his clean nailed hand on the court and smiled when he told the church he was leaving.
• The black boy sobbed. I felt like he was sad because he was losing a friend who didn’t mind he was “different”. I wouldn’t cry if my molester was leaving.
• Long nails don’t mean you are gay… gays are not pedophiles… pedophiles can be gay…
• The boy who shouts out the answer to save the black boy seemed to have some issues as well. I felt like he might have been molested or approached as well. That is why he lashed out…”Leave me alone!” not just to the sister but to the whole system really. And when he saw the black boy’s mom in the office he made a smart remark to the priest, he knew exactly what was going on.
• I thought the flowers were trophies. Literally for each boy he had de-flowered.
• At one point I felt the winds blowing all the time were the “winds of change”… but now I don’t know what to think of them.
• The light bulbs… not even a guess. : )
• The priest was VERY upset when she said she had called his old parishes and found about him from the nuns. He was upset she didn’t call the priest because the “old boys network” would have covered for him. Just like it did in the end… with a promotion!
• In the final scene, when she breaks down about her doubt. I am SURE she is doubting all things religious. How could a loving God allow things like this to happen (remember she had seen it before with another priest) and now this guy was getting rewarded with a promotion, her husband was killed in the war, even that a devoted older sister would be going blind, falling down getting hurt, suffering after a lifetime of devotion. Where was God’s love? Was there even a God? Had her devotion all been a waste of time?
Thanks Sister Julie for providing this forum for all of us! God Bless!
Hoosier January 24, 2009 at 2:58 am
Thanks Jordan! I’ve talked to my wife and daughter who have both now seen the film, and I’m not sure they agree with me 100%. It’s good to know I’m not crazy. ; )
Sister Julie January 24, 2009 at 6:14 am
Hoosier, That’s quite the review! I wish I had as much clarity, but I confess that I’m still in doubt. It leaves me feeling the true masterpiece that John Patrick Shanley created, one where there are no easy answers and where every image is multivalent.
Melissa January 25, 2009 at 12:57 am
I am wondering what you thought the meaning was behind the light breaking in Sr. Aloysius’ office when Sr. James becomes upset, and then again when Father Flynn becomes upset. Thanks so much!
micky January 26, 2009 at 5:02 am
Im from Singapore…believe it or not? just saw the movie 2 hrs ago…and still thinking of the many issues discussed here…that to me is a mark of a great movie! and i hope all 3 nominees for the Oscar will get their deserved awards!
Cathal January 26, 2009 at 5:52 am
The clue for me was when Sr. James asked Fr. Flynn about the undershirt and he replied that it had been left in the Sacristy -as a former alter boy, we always put the cassock and surplus over our street clothes – so why would he have left an undershirt behind?
barbara February 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm
I just saw the movie and I am still reeling from it. I walked away with “DOUBT”. I am not sure of the end nor will I ever be. My take on the movie was exactly what it was like, in the school, with the priest and with the nuns. I went to catholic school and it brought back so many memories. This could have happened anywhere in the USA.
I also felt that the priest was a gay man. I also feel that the boy was gay. I also think that Sr. A. had no other choice but to do what she did. She was protecting a child. Not a gay child. Maybe if more nuns were aware of what was happening in those years, we would not have had the scandals we had. It was a great movie and I loved it.
I also felt that just maybe, in the last scene the blond kid with the smirk was not being a wise guy, but a relieved boy. It was a real thinker of a movie. Oscar nods to Meryl Streep.
She was FABULOUS. Thankyou for this site. God Bless.
Catherine February 4, 2009 at 11:02 am
Saw this movie on Sunday with my husband. Both of us attendend Catholic schools for 12 yrs. during the time period portrayed. Both of us had a different take on the movie’s meaning. He thought Fr. Flynn was innocent and that Sr. A had no hard facts and that the case against the priest would never hold up if it was ever brought to court. I thought he was guilty.
As for the significance of light bulbs breaking, could it be the “light of truth” being broken putting the characters in “the darkness of lies and ‘doubt’ ?
Just a thought.
Best thought provoking movie in a very long time.
Lynne February 7, 2009 at 5:23 pm
wow, what a movie!! i loved it!!
i go to the movies as often as i can and my constant lament is that there are so few really thought provoking movies about life and all it’s complexities. i went with my daughter who said that she had heard that most people were divided in their opinions at the end of the movie. i believe he was guilty of loving boys as a gay man and she believed him to be innocent. we were divided! what i find so interesting about this movie is that life is not all black and white and sometimes it can be difficult to know for sure what to do . the priest was a kind, happy, thoughtful man always wanting to give the children the best chance to better themselves and on the other hand, in my opinion, he was interested in some of the boys in a sexual way. in my life i have come across two boys, now men, that were abused by priests with horrifying results. i wish there were more people out there involved in the church that were as suspicious as the Mother Superior and many lives could have been spared this insidious behaviour. i have absolutely nothing against gay men as they are usually not pedophiles, but do despise anyone that detroys the innocense of any child. i have found this creates very damaged people sometimes with the consequences being life long. well done for inspiring me to comment!!
Former altar boy Steve February 8, 2009 at 7:02 am
My wife and I saw the movie last night and we loved it. The director hit me when Sr Aloysius told the boy’s mother that she was a widow, and in the final confrontational scene between Fr. Flynn and Sr. Aloysius, Sr Aloysius clutched her bundled shawl to her breast as if it were an infant in a blanket. An innocent child, buried in the safety of it’s mother, protected from the evils outside. Did she mourn life taking her husband and the chance for motherhood? It softened the sternness she displayed publicly and made her very human and it was another indication of her loving nature. The school, church, altar boys, choir, students….perfectly set. Is the school used in the movie operational today? It must be a signature of all parochial schools that the floors shine like mirrors! I never realized that my grade school had floors like that until I saw this movie.
Robyn TSSF February 11, 2009 at 1:13 am
Finally saw the movie (New Zealand is a little behind with release times). It was the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the best “nun movies” ever. It was raw, it was very honest, and it didn’t try to give us answers.
I’ve got a lot to think about, but what keeps coming back to me is what a former parish priest of mine said to me years ago when I was struggling with doubt in a huge “dark night” experience: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith.”
Doubt to me is wrestling with God – a bit like Job – being prepared to ask the tough questions and live with them. I always want my answers to come easily and quickly, but sometimes God wants me to stay with the questions because its in those times I learn most. Sr Aloysius, Sr James, and Fr Flynn were all asking tough questions and finding the fellowship of doubt. I like Fr Flynn’s image of doubt as being a little like grief – shut up behind a glass wall that you can see through but not reach through (can’t remember the exact words). That is where we grow.
Sister Julie February 11, 2009 at 5:58 am
Very good observation, Robyn TSSF: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith.” Thank you for sharing that.
