Tomorrow (Thursday) A Nun’s Life is hosting a blog discussion on the move Doubt from 2-4 p.m. EST. The Sisters of Charity of New York will be joining us to discuss the movie with us.
I wanted to offer a few of my thoughts and questions regarding the movie Doubt but I find that my time is running out as I must get to the airport momentarily to fly from San Francisco to Detroit. So instead, I’m turning to Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. She is the author of the blog Sr. Rose Goes to the Movies.
Sister Rose wrote a thoughtful review of Doubt the Movie. Here’s a short excerpt but be sure to read the whole thing.
The atmosphere of the film is cold and stark: December in a frozen, urban landscape is bleak. The emotional, rational, spiritual state of doubt can be chilly: a dark night of the soul, the revelation or realization of doubt, that makes us take action and ask questions, that challenges the comfort of our certainty, is a cold, and at times, lonely journey.
As the writings of St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and Mother Teresa attest, doubt happens, and however painful, can be a source of honesty and ultimately, spiritual growth.
The United States Catholic Bishops also has a review of Doubt the Movie.
You can also get a copy of the original play Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley.
Jen January 7, 2009 at 10:15 am
At first i wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it. Now I’m not so sure I don’t want to see it.
Sister Florence January 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm
Is the Movie doubt based on a true story? The sisters here at the Monastery have been asking that question.
Linda January 11, 2009 at 3:22 am
I have just seen the movie Doubt and wondered also if it was based on a true story. If it is a true story, was there any light shed on the priest’s guilt or innocence?
Sister Julie January 11, 2009 at 3:33 am
My sense is that it is not based on a true story. I’ve not been able to find anything that suggests that. See Sister Regina’s comment above.
Ellen January 18, 2009 at 12:47 pm
I thought it was clumsy and if it was trying to put doubt in viewers’ minds, did not for me. The ending, which I can’t give away, ruined everything. Parts of the movie were riveting, especially the one scene with the boy’s mother. Her aspect on the situation was thought-provoking, and said much about race and the difference between black and white parents ‘ expectations for their children back in 1964. But the director blew it with an ending I just couldn’t buy.
maya January 19, 2009 at 7:46 pm
we just saw the movie and my husband thinks that her doubt was about religion as a whole and i have NO clue what the hell she was in doubt of… i mean she was crying, about what?
jessie January 22, 2009 at 11:58 pm
I think when she said she has doubts she meant … the church system. How he can just go on to another church and be in a new environment with tons of innocent children without being exposed or a slap on the wrists. He got a promotion … I think thats where the director was getting at … that nothing gets done … to save the name of the church. And to this day nothing will get done because everything is so secret or sometimes just looked over and ignored. I have heard of priests who do such things and just get transfered. We had one in my town … yet he got transfered to south america. What is the world coming to?
jessie January 23, 2009 at 12:20 am
I do not want anyone to feel offended by my comment … I was raised catholic all my life … I know I am still young 21 … but I strongly believe in right and wrong … and we as adults should protect children or should I say God’s children in situations like these amongst others. Even if that means having to speak up and stand alone. I would have done the same if I was in the Sisters shoes. I would not expect something like this to just happen. It is a tragedy that some thing like this would ever happen … I don’t believe this was based on a true story. But then again I’m sure something similar has happened which is very sad to think but I myself still have my faith.
Pam January 23, 2009 at 6:21 pm
i agree that the sister’s doubt had to do with her faith in her religious institution. but also, considering that, whether sending the priest away from her watchful eye contributed to future abuses rather that deterring them which was her intent.
Tim January 24, 2009 at 12:44 am
My wife and I just saw the movie tonight. To me the theme of this movie –and indeed our contemporary life in this millenium— is “How do we know what we know?” Today, in this “spiritual low watermark of history,” the ancient wisdom is discounted: the signs of the evidence of good character are forgotten and thus, who to believe, who to trust, who to marry, who to bank with and, indeed, who to vote into public office is impossible to determine. All this and yet—in most cases, the evidence of a person’s past moral failures is available to us and even public record—if we just look. If we are discussing money, a credit report tells instantly and precisely just how trustworthy a person is. But when it comes to bearing false witness, we think a history of lying is no reason question credibility; we should instead follow our gut. I agree with Ellen above: it defies logic that the sister lied her way through the entire film and now suddenly is telling the truth. I suspect that the older nun NOW has major motive to deliver a stunning, heartfelt confession, a real “performance” designed to convince the younger nun that the older nun’s crusade was sincere and thus, forgivable. If the younger nun buys it, she would be unlikely to reveal the lies which so victimized both the father and the young black student.
