Monday, September 12, 2011

Doubt: The Foundations of Certainty

Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!

Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty! And armed with that, I will go to your last parish, and the one before that if necessary. I'll find a parent.

What are the consequences of Doubt?

“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley is the film adaptation of the Tony awards grand-slam winner con Pulitzer Prize winning fictional stage play “Doubt: A Parable”. Shanley was born in The Bronx, New York City, to a telephone operator mother and a meat-packer father. He is a graduate of New York University, and a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre. The film was dedicated to Sister Margaret McEntee of the Sisters of Charity of New York who taught John Patrick Shanley in the first grade. He based the character of Sr. James on Sr. Margaret McEntee, who was known as Sr. Marita James when she was his first grade teacher.

Set in the 1964, the film focused in the events in St. Nicholas School, a private Catholic school, where Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) plays the staunch conservative Catholic principal. She is tagged as the “dragon lady” and knows the secret as to why teachers are mistaken (and feared) to have eyes behind their heads. On the contrary, the school also has Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a priest that promotes progressive ideas for the school – such as playing a secular song (Frosty, the Snowman) in their Christmas pageant. And seemingly employed to preempt the eventual clash of the two is the young and innocent Sister James (Amy Adams) who loves teaching and looks up high at Sr. Aloysius as her model.

After being intrigued by Fr. Flynn’s sermon about doubt (“Doubt can be a bond as sustaining as certainty…”) Sr. Aloysius ordered Sister James to watch out for anything unusual involving Fr. Flynn after seeing him in several occasions that have made her doubt about him. After being requested to pull the only African American student, Donald Miller, out of the class for a meeting and after seeing Fr. Flynn stuffing back the same student’s undershirt into his locker, Sister James suspects that there's something odd about Father Brendan and Donald’s relationship. Although Sister James didn't witness any inappropriate behavior, her observations fueled the fire of suspicion already burning in Sister Aloysius.

Sr. Aloysius eventually became successful in forcing Fr. Flynn to resign from the school by her made up phone calls to the latter’s previous schools regarding his “alleged” dark past. She then concludes that one also pays a price in pursuing wrongdoing. Finally, she broke down in tears in the last scene of the film and told Sister James: "I have doubts...I have such doubts."

One of the major themes of the film is the unending battle between conservatism versus change and progressivism. Conservatism, which was first used by François-René de Chateaubriand in 1819 following the French Revolution, promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. While some conservatives aim to safeguard things as they are for stability and continuity, the others dispute change and pushes for returning to the way things were. In political science, it was introduced by Edmund Burke. On the other hand, progressivism is a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action. The movement for progressivism began in the 19th-20th century when workers and reformers aimed to help those who are in harsh conditions at home and at work.

Taking the film literally, the film suggests apology to the issues attached to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC): sexual abuse issues, being one, and conservatism, another. Clearly, Sr. Aloysius was the personification of conservatism in the film while Fr. Flynn, of progressivism. This is particularly true in the 1960s when Pope Paul VI succeeded the deceased Pope John XXIII. The whole RCC was in the state of transition. From being more on the elitist side, the Church in 1960s reached out to the people, to the masses. He then introduced a lot of changes, hence pastoral progressivism. He reduced the Leviathan-like bureaucracy of the RCC and streamlined the positions; he reduced the eligibility age of the candidates for the papal elections; and he replaced the Papal Coronation with Papal Inauguration, among many other reforms.

Another theme that can be deduced from the film is the sufficiency of doubt to make judgments, or better put it, the politics of doubt. The film boasts Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Sr. Aloysius’ stronghold of certainty despite a lack of evidence and despite the fact that it only came from one thing, doubt. From this doubt, she was so paranoid to bring about preemptive actions partly because she “says” she’s concerned about the African American boy’s welfare and partly because he wants Fr. Flynn out of her toes.

Historically, or rather recently, we could recall that the Bush Administration of United States had done a similar thing, a preemptive strike (read: WAR) against Iraq which they have casted their doubts regarding the perpetrators of numerous terrorist attacks against them. This doctrine – the doctrine of Preemptive strike which replaced the doctrine of Cold war – aimed to pulverize the possible threat to their security before they become strong enough to proceed with posing and enacting the threat on them. The anthrax scare, the possession and production of nuclear weapons and othe weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 bombing plus the minor “terrorist attacks” on the US: these were all blamed on the alleged conspiracy of the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. This led to an all-out war, exemplifying unilateralism and militarism against Iraq, and thus killing Hussein in 2006, bin Laden recently and other Iraqis, yes, including innocent lives. However, the judges at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders posed that “to initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulative evil of the whole.”

After this paragraph a line from the story seems to echo, “Doubt can be a bond as sustaining as certainty.”

As a result to the discussion about doubt, if doubt is so powerful that it leads to people claiming their doubt as the truth, that it has its own brand of politics, we face the question how far is doubt from truth? This brings the question as to what defines the Truth. Or rather under what circumstance and indicators –who, what, where, when, how—defines the Truth?