Kathy February 14, 2009 at 8:05 pm
just saw the movie ..wow –fantastic, I attended Catholic school at this time ….very accurate of the times…acting breathtaking realistic…everyone was perfect….however, it dawned on me for the first time– that nuns were aware of child abuse…how many nuns acted in defense of these vulnerable young boys….I was so proud of Sr alloyisious….she was strong in her intuition…and paid the price of being the child protector….with an emotional interaction with the priest and the good old boy catholic church….I went to a catholic boarding school and the depiction of the nuns was right on
the recent convictions of these awful priets abuse has tarnished the Catholic Church forever–how could they pass these sick priest on to other parishes…the Church needs to change again and let priest get married….until then — membership will never be the same….ever!
Tess February 17, 2009 at 5:18 pm
What a great discussion! I live in Australia and saw the movie last night. Consequently I couldn’t sleep!
I don’t think anyone has addressed the issue of why Donald was called out during class time to go to the presbytery. I attended a Catholic school all my life and am also a teacher, and this just doesn’t fit in with my experience. I really think that this incident and Father Flynn’s story that he called the boy out because he had been drinking the altar wine absolutely exposes his guilt, and I can’t understand why Sr Aloysius didn’t interrogate him further. He claimed to have called the boy out to discuss his drinking the wine, but the boy came back from this meeting smelling of alcohol!! Hello??
At the same time, it is not really believable that the priest would have called the boy out during class for sexual purposes. Would he not have had opportunities to do this outside of class time?
I also think that, despite her compassionate acts, Sr Aloysius is a bully. To make that poor little nun eat gristle was sadistic.
Another point that I don’t think was mentioned was the juxtaposition of the priests’ “beef ‘n’ burgundy” dinner, (with some rather unChristian conversation) with the austere dining habits of the nuns. I think the author’s (or director’s) standpoint was very clear here.
What a stimulating movie! Thanks for the discussion !
Protestant Girl February 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm
I was in college in 1964 and had many Catholic friends who had attended Catholic schools. After seeing the movie with one of them we had hours of discussions. Here are our thoughts:
The light going out was the darkness of lack of truth.
The wind was change.
The dove in the church was the Holy Spirit.
The flowers pressed in his book were trophies of boys he “had”.
He left it because he was going to start over.
The blond boy and the other alter boy were victims.
The long nails meant the priest was gay.
Sr. A was devastated at the end because the priest was head of a new school… where he had access to more children… and she could not watch out for them.
Now for the one thing I did not get…
Why was her cross completely different at the very end… what was the significance of the “style” of the cross?
Liz February 22, 2009 at 12:32 am
I ABSOLUTELY LOVED “DOUBT”! However… I’m still seeking the answer to the question asked by “Protestant Girl”! “Why was her cross completely different at the very end… what was the significance of the “style” of the cross?” And, perhaps the numbers of crosses?? I seem to remember she had fewer crosses at the end of the movie than DURING the movie??
Thanks for helping explain!
Thomas February 26, 2009 at 9:37 am
There was a part of the movie that did hit me like a brick wall. It was the single line: “When we go after wrong doing we take a step away from God, but in his service.” I immediately interpreted this line by an experience I had in my own life. (A recent experience.) I was urged to confront a wrong that was done to me within the Church. I don’t really have the temperament to stand up for myself, besides I knew that if I did it would keep the wound open. But other leaders in the church were furious by what happened to me and urged me to raise the issue (I was unnecessarily barred from a Bible study! And what made it look even more awkward, it was a racially homogeneous group–except for me!) So I confronted what I (and others) thought was wrongdoing (minor compared with the alleged wrongdoing in the movie), but because of my circumstances (I had been in terrible health for six months, which left my emotions and my body weak and sensitive, and also my career collapsed as a result) it was unbearably painful. In any event, as soon as I began to raise this issue, I was consumed by anger, bitterness, and desire for revenge, and the need to control (the volume on my emotions, as I mentioned, had been cranked up as a result of my illness and I was feeling things that were uncharacteristically huge.) None of this sounds very godly, does it?
But that was not the only way that I felt as though I was “stepping away from God” by confronting wrongdoing. Even during my illness I had experienced a blossoming of faith, I loved scripture as I had never loved it before, and praying felt like I had entered a landscape of overwhelming love. It was everything I had ever wanted my worship of God to be like. I would pray and read scripture for four hours a day, and I couldn’t keep the tears out of my eyes, I was so overwhelmed by awe and by being loved. There was nothing else I could ever want in my life other than this, it was so completely fulfilling. But when I was separated from my spiritual community, and I confronted the leadership about it, and I entered into a period where I experience what felt like God’s complete absence. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life. So when Sr. Aloysius says at the end that Confronting wrongdoing is taking a step away from God. And then her rosary get lost in the folds of her garment and she weeps about her own Doubts, the only thing that could resonate with me was how this mirrored my own experience. Confronting the wrongdoing that was done to me filled me with ungod-like feelings: anger, bitterness, the need for revenge, the desire for control, unforgiveness, and a lack of grace; and worse than that, the sweet experience of His Presence also left. And the feeling has remained gone, filling me with heartache, loneliness, and, of course…spiritual Doubt.
Andrei85 March 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm
Hi I just watched the movie and like many others I sat in silence after the movie pondering, reviewing the scenes, asking questions, breathing. I asked particularly if I was like Sr. James who was convinced at once with Fr. Flynn’s answer, or should I be like Sr. A who did not settle with his answer but really tried to prove and even talked to the boy’s mother but I wonder if she ever talked to the boy at all, which I doubt.
I was moved by this movie that I recommend it to my friends here in the Philippines.
Thank you all for your wonderful insights..
Eleanore March 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm
Just watched the DVD of “Doubt” and after reading all the comments, just wondering how the person who wrote, “The blond boy and the priest both smoked the same cigarettes” . How did they manage to see the brand because the boy just took it out of his pocket and the priest took his from a box. I didn’t notice a brand, only that they both had filters on them. In the 60′s there were quite a few brands that had filters, much unlike today where most of them do.
Kate March 11, 2009 at 9:33 am
Does the statement from Donald in the opening scene regarding his question to the other alter boy to being “fat” have to do with? Is it related to the lively discussion the priests had at the dinner about the “fat” women, etc? This led me to believe that priest had used this adjective to belittle Donald….
Scott March 15, 2009 at 11:42 am
I think we are all a victim of our times, if this movie was released 20 years ago would we even question the priest? We would think that the sister was simply a mean-spirited busybody with an exaggerated imagination. Who knows, but that is what I believe to be the point of the movie. I have read the whole thread, the cigarettes, the fat comments, the wrist grab, all of it leading to “doubt”, oh how the author must be pleased. On a personal level I really enjoyed the insight into a world that I am unfamiliar with being non-catholic, the dedicated life of the nuns.
Scott March 15, 2009 at 11:56 am
One more thing to the question about the cross being different, didn’t she break it during her argument with the priest earlier in movie? What does that signify? Maybe she had finally breached the conflict in her heart about questioning the priesthood?