Brigid February 1, 2009 at 12:48 am
After seeing the movie DOUBT I was left with a feeling that ALL that was so certain in the pre-Vatican 2 catholic world has been and continues to be subject to doubt in today’s world. In those days the idea of a priest doing such a thing was unthinkable. The role of women, especially the submissiveness of the sisters makes Sr. Aloysius suspicions & actions ahead of her time. Racism & sexual preference are understood today in a complete different way than in the 60′s. In all I was struck by the complexities of all of the characters and issues brought forth by Shanley in this movie. Very thought provoking!
discerninglife25 February 1, 2009 at 11:02 am
Was it just me or were all the nuns extremely solemn? I mean there was no smiling at all, if I remember. Now, I think there was that elderly nun who had lost her sight smiled while looking at the nativity, but that was it. Is there a reason why they were portrayed as this? Is it to say that the ways before Vatican II were ways lacking of joyfullness? I mean at the beginning of the movie, the tones of the neighborhoods were quite gray.
Robbie Shafer February 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm
Currently, our theatre group is in rehearsal of the stage version (very close to the film version, but far more stark), and I play Sr Aloysius. This is both a challenge and struggle, simply because there are ‘doubts’ in my own mind regarding her view of men and her struggle to come to terms with her ‘place’ among them. While I truly believe that her motives are genuine (compassion for children and the ‘victimized’) I can’t help but feel that she also sees herself as ‘victim’…thus she pursues Father Flynn with a vengeance. I have to think she has fought her own demons for most of her life. Interesting that she was once married. What would her life have been if he had not died in “the war against Adolf Hitler?”
tnt4him May 26, 2009 at 9:17 am
Being brought up Catholic and now Christian I was fascinated by this movie because the priesthood was always suspiciously moronic to me as a child. The movie was far more dark and depressing then real life in my Catholic upbringing. We didn’t have paint peeling of the walls, but some nuns definitely needed to be feared. They pulled my ears and had sticks for discipline actions. Some priest just didn’t make sense smoking cigarettes and acting unholy. I separated from the Catholic church because I had doubts. They had established more of a organization of religion rather than a understanding to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The founder of the church and main advocate.
Das June 8, 2009 at 7:29 am
I was definately confused by the ending of this movie. What was she doubting? Her certainty that the priest molested the boy, or the church as a whole? When the Pricipal was asked how she knew the priest had done this, she said, “experience”. That was never brought to light. On a better note, I really enjoyed the acting.The movie would have been great all around if there was a finished ending. I doubt there would be a sequal to this, so the producer really could have made a home run with the end of this film. I was scratching my head a little when the credits when up.
cyrus June 12, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Hello, I liked the last scene very much. Sr. James & Sr. Aloyious seemed personifications of Innocence & Experience comforting each other. It was skillfully edited: the camera draws back and away and up before the scene turns schmaltzy. It’s left mysterious what drives Sr. A. to pursue Fr. B’s ouster with such fury. I’m inclined to think that someone took advantage of her emotionally or sexually in her pre-convent life, and she’s still angry about it. I think she weeps at the end of the film because her “victory” over him didn’t really ease her heart or comfort her because he’s not the person who originally wronged her. Even if she’d managed to get him totally disgraced and defrocked and imprisoned — it wouldn’t have changed the past for her.
Gem July 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm
I’ve just watched the film, I agree the ending is a bit unbelievable, I think it would have taken something else for Meryl Streep’s character to have had doubts. I actually thought it was more likely that the Priest was gay and was simply covering up for the boy who was also gay. It would explain why he had to leave his previous parish as I don’t think Catholic Priests are allowed to be gay and he would have had to leave the ministry.