John Patrick Shanley has genius-ly written “Doubt: A Parable” that it won numerous theatre awards, was adapted into film “Doubt” and was nominated several times in prestigious award-giving bodies. Now, we are probably facing the most relevant consequence of the film; for a setting not so distant from the viewers of today, we are bombarded with grand issues and themes that practically encompass much of our daily lives, thanks to the film.

You think Doubt doesn’t have consequences? I doubt it.

- Franco Oliva


Margaret Gallardo said...

Part I

There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt.

The film’s tagline practically sums everything up. John Patrick Shanley did a superb job in both writing and directing Doubt. Originally a New York and London Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it turned out more dramatic and emotionally intense as a film. Although it was set in 1964, it was released in 2008 to the delight of the public. The manner in which it was written gave the audience a lot of room for, excuse the word, doubt. For every scene we consider a piece of evidence against Father Flynn, there is a seemingly plausible explanation that leads us to conclude that he is innocent.

The film is filled with contrasts from the very beginning. Sister Aloysius Beauvier is a traditional Catholic nun who is desperately trying to uphold the Church’s “outdated” practices while Father Brendan Flynn is a relatively young progressive trying to instigate change.

Doubt is reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Directed by Milos Forman). Nurse Ratched and Sister Aloysius are similar in more ways than one. For starters, they are both power hungry. Second, their mere presence commands attention and elicits fear. The Catholic Church hierarchy and the chain of command are both treated with much salience in the film. Sister Aloysius imposes rules that some people would deem highly questionable. It is through this thinking and rule imposition that Sister James compares the school to a prison where nobody is allowed to think and act freely.

The feminist streak severely outweighs the racism in the film. Racism was portrayed through the only African-American present in the school: Donald Miller. At that time, only Italians and Irish folk were allowed access to basic education in the school run by nuns. Gender differences were apparent as the stark contrast between men and women were portrayed in almost every scene. Men were shown noisily devouring steak, smoking, drinking and spewing crude jokes more often than not. Women, on the other hand, were poised and quiet. One significant scene highlighted the distinct gap between men and women in the patriarchy that is the Catholic Church: when Father Flynn was summoned in Sister Aloysius’ office, he automatically sits behind her desk and makes himself comfortable while the two nuns served him tea. Women in the Church, through Sister Aloysius Beauvier, were perceived as powerless but potentially menacing in the 1960s. Men, on the other hand, were given sufficient power, therefore, making them entitled. The film raises questions regarding gender conflicts, inequalities and differences in the Church. It is safe to say that the gender dynamics of the Catholic Church are obviously skewed.

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part II

In Sister Aloysius’ quest for “truth”, she managed to disregard one of the most important people involved. She kept asking others regarding the situation but failed to ask Donald Miller himself. What plagued me the most was that no one bothered to ask the child what really happened. Everybody assumed somebody knew something. Yes, the film is abstruse. There were different judgments, different opinions and different interpretations. How do you know for sure that some phenomena occurred? How do you measure how people “know” people? Some people know through experience. Data is collected through experience. This so-called “data” will be subject to certain tests whether or not they are applicable for both the individual and the collective. John Locke claims that experiences are sensually verifiable and are capable of being duplicated.

Intent does not always and necessarily lead to transgression. How do you prove intent? Simple. Intent is manifested in actions or words. The phrase “Innocent until proven guilty” comes to mind throughout the duration of the film. What Sister Aloysius had was not evidence per se. What she had was circumstantial evidence. This kind of evidence is indirect in the sense that only part of the situation was heard and seen. Nobody got to the root of the problem. Based on that scene alone, several conclusions were deduced. Father Flynn was, in my opinion, an innocent man. It was, arguably, Sister Aloysius’ preconceived notions and initial aversion to Father Flynn’s preference for ballpoint pens, secular songs and his act of keeping long fingernails that caused her to inject malice to his actions. The film’s deliberate ambiguity made it, in my opinion, one of the most influential films of all time. It is an allegory of the Catholic Church’s ongoing practice of patriarchy and the 2002 sex scandal among others.

The technical aspect of the film was definitely not substandard as the lighting, setting and, most especially, the costumes were successfully able to convey the emotion and mood in most, if not all, of the scenes. Everything was obviously thought about with great detail. The film’s cold atmosphere was further emphasized by the frosty landscape. The nuns’ habits and veils also signify something of great importance. I was pleasantly surprised with the songs that were used throughout the duration of the movie as I was able to recognize them from my childhood. The songs and pieces, albeit sung in the 1960s, are still relevant in present Catholic communities. The Catholic Milieu was impressively recreated through the church, the classrooms and the nun’s sleeping quarters among others.

“In pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God.” Sister Aloysius mutters this line to Sister James toward the end of the film and, in doing so, raises several questions. This so-called wrongdoing is her act of going against her vows in her quest for the truth. This, she concluded, was morally troubling. For me, Sister Aloysius was questioning not her faith, but her actions in the quest for faith. At the end of the film, the questions heavily outweighed the resolutions. As was mentioned in the film, doubt can be as powerful and sustaining as certainty. What is certainty? To be certain means one possesses the quality of being reliably true. Certainty refers to firm conviction. How, then, can you be certain you have doubts?