Recovering Catholic March 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm
Just saw ‘Doubt’ tonite and loved it. I also attended Catholic school and served mass around the same time as the movie. I had Sisters of Saint Joseph of Kansas City as teachers and boy were they tough! Our priests were great guys and the best baseball coaches ever. I can’t wait to get the movie from Net Flicks so I can watch it in detail. I DO NOT think Fr. Flynn molested the boy. There were many things in the movie that would lead one easily to come to that conclusion if you looked at it through 1964 eyes : the long nails, the flowers, the T shirt etc. but doing a little detective work leads one to the opinion that it was a gay priest protecting a gay student and the nun who had made up her mind to destroy Father Flynn no matter what the facts were. All in all a great movie and I can’t wait to see it again.
Sister Julie March 29, 2009 at 5:36 am
I continue to be amazed by this film and how each perspective on it is so compelling. Everything is hinted at, nothing is confirmed!
Helen March 29, 2009 at 5:40 pm
Wow, just saw move with my husband and so very much needed to do some processing. Thanks! I will watch movie this summer with my 7 sisters (8 years of catholic school). We’ll be back!
CAF April 5, 2009 at 5:54 pm
Some really wonderul interpretations on this site. I gave the symbolism of Father Flynn’s long fingernails alot of thought, and here is what I came up with: he told the boys to always keep their fingernails clean. He chose to keep his fingernails long; “but it was okay, because they were clean”. I don’t think this symbol necessarily hints to homosexuality but rather, being able to veil an oddity (or perversity) as long as you appeared “clean”. That is, long nails on a man are considered odd and perhaps disgusting; but because Flynn took special efforts to keep his nails cleans, so that no one could accuse him of this “perverse” conduct.
Moreover, recall that Sister A saw right through this facade when she told him to cut his fingernails. Note also, that when Sister A gave him this instruction, Flynn had his hands in his pocket. As if he had to make a special effort to hide this perversian in front of her.
Just my thoughts, would love to know more of yours!
Katy April 10, 2009 at 11:56 pm
After watching 1:39:14 of Doubt, my DVD bonked… just as Sr. A was communicating with Sr. J on the bench in the cold… I have NO IDEA what happened in the rest of the movie and after searching the internet for a good summary I am still in the dark… so what happens after Sr. J has just reiterated she believed Father? HELP!
Kim April 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm
It was nice to see someone take the child’s side during those years. From listening to my parents talk about Catholic School and the Catholic Church in the 60′s (my mother was 14 in 1964) very few people stood up to the priests. If more nuns (and lay people) had been willing to open their eyes to what was going on, many young men cold have been saved a lot of heart ache and the Catholic Church would have saved a ton of money settling lawsuits.
Kelly April 15, 2009 at 12:35 pm
Thomas – I don’t understand what you are saying. That one should not address/resolve unsettled (and severe) issues or that allowing yourself to feel the after-effects of the emotions is wrong? In the case of the latter – if this is true, God does forgive.
Kelly April 15, 2009 at 12:16 pm
In response to Recovering catholic – The reason I think the Priest is guilty is because he stopped the Sister from leaving her office, knowing she was going to tell all (including that she had, although untruthfully, spoken to past Nuns who revealed his pattern of behavior). Additionally, he did not defend himself after she gave him his instructions on the transfer.
One thing I need clarification on: At the end of the movie I thought the Sister said, “In pursuing wrongdoing one steps away from God, but there’s a price.” Meaning, the price she paid for trying to get justice was that she sinned by lying (lying about speaking to the past Nuns). She said this after Sister James said, “I can’t believe you lied.”
Can anyone confirm what Meryl said at the end of her sentence after stepping away from God?
Great discussion – Very thought-provoking.
SJ April 16, 2009 at 7:32 pm
I enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts, interpretations, questions and doubts about the characters in this film. I too attended Catholic school during this time period and found the look of the school, the nuns and the priests so real to my own experience. I found the juxtaposition of the priests’ jolly dinner with rare roast beef, beer and laughter with the nun’s severe, constrained dinner with gristly food to be a true reflection of the different experiences of the male vs female religious vocations. I recall nuns on the altar, only to vacuum and change the flowers, versus the priests in the beautiful, powerful robes sitting on the altar’s thrones.
Sister Julie April 17, 2009 at 5:22 am
That was indeed a painful scene to watch, SJ.
JD April 17, 2009 at 11:51 am
I saw Doubt in its entirety for the second time today. I noticed things that I missed the first time I watched the movie. I attended Catholic school in New Orleans and was taught by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Doubt brought back a lot of memories, because I attended school during that same time period. I personally don’t think anything happened between the priest and Donald. I feel that the priest probably was gay, and in his way, chose to “protect” Donald because he knew that this kid was gay, and he could relate to him. Also, the fact that Donald was the was the only Black student in the entire school, was another reason I felt the priest was attracted to him in a sense that he, the priest, was there for him if the child needed him. The scene between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep was the highlight of the movie to me, and I felt both actors should have won Oscars. There will always be conversation about “did he or didn’t he,” which I felt made the movie a great conversation piece; and unfortunately, the topic of scandals that have hurt the Catholic Church for years..
Pam April 18, 2009 at 5:52 pm
I just watched this move last night. Meryl Streep was fantastic and I immediately grasped the roles of the nuns in a “junior position” within the church. I am not Catholic but I was married to a Catholic whose family was deeply rooted in their faith. I also was fortunate to spend time in Sri Lanka with Father Tissa Balsuryia. Here is what I came away with considering the time period. I think Father Flynn was gay — however, while being accused of being a pedophile — I believe he was simply a gay man who recognized not only the young black boy and his struggles with being the only African American in the school — but that he, too was gay. I think this is where the befriending came from. As for the blond boy pulling his hand away, I think he thought Father Flynn was gay also and therefore the thought of a gay man grabbing his wrist repulsed him and he pulled away in anger and disgust. Remember the blond boy was also the one that picked on the black boy in the hallway and broke his toy. In that time period, I also believe being gay and a priest could have led many to think of pedophile perping, because so little was available to the general public on homosexuality. Also being that Father Flynn was progressive showed what I believed to be his “softer more artistic” appreciation lending to him being a “gay” or “gay-leaning.” As for the promotion of Father Flynn in the end — as in that time period, maybe still true to this day, one can recognize that the male role in the church is predominent and one that when challenged, often backfired. And to this day being “gay” anywhere . . . is still a battle – just imagine being a gay man in the early 60′s within the Catholic church. What a parallel of confusion. The only thing missing in this movie is the hetrosexual priest being “close” to the church housekeeper. And did anyone else notice how almost giddy Meryl Streep was when she had invited Father Flynn for the tea and discussion? I needed to replay that scene as I swear I saw a degree of sexuality and flirtation later explained by the fact that she had been married prior. It seemed a sensual side of her came out as to see if she could intice Father Flynn. It failed. He was gay and in the end — her doubt was not only in all she had ever been taught and knew, she had to go to area’s she never thought she would. PS: Love this discussion board — excellent read!