Mike July 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm
The priest agreed to leave quietly because of what he knew would happen if he fought it out at the expense of the boy. The mother had explained the implied violence the boy’s father would do to the child under such a circumstance. What is so unreal about doubt? Isn’t it why Faith is a cardinal virtue to be defended? Sr. Aloysius was defending the faith of the community in the institution with a lie. When she confessed this to Sr. James, she did the very thing she was protecting the institution against. She planted in the young nun that same doubt in the institution she represented.
Lynn August 11, 2009 at 4:39 pm
I’m wondering if anyone would be kind enough to comment on what Sister meant at the end of the movie when she said she has doubts. What did she mean exactly? Doubts about her actions or beliefs?
Lynn August 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm
You see, there’s this part in the movie when the mother of the boy says she’s talking his nature now. And I took that to mean homosexuality. And then there was that part when the younger sister says to Father Flynn, “Love?” And he replies, “Love.” So at the end of the movie, I thought maybe the Sister had doubts that Father Flynn was really trying to help the boy. And then there was that scene about the wind, as if it was coming from some unknown place. So, I suppose I thought the Sister had doubts because she lost her love in a war, and maybe the evil she thought she was trying to fight wasn’t evil at all, but a Father Flynn wanting to be there for a gay male when the world and church would never accept it.
carol November 2, 2009 at 8:06 pm
What religious order was Meryl Streep’s character represent?
Sister Julie November 6, 2009 at 8:43 am
Hi Carol, I believe its the Sisters of Charity of New York.
Carey November 24, 2009 at 11:02 pm
In the end of the movie, S.A looks down at her cross and tells the other sister she has doubts. This is doubt about her faith in Christ and not about the Father molesting the boys. The Father admitted his guilt when he said “wait” to her and said there were even things he could not say or explain. This had nothing to do with protecting the boy. I agree the sister probably had experience with sexual abuse. It was funny to see the blond boy smiling as he knew the Father was leaving- hummm, why would this be? Since obviously he was acting out throughout the film and was the first boy who implanted “doubt” into Sister A.’s mind. The black boy was straight up vulnerable and possibly gay, who knows. Perfect territory for a predator. The father was definitely guilty.
Mickey December 6, 2009 at 3:14 am
Could Sister Aloysius’ doubt at the end of the movie be related to her standing before God, considering her actions with regard to Father Flynn?
irfan@doubt movie December 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm
this movie is very good to watch. good plot story between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. this two cast have movie award before. you will feel doubt about this two characters when you watch.
that make this movie intresting.
Kristin December 28, 2009 at 2:14 pm
I just watched this movie. When it first came out I didn’t want to see it. As strong Catholic I am tired of the bad aura surrounding our church an priests. With everything in the news they bad priests account for about 1% of all priests and no light is ever shed on the 99% of the wonderful priests. I do not think that Father molested the boys in this movie. I think he was upstanding and protecting the boys. In the beginning when Donald says he wants to become a priest, I think that Fr Flynn felt the need to protect him from falling away from the church due to his sexuallity and the other boys in the school. I think that Fr Flynn left because he wasn’t going to reveal anything about the boy regardless of whether or not it would save him. I think that Sister A has doubts because of the changes in the church at that time in history. She was living in the past and not helping the church to move forward. I am strong Catholic and my beliefs are sacred and with the church but I too sometimes think that the Church needs to become more in line with the way the world has changed.
RPatel January 15, 2010 at 2:36 am
I just finished watching the movie, i really liked it, felt frustrated at times b/c you really have to guess at things. but i whole heartedly agree with Carey. i viewed the movie exactly as you did. at tiems i thought maybe he only had a romantically emotional relationship with the boy and not sexual, but when the blond boy smiled at the end convinced me that he did have sexual relations with the boy. why else would that boy have any reason to be happythe priest is gone, especially since he was easy going. my first give away was in the beginning how he snatched his arm away from the father. there were very subtle hints, i’d just say ditto to everything Carey mentioned b/c i don’t want to repeat it again. and yes her doubt i feel is in her faith in god or the way things are and way they are run in the church system.
jill January 16, 2010 at 8:42 pm
I have watched this movie about 5 times and wonder if there is some significance about the appearance of Sr. A’s cross at the end of the movie-she says something about consequences-and is there any significance to the Fr. perhaps obsession with his manicure? I do think the boy was molested by the Father and that his father beat him for an underlying tone of homosexuality INTENSE movie
marla January 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm
i had no doubts, myself, at the end of this movie. sr. aloysius doesn’t seem tortured to me, but dedicated. and fr. flynn left for *some* reason. why respond to what sr. aloysius said if he was innocent?
the interesting thing to me is the reactions here. i can almost pick out who is a conservative catholic and who is a more liberal catholic. it shouldn’t be so easy, especially on such an issue, but i’d lay money on it: my instincts have always been good
Graham January 23, 2010 at 11:59 pm
The obsession with the manicure was just a stereotypical way of telling us that the priest is gay…he’s obsessed with his nails! Just like the comment from Donald at the beginning about looking fat in his clothes…again a stereotypical “gay” comment…I don’t think that the priest abused the boy, merely related to him more than others b/c they have both had to struggle with being gay in the Catholic community..
Cambridge Don January 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm
I have noticed that in most American films there seems to be a cultural preference for neat happy-endings. Certainly judging from many of the comments on “Doubt”, I see that many viewers were left dissatisfied and annoyed by this aspect of the film.
A film entitled “Doubt” could really have no other ending. The film is a metaphor for the value of doubt within religious faith. Since in the absence of empirical certainty to prove the existence of God, there should always remain some elements of doubt within the human mind. While faith serves to bridge the gap between empirical certainty and the belief in God, the element of doubt allows us to critically examine faith so as to avoid the evils of a mind entrenched solely in fanaticism and dogma.
If we look at this film in the context of the revelations of sexual misconduct that have shaken the foundations of the Church in recent years, then it seems natural to conclude that the plot simply involves a heroic, strong-willed nun who must deal on her own terms with a pedophile priest within a male-dominated hierarchy that insulates and protects such predators. There are allusions within the film to support this popular impression, such as the priests dining on rich red meat, smoking and joking in the club-like rectory whilst the nuns are primly supping on vegetarian fare in monastic silence. Also, Mr Hoffman, who plays the offending priest, does have an aura of sleaziness about him and the emphasis on his keeping his fingernails long lends itself to something a bit creepy and out of the norm. (I do not agree with the superficial and rather invidious conclusions of other commentators that this necessarily means that the priest is gay –which by the way does not automatically correspond with pedophilia!) Within the context of all that we now know about the Church and the unpleasant history of institutionalised pedophilia, we are initially led to despise this likely pedophile priest and to side with Sister Aloysius’s in her battle… but in fact, the film is far deeper that would at first glance appear. There are multitudinous shades of grey and we, as an audience, are being challenged to examine our own perspectives and beliefs.
The stern sister’s innate belief in the validity of her suspicions against the priest correspond strongly with her comprehension of her faith and indeed her personal identity. She is utterly dogmatic in all her beliefs, whether regarding the Church, decorum for her nuns, child pedagogy, or even penmanship. She holds even trivial opinions with the same unshakeable vehemence that she holds her Christian faith.
The conflict between the priest and the nun is precipitated by his sermon about doubt. Almost as soon as the topic of this sermon is enunciated, the nun does not seem to be able to sit and concentrate on the content of the sermon, but arises and distractingly begins correcting the slack posture and other superficial misdemeanours of the students in the congregation. Nevertheless, the topic has obviously struck a chord within her since she later disrupts the habitual silence of the nuns’ mealtime by implanting the notion that something is not quite right with the priest and he needs to be watched by the nuns, which later leads the impressionable, eager-to-please young teacher to provide fodder for suspicion against the priest.