Laura c. April 18, 2009 at 9:11 pm
I watched Doubt for the first time tonight and i LOVED it. I’m not sure whether the priest did or did not do anything to Donald though. I’m still kind of weighing the facts. I thought the movie was one of a kind because, like you said, it leav es the question of did he or didn’t he and i definitly agree with you that Viola Davis and Meryl Streep’s scene together was a key part in the movie i also thought at the end where Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are sitting at the bench and Meryl says she has doubts and is crying i feel that scene was a great factor in the movie as well. It actually gave me even more respect for women and men of the cloth and encouraging me to do more research into the life as a nun.
jean April 19, 2009 at 7:29 am
JD – I love the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. I keep hoping for an SBS Nunday Nun. Jean
Joan April 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm
I watched “Doubt” yesterday, for the first time, but not the last. Loved it! I am a product of 13 years of Catholic school from 1948-1961, with the wonderful Sisters of Mercy in New England.
My initial impression was that Sister Aloysius was the heroine of the movie. She would need great strength to confront a priest in that day and age, I would think. I thought Meryl Streep was totally believable in the roll. I’m sorry that she didn’t win the Oscar for her performance.
I really enjoyed reading all of the opinions stated here. Makes me want to see the movie again, even more. . . to look for all the things I may have missed the first time.
Thanks for all the input. God bless!
Irene April 21, 2009 at 11:04 am
Meryl Streep did win the Oscar for her performance in Doubt.
I liked this movie very much. Great performances by all.
Moushir April 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm
Of Course he did it! Why else he chooses to leave the church!
Nique April 28, 2009 at 12:02 am
And, by the way, don’t doubt. Don’t doubt your own actions. Live by faith and let God do the actions. Let him continue to use you in his service for right and let his word continue to be your guide.
Nique April 27, 2009 at 11:41 pm
April 28, 2009,
I just finished watching “Doubt” and it was so good, that I had to Google more critics about the story just to talk about it because it was great!!! Two thumb and two toes up!!! It is amazing how this movie pertrays our very own minds and how each day we are faced with the biggest responsibility of all, free will. The script was very well written as if a true story being told, but at the same time, it leaves openess for different possibilities, self evaluation and moral judgement.
The script was so well written that even the wind plays a signigicant role as a forshadow. A good question to think about is, “What did the wind mean”? Another good question to ask, “when we feel something in our hearts, do we trust that faith in what we believe to dictate our actions”? Others may call that faith emotion, but I think thats only if we let that faith to dictate what we feel. It just all depends on how deep your faith is I guess.
By the way, I love you Meryl Streep! You are a great actress and on the screen you are so true what you pretray and yet you have fun. I love your emotions and how you can feed off others’ characters to make your character and your mind stand out. I believed in your role. It was awesome. You are an award just to be here on earth. This role shows the world that you are experienced as a well endowed actor or should I say actress. By the way Sister, I loved you in “The Devil Wears Prada”.
Peace, Love and God,
Timothy May 2, 2009 at 6:40 am
I absolutely love this movie and have seen it several times! I grew up in Catholic school during these times and I must say that the nuns were worse than portrayed in this move. I was taught by BVM’s and they were incredibly strict and physical. I know those were different times. I remember being slapped across the face by a nun and when I went home and told my mother her response was”you had it coming”. I am no way being critical as I received a great education resulting from the “fear” that was imposed. There certainly wasn’t any commotion in the classrooms.
Ironically, I work for a Catholic school today as the business manager. How nuns have changed and especially parents, and I am not sure it is in a good way. I feel we need a little more of Meryl Streep’s character back in our schools.
I do have a question after all that rambling. I work for a Sister of Mercy, what is the difference between the Sisters Of Mercy and the order in the movie?
Mary May 5, 2009 at 9:31 am
Watching Sr. Aloysius in Doubt sent me back to my childhood. I was educated in the Catholic schools of NYC in grammer school by Dominican nuns then Christian Charity and finally Sister of Charity in HS. Meryl Streep was amazing. She captured the entire flavor of nuns in the catholic school system. More to the point was certainty than her doubt. She was certain of the sin. The doubt was in her faith. I too as the author was given a tremendous education by all of the wonderful nuns that served the catholic schools in the NY area and I thank them deeply.
Bill Gasparik May 9, 2009 at 9:16 am
I have just watched the movie Doubt and boy did it bring back memories. Went to Catholic grammar/High schools. Sister’s of Mercy and the Christian Brothers were my teachers, disiplinaries, and mentor’s. I got drafted into the Army in 1969. Had the same experience with drill sargeants and officers in the military. You realize after your experience with discipline, that all these people had to have a tough side. I am very grateful to my teachers and drill sargeants for making me a better person. My hat goes off to Sr. Aloysius for standing her ground in changing times. The children came first in her life. Just the fact that she took on the priest was in itself a great accomplishment. Great movie and fantastic acting that will stick in my mind for along time.
Barb May 11, 2009 at 9:45 am
I rented the movie and my husband and I watched it twice. We remember our Catholic up bringing in the schools and it was right on. We remember when one of the altar boys wasn’t ringing the bells loud enough our parish priest kicked him.
I think Sr. A felt doubt about herself, her religion, and could she stay committed to her vows. Isn’t it true there are times we all doubt what we believe in? I think she felt she protected this child, took on the priest and made him leave, but in the end he got promoted. When she brought out her hand with the crucifix in it, there was her doubt about her God. Did he forsake her?
What a powerful movie. What was so great about the whole movie was no nudity. We got the message w/o showing us everything. No swearing.
Sparrow May 14, 2009 at 3:11 pm
Fantastic movie! … and great discussions. All of the characters were superb actors. Meryl Streep is a pro, perhaps the best actress of not only her own, but several generations. I too saw her character as a bit of a bully, but not for the same reasons as cited – perhaps like many women, she was resentful of the role they were forced to play within the Catholic faith — the man was important, never the woman. Women vacuumed and did the alter flowers and ate gristly meals, while the men wore beautiful robes, were at the center of everything…….. and ate well. How could any intelligent woman not see the unfairness of this? Could this not produce such a hardness as we saw in Sr Aloysius? I saw Father Flynn as a very compassionate man with a lot of empathy for Donald ….. I don’t think that necessarily means it was anything but just that – compassion. Perhaps the sisters of that era who were so tightly bound by church restrictions, had to develop ways to vent. Some of Sr Aloysius resentment towards Father may have had roots in the privileges he enjoyed vs. those she didn’t. Who could blame her? The homily about gossip and feathers floating was superb ….. I rewound the DVD several times to watch it. Sr James was breathtaking! What a great sequel to see all these fantastic people 20 years older and where Life took them on their journeys.
Nic May 16, 2009 at 8:07 pm
My appreciation to A Nuns Life for this discussion; most of what I have read has been quite interesting and as others have stated we all gleaned something different from the film. Perhaps what we saw was tainted by our own perceptions or experiences, those who judged Sr. A harshness experienced something similar while those who defended her or the portrayal as being “concerned” needed to believe that was her intent.
I saw Father Flynn as being a man of faith with a sincere understanding of Christ’ message of love and tolerance. Was he gay? Probably. Was he a pedophile? Probably not. I believe his initial confrontation in her office was not to protect his sexual identity, but that of the boy, because as someone else stated he recognized the Donald’s sexual identification. I believe given the period that he didn’t want that revealed to anyone in the school fearing a judgmental retaliation. Remember what happened to children who were left handed in Catholic schools; they were retrained to write with there right hand.