Perhaps it was the very fact that the priest stood on the pulpit and admitted the possibility doubt that threatens the very foundations of the sister’s faith and subsequently led to her efforts to depose him. Sister Aloyisus’s entire world-view is based on a highly dogmatic and sanctimonious approach that admits no room for the doubts and uncertainty of a church in the midst of reform. We see later that Sister Aloysius personally dislikes many aspects of this priest– his manicure, his ball point pens, and perhaps most of all, his agreement with the need to reform the the pre-Vatican II Church. Even her impressionable young novice recognises the possibility that this has more to do with her superior’s personal prejudices than the alleged pedophilia. Sister Aloysius likely views this priest as the personification of the perceived threats to her Church and indeed her entire world view.
Sister Aloysius is later convinced that she was right in her accusations against the priest since he resigned in the wake of her direct confrontation and her false allegations of corroborative evidence. Nevertheless, as any good lawyer would recognise, these circumstances do not in fact prove anything. Perhaps the priest finally realised that he was dealing with an irrationally fixated person who was determined to do significant harm to his personal reputation even without evidence, so he merely acquiesced to her demands to avoid incurring personal damage.
Another theme that seemed to crop up was the nun’s resentment towards the male hierarchy in the Church. Obviously she was a strong, dynamic person but found her authority limited to the role of a stern disciplinarian over children and had to defer even her own desk over to the male hierarchy when in their presence. She alluded to other instances of her opinions and authority being disregarded by the male hierarchy. Perhaps this priest was simply a target against which she could unleash her extreme resentment of her male-dominated world?
What is striking about Sister Aloyisius’ behaviour is her lack of any sympathetic contact with the supposedly victimised youth. She does not seek any direct testimony from him to corroborate the circumstantial “evidence” of the priest’s actions, nor does she make any attempt to counsel or provide any support to him as the victim of alleged pedophilia. This alone seems to indicate that she is not so much a concerned advocate and protector of the child, but rather a person using him to promote a vendetta against this particular priest.
When Sister Aloysius attempts to involve the child’s mother in her campaign against the priest, she is shocked by the mother’s unwillingness to support her. The mother instead proposes the radical notion that even if the sister’s accusations of pedophilia are true, they do not outweigh the many positive benefits she has ascertained her son to be receiving from his relationship with the priest. Indeed, she suggests that her son might have been a willing participant in such a liaison. This conversation is staggering in that it introduces completely new dimensions to the oftentimes reactionary popular response to childhood sexuality and pedophilia.
There is nothing in the film that overtly implicates the priest in a pedophilic relationship with the child. We are left to draw our own conclusions based upon the circumstantial evidence gathered from the nun’s perspective. As we can see from the many commentators who believe that this was sufficient to prove the priest’s guilt, the film has succeeded in showing just how easily people can be swayed by circumstantial evidence.
This film affords a profound challenge to examine the rigidity of one’s belief systems. It calls upon us to recognise that even a subject as sensitive as pedophilia is not as black-and-white as one might initially think. The reason Sister Aloyisius breaks down in the end and admits her doubt is because she finally is faced with the awful futility of her dogmatic black-and-white approach to her faith and her life.
Agnostic January 31, 2010 at 5:01 pm
Just saw this film. I really enjoyed it. Quite complex. I also thought that her doubts at the end of the movie was in regards to her faith and not her belief that the priest molested the child. I also believe that the sister may have been a sexual abuse survivor herself. Being a survivor may make her more sensitive to certain nuances- hence her suspicion when she saw the blond boy recoil from the priest.
Eileen February 18, 2010 at 9:21 pm
I enjoyed the movie immensely, her doubts at the end had to do with the consequences of her choices. Sr.A choose to lie so as to get rid of the child molester Priest-instead of trusting in God and being faithful to Him. She turned her back on God-stepped away-as if she was in control of everything. God does not need us to be successful
only faithful to Him (Mother Teresa). NOT to worry she Will regain her faith by confessing her sin at Confession. God always forgives. Hopefully, with God’s help(His Grace in confession) she will trust that goodness and love conquer all. Peace,eileen
nicci February 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm
I just watched the movie for the first time. I enjoyed but had questions at the end. After reading all the blogs on here I have to agree with the ending of what really happened with the priest. I do not believe he molested the boy but do believe he was gay as the young boy was. That is why he said there is so much more to this. I had different ideas but feel this is the one that makes the most sense. During the 60′s this was not even spoken about. He was actually supporting the young boy. thanks, nicci