I thought the message of the sermon regarding “gossip” was very poignant and something we should all regard. Once doubts are stated and spread, it is hard to recall them. I am reminded of the McMartin Pre-School incident in California. The owners reputation as well as those of her employees were ruined, because someone believed some of the children had been abused. I knew a psychologist who interviewed those children and the questions that were asked; they were leading and meant to elicit one response just as Sr. A’s questions of all involved were.
She admitted lying about the call to another parish, she admitted fabricating a situation that would ruin the character of a Priest and possibly a student. She was not acting in any way like Christ/God would have expected. She admitted to Father Flynn that she had “made a mistake” in her past, but found absolution in the confessional; yet she would deny him that same comfort.
Many who read what is written on this site will disagree with one persons take or another persons take; we can all agree it was a well done , thought provoking movie. We can also probably agree that unsubstantiated self certainty, may also be self deception or prejudice which is best left to ignorant minds. Thank you again.
burundanga May 17, 2009 at 8:19 am
Great movie! It reminded me of my younger years under Jesuit tutelage.
Anyway, most people in this forum mention that at the end, the crisis of Sr Aloysious is because of her lack of faith in the church. I think she had none of it already. In the middle of the movie, when she decides ( in a dialog with Sr. James ) to take down Father Flynn, she says:”go to the bishop? no, the church is directed by men, we have to do it ourselves”. That clearly shows where she stood with the subject.
Therefore her crisis at the end, I think, is because how Father Flynn moving to another parish with a promotion, to cause more harm to children, can fit into God’s plan? She is confronted with two thoughts: God is nuts or he simply doesn’t exists. Tough picks for the poor nun.
geroge May 27, 2009 at 12:41 am
guys, the whole thing was about doubt, it was all summurized in the first speech the preist gave…he doubts things and needs to do new things that would make his life more balanced, so he doubts the old and trying to fight it, and same goes with the nun, i think she’s forced to do things she doesnt want to do, and this makes the feeling of doubt inside her grows but never shows under her cold face. when she said that “men can do anything and men are dominating our lives etccc…” that was a clear motive for her to oppose the preist and fight him with all the strength she got” …as we see, its not fighting for justice nor truth, its nothing but hidden purposes that show up when theres a reason for it to show.
Rose May 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm
Hello fellow fans of DOUBT. The large rosary is worn on the belt of the Nun’s habit. The front side of the cross has the crucified Christ. The back side has the crown of thorns. Some Nuns also wear a smaller version of this cross on a cord around the neck.
The sight of the back side of the cross may be a sign of ‘doubt’ by Sr. A.
The entire movie brought back many memories of my Catholic schooling from the early 40′s – 50′s. Great memories of CDP Sisters.
Carolyn May 31, 2009 at 1:46 pm
My junior year of high school was spent at an all girls Catholic school in Indianapolis, Indiana. But I am not of the Catholic faith. Many things that I saw during that movie concerned me. The one that bothered me the most was the pre-judgemental attitude of the Mother Superior/Principal. In my own experience, that seemed to be the attitude of most most Mother Superiors up until the late 1970′s. I worried about the message Catholics and non-catholics alike will draw from the movie. I think think the screenwtiter did an excellent job.
Christopher June 2, 2009 at 3:21 am
I was wondering why at the end of the movie, did she break down and cry “I have doubts”. Was it because the priest was basically promoted to a better position in a new school?
alice June 18, 2009 at 6:45 am
I watched Doubt last night and was looking on line to answer some lingering questions. I was born in 1953 which makes this film’s setting absolutely familiar to me. I attended a Sister’s of Charity grade school in Chicago. The habit was quite different, however.
I have enjoyed the comments I have read, but I have one remaining question about the authenticity of the story. It is hard for me to believe that a nun in 1964 would have had any consciousness about homosexuality or child abuse, especially with a priest involved. In those days, priests walked on water.
Maybe it’s because I was just too young to be aware of such things, but homosexuality just never crossed my radar screen in 1964.
Larry June 29, 2009 at 6:24 pm
In pursuing wrongdoing, one steps away from God. Of course, we know God would turn the other cheek.
linda July 8, 2009 at 1:36 am
I tend to think Fr. Flynn was gay and that’s why he told Donald, “We’re the same.” Maybe he was chaste, maybe he had a past indiscretion with an adult. Maybe that’s what he didn’ t want revealed. I don’ t think anything happened with Donald or any other boy. I think the doubt Sr. A. felt at the end was a result of her own sin for lying and manipulating. Maybe she was abused by a priest…she made a reference to a priest in another parish but never elaborated. She sure didn’t like men too much. Also, I thought she just wanted him out because he contradicted her rigid, unbending ways. And by ‘rigid, unbending ways’, I’m not referring to Church Teaching. I’m talking about how we interact with each other. Can’t we follow Church teachings AND be friendly and compassionate? Sr. A. and Fr. Flynn seem to have different opinions on that one. BUT…we’ll never know for sure. All speculations.
Maria July 10, 2009 at 11:47 pm
Just saw the movie on DVD and am a bit confused. Throughout the movie I kept thinking that Fr. Flynn was covering for another priests and/or priests – that they may have been the culprits. (This analysis I got from watching the scene with the priests drinking, smoking and laughing). The lightbulb scene was very interesting. Notice the bulb “blows” when Fr. Flynn and Sr. James both believe HE is innocent. It’s like a wake-up call saying “no – he’s not totally innocent.” If you notice when the mother of boy comes in – Sr. A is changing the bulb referring that the “light” will not shed the truth.
Sister Julie July 11, 2009 at 7:11 am
Interesting observations, Maria. I couldn’t quite figure out the light bulb thing — I like your interpretation.
Maria July 15, 2009 at 12:12 am
I meant to type “when the boys mother comes in – Sister A is changing the light bulb suggesting that the mom’s answers to Sister A’s questioning will now “shed light on the situation”. (Which in fact Mrs. Miller’s conversation with Sr. A is the turning point of the movie and does “somewhat” shed some light on the situation with the boy.
Nicholas July 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm
There is no doubt in my mind that the Father Flynn was guilty. There was just too much circumstanstial evidence not to believe that it was him. I was also approached by someone in the church. I can relate.
charlie July 19, 2009 at 9:33 pm
great movie, I am a quaker so have strong sense of the struggle against authority but have worked with many compassionate catholics sr Prejean in Louisiana for one.
i think this movie has as much maybe more to do with art and metaphore than catholic, pedophile, or homosexuality ( which i do believe is what Fr Flynn is afraid (fear) will be expose.
Streep is wonderful in this role. Very convincing of her commitments.
People should google father flynn and james joyce. I believe that Shandley is making reference to Joyce’s Dubliners. There is a strong visual imagery in the film itself. Joyce struggled with the contrast in visual and oral literate imagery and used Father Flynn as a figure as well as flowers and the repressive nature of some aspects of catholicism.
Peace Pax Hoa Binh
John July 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm
In regard to the crucifix concealed in the sleeve of Sr. A’s habit: A crucifix, used within the Catholic church, has the body of Jesus affixed. The cross, used within many Protestant religions, does not depict the body of Jesus. I think Sr. A’s revealing the reverse of her crucifix symbolized her “doubt” of the Catholic church, particularly the way in which the American church handled the problem of pedophilia by moving and promoting offending priests.
Brooke July 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm
How amazing that this discussion is continuing and taking on a life of its own…I just googled the movie title after watching it on DVD because I had so many questions myself, and have found some wonderful interpretations here. So true that doubt keeps us awake at night as we battle with our “certainties” in the face of falsehood which is so very convincing. Yes, we take a step away from God in the sense that we are corrupted by what we have to delve into to understand and fight. I’m now convinced, however, that it is God’s battle, and His victory, as long as we are willing to stand up aginst evil. We work on God’s behalf…or do we, if we are wrong? ” satan is the father of all lies”, and in the end, a small sad irony is that Sister Aloysius lies to catch the Priest…has she delved into the realm of falsehood to do what she thinks is right? A moral twist, and surely part of what plagues her conscience. And, also, I’ve noticed that lights often flicker or go out in the presence of a lie. weird.
jean July 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm
Still thinking about “Doubt”
“There are three of us in this room. One of us is not telling the truth. And it is not God or me”.
I remember someone telling me that they or some other counselor they knew used that line in counseling or therapy. I was stunned, as a mental health professional and as a human being, by what I perceived as the psychological bullying inherent in such a statement by any human being. It struck me in the same way that I was struck and repulsed by Sister Aloysius’ absolute certainty in her own intuition and judgment (which is not at all the same thing as conviction), a certainty that lacked all humility, the humility that requires that we doubt our own certainties about other human beings.
Susan July 26, 2009 at 7:41 pm
I am not a Catholic, but I am the daughter of a third grade teacher… and my mother and I just watched this movie together.
We have been talking about it for hours, and finally, I looked it up on the web to see what others thought about it, and was thrilled to find this discussion.
Sisters, while I have almost no exposure to nuns (Card-carrying Unitarian, here!) or to the Catholic faith, I have greatly enjoyed reading your views on the film, and on Sr. Aloysius, and the other characters.
I found it interesting to read the commentary about the “stereotypical nun” as portrayed in so much of our media– as an outsider, I can say that is something I never thought about, but I will consider it more carefully. I will now look at nuns differently. Your role is obviously more demanding than I ever knew!
I personally found myself drawn to Sr. Aloysius’ character. As the daughter of a teacher, I think caring for those who can not care for themselves, or, for those who are victimized, is a difficult challenge… We are forced to make judgements without the benefit of omniscience.
Again, Sisters, I greatly appreciate being able to read along with you, and admire your candor. This film and discussion has made me think a great deal more about my faith, and my humanity. Thank you!
NCR July 28, 2009 at 12:12 am
I spent some time in Catholic school, but my children were raised by the Salesian sisters throughout their elementary and middle school years and I love those sisters so much. They are wonderful people and I feel blessed to have had their influence in the raising of my children.
I walked away from the movie with my own doubts about whether or not the priest molested the boys, and I have to admit that I didn’t pick up half of the interesting nuances or interpretations that have been presented here. But what I did take away from the film was the reality that, where children are concerned, it only takes mere doubts for a mother (or in this case a mother superior) to go on the defensive.
If my neighbor were accused of such wrongdoing, I wouldn’t allow him (or her ) access to my children regardless of what a court of law determined. The mere “feathers” would be enough for me to look accusingly forevermore. Perhaps that is my “step away from God” but it would be a necessary step in order to ensure the protection of my children. After all, the only judge that matters is God and he sees and knows all, so who cares if I am wrong? My children are my only concern and I have to react in a way that most assuredly protects them — even if it is unfair to my neighbor.
(I love this forum.)
jean September 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm
Something just dawned on me. Father Flynn told Sister James, as they sat in the courtyard, that the flowers in his Liturgy of the Hours re-called Springtime to his mind and spirit. Many refer to Vatican II as a Springtime in the Church (I am thinking, too, of the use of “Prague Spring” to describe the 1968 renaissance of that city and people and that “inbreaking of the [people's] spirit”, even after decades of repression). When Father Flynn left his resignation on Sister A’s desk, he left behind two of the flowers. It occurred to me that this might have been an act of generosity to the very fearful person Sister A proved herself to be: perhaps the flowers were a gift of the fragile yet irrepressible New Life, of the return of faith as Winter’s doubt gives way to Spring’s hope, to Summer’s bounty, to Autumn’s faith and the seasons of Atonement, Thanksgiving and
I have been thinking a lot lately about the lesson of Jesus and the tax collector, the woman who asked of Jesus the dog’s leavings from the table, the Centurion…………….all the friends of Christ who appeared, through the eyes of men and women, as enemies.
nancy November 25, 2009 at 12:20 am
I just watched the movie Doubt, so glad I found this site, I also went to a catholic school, sisters of Mercy, wow, most of them sure didn’t show any mercy, they were tough, and you didn’t question the priests back then. The movie was great and leaves a lot to the person watching it to figure out what they want to take away from it, amazing how many different points of view on here.
Carol Marsh December 17, 2009 at 10:46 pm
I thought the film “Doubt,” which I’ve just seen for the first time on DVD, is very slick propaganda in defense of the indefensible in the Catholic Church. The real world fact is that a large number of priests in the United States and Ireland and no doubt elsewhere have molested a much larger number of children, criminally and coercively and to the destruction of those children’s lives. That is uncontrovertible fact, established over and over by independent investigations and in court. This movie makes a nun the villain, makes the priest the victim, and leaves the audience wondering whether this is the real explanation for the entire scandal. It’s brilliant, and diabolical.
Marietjie December 30, 2009 at 5:05 pm
I thought that Amy Adams was simply wonderful as Sr James, and that she served as the real counterpart to the priest. Her honesty and courage in speaking the truth (even though this was difficult for her, as an extremely kind and thoughtful human being), stood in stark contrast to the priest’s impenetrability. I thought he came across as a kind of person who would do well in PR, and that his out-there’kindness’ was fake; he did not really have the wellbeing of the children at heart. He encourages the little precocious girl to confess to her ‘boyfriend’ that she is in love – as against this, Sr Aloysius fears for the child and asks Sr Adams to keep her ‘intact’.
michael kay February 8, 2010 at 9:21 pm
Although I am Jewish, I found the character portrayal phenominal. I do question why Father Flynn does not discuss any of the prejudice Donald experiences, although he seems well aware of it. To me he seems to act more like a fatherly figure, particularly when he gives Donald the toy. Unfortunately, in current times the inundation of cases of abuse in the Catholic Church may subconsciously create doubt about Father Flynn’s actions. One question still haunts me, that being the Father’s desire to keep his finger nails long. If anyone has a valid point about this bit of symbolism, I would greatly appreciate any views.
JG February 10, 2010 at 12:35 am
I just watched the movie. I think it did a good job of defining the problems that anyone who watches TV or reads the news already knows exists. Another priest shuffled off to another congregation without a full investigation of why he was asked to leave or forced to leave was disturbing. Think perhaps the movie and the characters were “too real” for me. I’ve already kept track of the real life version that lead nowhere…didn’t need to go there again.
michael kay February 10, 2010 at 11:46 pm
JG: I empathize with your feelings and feel you are right on target with your observation about the “real life” problem that the media has driven home about abuse in the Catholic Church. Simply told by the movie title there was not going to be a clear answer to the aspersions cast upon Father Flynn. Nevertheless, the character portrayals were excellent, I particularly liked the dialogue between Ms. Streep and the actress playing Donald’s mother. It was brutally honest and showed how deeply Donald’s mom looked out for her son’s future primarily swayed by the beatings doled out by the boy’s father. In summation I was very moved by the picture.
Angela February 17, 2010 at 6:04 pm
I just watched this film for the 2nd time and began to search for a real story behind the film. I found this site and read through most of the postings. I must say that I am very impressed with the sisters’ open-minded take on the film. I was raised Catholic, and many times in life I have found myself pulling away from the church, mostly because of the one-sided views I have seen from devout people. I think this was definitely a film that was meant to be seen from a certain point of view; that is, the point of view of any person without all the facts. It’s a cynical world. In the end, what we ultimately end up taking away, may be colored differently for each of us, based on our own experiences. I agree with the people who said the last seen was the most powerful. It really brought to mind so many thoughts. When Streep talks of her doubt, we can assume she is speaking of doubting her faith, the church, her fellow man, herself. That ending seen made me feel compassion for the character whether her intentions helped to remove a harmful priest from the church, or whether it was an over reaction. I also got the impression that Streep’s character suspected Fr. Flynn as being homosexual. That means something different in this day and age. Back then, from ignorance, she may have thought that enough to consider him a deviant in her eyes. The church still does not condone homosexuality. This was an excellent film.
Amanda E. February 26, 2010 at 9:08 am
Well, okay. I just read to about the 100th comment, and have decided to bookmark the site and come back to read the rest later, but I just wanted to join in on the discussion. I am a pagan ( and as far as I can tell probably the first and only to join in on this page and talk about the movie. ) First, I would like to say I thought the movie was phenomenal! The acting was superb, and it really leaves you with alot to think about. Also, I would like to say that I am not ignorant to christian or catholic beliefs/pratices as I was raised a christian, and ( contrary to what is believed to be ” allowed ” ) I still have many christian beliefs myself. Anyway, what I believe isn’t the point of the discussion.
I agree strongly with Ena. When she talked about the flowers and what the represented. I would have never thought of that myself and I am glad that was brought to the table.
I also think that Father Flynn was a gay man, and I believe thats what he was referencing when Sr. A told him if he wouldnt leave her office then she would, and she wouldnt stop and then he called her back. He said something to the effect of not being able to fully explain himself to her but hoping she would just try to understand even though she has her certainty or something like that. Im sure you all know what sceen I am talking about. I am not fully convinced that he was molesting or doing anything really with the boy, other than being a companion and someone the boy could talk to that would understand him. I felt so sorry for the black boy durring the sermon at the end when the father anounced he was leaving. I agree with someone else that said ” I wouldnt be crying if my molestor was leaving ” He was sad because the only person who understood him, or stood up for him was going away. And I REALLy feel for his mother as well. Being a mom myself, I cant imagine what she had to be going through. All she knew was one thing, and that was she wanted to protect her sons LIFE no matter what the cost. If I knew no other way to protect my children, I would have done the same thing.
I think that Sr. A’s ” doubt ” at the end of the film was about weather she had done the right thing, and weather Father Flynn was truly guilty or not. That was my gut feeling anyway, although many of you have also brought up some very insighfull thoughts on that as well. I do believe she has A LOT to question as far as her life, and the lives of those around her.. the church… things she couldnt understand. Whew, there was just a lot to chew on with this film. Im really glad I got the chance to see it, and I am deffinatly going to watch it again.
Oh yeah, and on a side note. I think the blonde boy may have been happy that the Father was leaving just because he was being a typical stubborn misbehaved brat of a kid that didnt like anyone of authority telling him what to do and was glad that the Father was leaving because it ” served him right ” so to speak. Does that make sense? I believe that if he had truly been approaced by the Father in a sexual manor, his look wouldnt have been so synical and ” haha serves you right “… you know? I think it would have been a look of relief.
Anyway, thank you to everyone for all of your incredibly insightfull comments and takes on this movie. I have enjoyed everyones points of views.
Humphrey March 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm
Wonderful film. Went online directly afterwards, needing to understand more. To my mind, there is no doubt that Fr. Flynn is guilty of molesting the child – all the signposts have been listed above. He is clearly not merely/only a misunderstood reformer. As far as the right or wrongness of his actions go, that he may be gay is a red herring – the relationship that he participates in is an inappropriate one. The doubt of the film title is not our doubt over the fact of his act, but Fr. Flynn’s doubt, and the final doubt of Sr. Aloysius. The sermon at the beginning is the key to the film. Doubt is the shared characteristic that brings humans together in empathy. For Fr. Flynn, doubt is the mechanism by which he has been bought to sin, and the means by which he rationalises and justifies to himself his actions – actions that he may not have control over. He is lost in a world of doubt. Sr. Aloysius doubts her own intuition at the end, and probably everything else too, which makes her composure and pursuit of the correct path all the more heroic, for it is testament to the fact that she acts from an effort of the will guided by her inner conscience alone – that is, she doubts from a position of faith. For her it is a glimpse into the complexities of the human soul, and it brings her into empathy with the ‘fallen’ priest. This is why she cannot bring herself to do more than move him on, protecting only her own given flock – even though she could have ruined his good name in the way she threatened to in order to extract his confession. These two protagonists are not equivalent, although the ending invites us to compare them and to love them both as human beings. For Sr. Aloysius has sinned, confessed, and sinned no more, but Fr. Flynn has never ceased to sin, and is constitutionally unable to feel regret about his actions, essential for a true confession. This makes him a victim, worthy of compassion, but no less dangerous to children for it.
One last thing. For me the lightbulb breaking was a signposting by the author similar to the crowing of the cockerel in the Bible when Peter denies his knowledge of/belief in Christ 3 times. People are living in a state of self-denial, every time they are asked to confess or face the facts/truth, but fail to do so. As Sr. Aloysius asks – why is he even a priest? He’s in the wrong job – and unfortunately as we know, not the only one.
San Diego Ex Catholic April 26, 2010 at 3:03 am
The movie is not plausible for one major reason. There is no way that a woman in Sr. Aloysius’s position would have been able to ‘push the envelope’ that hard…..not at that time/place/date in history. I was raised an RC, (thankfully, now an Episcopalian), during that time period. The case I make with my friends who saw this with me, is that my mouth was on the floor in disbelief for half the movie, and almost 100% of the time during the major argument scene between priest and principal. This kind of behavior would have never happened in reality. (Needless to say that if that happened today, (yes, even with the exposure of pedophilia priests), it would have been grounds for dozens of lawsuits). On a personal note, anyone who sees Sr. Aloysius as a pure heroine is probably an individual who thinks the ends justify the means. Sr. A lied, committed a mortal sin, and played the oldest game of calling one’s bluff, (and still not getting the truth). This is a noble character?! I personally cannot stand these type of people, to be honest. And they are out there. Do not judge yourself to be the speaker of Truth, unless you are sure you are without a shadow of ‘doubt’.
Maria May 2, 2010 at 7:34 pm
I’ve read many of the comments regarding Doubt and also find interesting the great variety of views. I am a very devoted Roman Catholic who loves the rich tradition of our Church, but also has seen a great need for renewal.
One thing that I haven’t read yet that has been significant to me in watching the film is that I didn’t see Sr. A as a happy person at all. I think there was a lot that needed to happen inside of her in order for her to be happy in her vocation. I know often, for some, that was the way religious life was in years past, but I can’t imagine that she ever really encountered the profound love of Jesus in a personal way. If she had I think she would have a very different approach in forming the young. Possibly like that of St. John Bosco or something similar. He didn’t lose himself in his students, but they always experienced love from him even if he had to be harsh.
In that sense I can see where Fr. Flynn was coming from when he spoke of needing to be more human. There has been a need in the Church for many to take on more a “heart of flesh”… to open the windows and let in the Holy Spirit, as Vatican II was meant to do.
I think there can be great confusion in the human heart when there is a lack of human/spiritual integration and healthy emotional development and maturity in a person. And I believe this was all coming out at the end with Sr. A in her outbreak of “doubt”…
K May 22, 2010 at 9:34 pm
Confessions to a confessor are private. Telling a mortal sin to a confessor won’t yield any mortal consequences, just get you on the road to absolution. A priest can’t say to a Bishop Father so and so did this if he heard about it in confession. That goes for any sin confessed by anyone.
The mom and dad and son were not going to be a complaining witness. What school district can fire a teacher when there is no complaining victim, parents and no eye witness? Likely this Priest was challenged and not unlike is parish no parent wanted their family exposed to the criticism or had no knowledge. In today’s world the principal or Priest would have called CPS on the dad as well.
To sin is to turn away from God. Lying is a sin. Funny how she said in the pursuit of wrongdoing.. It sounded like substitution to me.
The other boy who stood up for Donald in Sisters James class and ended in the principals office I think knew the Priest was doing something with Donald and trying to help him in other ways. Maybe cause he was also approached? Also that remark in the hall, though I am not sure what was said.
No idea about the doubt at the end. I wonder why she stopped and didn’t go all the way to the Bishop?
I took the married thing to mean she was more aware of the subtle signs of sexual interest than a young nun. Maybe contrasting why one sister suspected and another didn’t.
The undershirt was a huge red flag.
Who sent Sister James to her brother? I thought most nuns of the time couldn’t make such visits to family?
Priests don’t take the same poverty vows nuns do.
I thought it odd the tabernacle was covered during his speaking to the parishioners. Also some strange ‘signs of the cross’ from some of the
I also think Sister James was singling out Donald that day in class because of the trouble with the principal and Father. Blaming the victim? Perhaps concern over her brother? Loved the kid being sent back to class when she was already meeting with the mom.
Loved the movie. Acted well.
Keith Murray May 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm
The Two Flowers. Fr. Flynn’s character represents an archetypal union of opposites, with Sr. Aloysius as his antithesis. This symbolism is pervasive throughout the film, including its intentionally drab colors (notice that his clerical robes are green, the color of living things, whereas her habit is black and matches most of the surroundings). He is not afraid to stand in contrast to what Peter Marks calls “the kind of rigid moral authoritarianism that elements in a changing American church seek to tone down”. Interestingly, this willingness to stick up for something even if it offends is shared by Sr. Aloysius. A telling symbol is given in the two dinner tables, one so somber that Sr. James is afraid not to eat even an unpalatable bit of food, whereas the priests sit around telling raucous jokes. The flowers as symbols of Spring represent life, which comes after the deadness of winter, that is, something new or radical being born out of a frozenness which inhibits life and its impulses – humanism emerging from theology, perhaps. At the end, the flowers symbolize Fr. Flynn’s regret at the insoluble conflict: the pale (pink/white) flower is “above” the red flower, as the Holy Spirit is above the passions of the flesh. The symbolic dichotomy of red and white is an ancient one, figuring in Alchemy, the Grail Romances, and even certain Indo-Tibetan symbolism. What is imperative is not the definite superiority of the white over the red, but the ambiguity whereby the “life” whose beating pulse is passionate and creative (as opposed to the virginal chastity/sterility symbolized by the brides of Christ) also happens to share its name with the Life which is granted man in his humanity by God who, through Jesus (the way, the truth and the life, the life that is the light of men, the living bread, etc.), heals the schism yawning between above and below. Both characters can be seen in either a redeeming or non-redeeming light, depending on the degree to which either doubt or certainty gains “the upper hand”.
Cowboy Mark August 29, 2010 at 6:03 am
I just watched this movie with a devout Baptist friend, I was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools in the 1960s and 1970s. It brought back many memories of the strict disciplinarian nuns. I must say that the media’s portrayal of strict and harsh nuns can be unfair. Back then, there was a “method to the madness”. For myself and for many others, I can honestly say — it worked. The fear of God, pain of Mortal Sin and submission to authority gave me a “moral compass” that has kept me on the right track all of my life. In the “anything goes” society that we now live in where the consensus is “if it feels good, do it” many of us look back at our Catholic upbringing and count our blessings. From a lifelong Catholic and Officer, Knights of Columbus 4th Degree.
Rose September 2, 2010 at 1:55 am
Three flowers. Two completed, but the third… that’s the one that got away. It’s as simple as that.
AngelofLight September 5, 2010 at 4:54 pm
I just finished reading all your comments. I notice the time frame and find it interesting that there is a poster before me on this subject who watched this movie also only recently.
I can relate to the secrecy of the priests having experienced the lack of answers to questions by avoidance for the years, I was in the Roman Catholic faith. I still consider my self Roman Catholic but can not defend the church.
Though there were questions. There were answers too. Sr. James for me represented the oh well everything is ok. We make mistakes lets not topple the apple cart and all will be well. She saw the t-shirt going in to the locker. She also knew that children wore their street clothes under their cassocks. She in her young and youthful state did not feel she could make a stand after all she was taught to be obedient. I can relate to her. It was in her stand to be first noticing and stepping back that created the struggle that Sr. A was faced with despite what she saw and what she had to do as an administrator.
They may be on track with the flowers. Otherwise he would have left three and not two. Blond bully, yes Finger nails gay…no. Flicking on the hand could mean power over you as an adult. On target with the reference to the discussion in the office towards the end. Had he been demoted then…there would have been questions the church could not answer or defend and larger issue would have to be discussed and as we all know. It took a lot to get those situations to be brought out in public. Light bulb light of truth. Wind, wind of change as in just one more person wanting this terrible secrecy to come out. With each wind more information, more truth,more speculation more people start to talk.