Mico Quijano said...

It is perhaps worthy to note that before you proceed to reading any further yet another annoyingly overconfident commentary of mine, you must understand that there are two things I intensely abhor in life: frogs, and the Roman Catholic Church.

My disdain for the former is rather inherent; I have been murdering these creatures since my years of innocence. The contempt and utter disrespect I have for the latter, however, is something I have recently acquired and/or realized. Needless to say, these powerful emotions I have against the RCC stem from reasons fairly guided by logic and rational thought.

And so you can just imagine why I had such audacity to proclaim my certainty after being asked in class whether or not I believe in the accusations so gallantly spoken by Aloysius against Mr. Slynn. No, it wasn’t because I thought the nun’s arguments were more convincing. It wasn’t either because I just know. After warranted moments of contemplation, it became clear that the “certainty” I held reflected a personal bias. In a battle between an aggressive nun and a guarded priest – both of which, it must be said, I have not the slightest fondness for – it didn’t matter who presented a more believable case. Both were in service of an institution I don’t believe in; naturally, I would grab any possible opportunity to all the more reinforce and justify my disbelief. Ergo, had the situation been reversed, I would’ve passed judgment against Aloysius as quickly and easily as I did with Mr. Slynn.

Quite obviously, Aloysius had the same pattern of reasoning as mine. Like Mr. Franco, I am also skeptical of the real motives behind Ms. Beauvier’s pursuit for the truth. I don’t think her actions were simply fueled by what she claims as her “concern for the welfare” of Donald Miller. While she may be a “servant of God,” she is certainly no firm moralist. A testament to this would perhaps be the scene where she told Ms. James to put a picture frame above the board, arguing rather casually that it didn’t really matter whose Pope was in it so long as it would enable the teacher to have eyes behind her head. Indeed, however capable of altruism she may be, she was also motivated by self-interest. If anything, her doubt was sustained primarily by her complete disgust for Mr. Slynn and his progressive ways. Whoever the student was, and whether or not she had a semblance of concern for his or her wellbeing – these things didn’t matter as much. Had she been an advocate of progressivism herself, or even simply an ally/comrade of Brendan Slynn, her ways would’ve been entirely different.

Mico Quijano said...

The case applies for Ms. James as well. Without question, she, too, had doubts. Yet they weren’t as powerful as Aloysius’s, simply because she didn’t hate Mr. Slynn’s guts as much as the other did.

In the words of Ms. Candelario, “Antagonism is human nature.” Then again, what is human nature but a construct. However ironic this may sound, it is in itself a product of the structure in which our lives operate. I love to hate the Catholic Church, but this hatred wasn’t simply conceived while I was growing inside the womb of my mother. Aloysius loves to hate Mr. Slynn, but her hatred and lack of sympathy for the man did not grow naturally inside her. It is understandable why she was, without effort, repulsed by ballpoint pens and too much sugar; she was a conservative, and her traditional perspectives were shaped by her environment and life experiences. Always, we are shaped by things bigger than ourselves.

Praises for the stellar performance of the powerhouse cast can never be overrated. Meryl Streep is a given, Philip Hoffman was compelling, Amy Adams had her moments, and Viola Davis was a total revelation (thank you, Mr. Shanley, for not casting Oprah). The sheer strength of the script wasn’t really a consequence of the film’s themes being controversial; I had my eyes glued on lengthy sequences that would normally never sustain my attention just because the actors were that effective. Mr. Franco was right; those weren’t just scenes of confrontations – they were showdowns.

I don’t want to talk about “the truth.” Besides the fact that I lack knowledge on philosophy, I refuse to elaborate on such humongous concept simply because it’s pointless. Any initiative to discuss it will only lead to unnecessary debates; people will endlessly insist their “personal truths;” doing otherwise could only either mean passive-aggressive behavior, or an adherence to the dogma of postmodernism. So allow me to correct what I said in class. What I only know of are facts of science, and judgments of humanity. Like Aloysius Beauvier, I have doubts; but unlike Aloysius Beauvier, I don’t have my certainty. I just… don’t know.

Liane Candelario said...

Part I

As usual, let me begin by pointing out how the film has disappointed me. But just to clarify, I don’t do this because I have the inherent instinct to find the dark side of things (I usually am a nice person), I just see it as a personal choice to throw praises later to end things on a happy note.

Going back to the point, I have one major disappointment when it comes to Shanley’s ”Doubt”, and yes, it surprised me just as much to know that I do have a big problem with the film though I’d still personally call it brilliant. I believe it was seriously flawed to label this film as an apologetic message of the Roman Catholic Church to its history of pedophilia or child molestation. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it had utterly failed to do so.

“Why?” you ask? Well you see, in the real world, when someone accuses a priest of molesting a child (and even the act of accusation alone rarely happens), the priest normally goes out scott-free. He is moved to a new Parish, the child and the family is silenced and the whole religious institution goes hush hush. And what did we see in Doubt? It’s the exact same thing! There is no apology. There is not even a hint of guilt. What’s worse is that we are left at speculations. Did Father Flynn really molest Donald Miller? Did he not? We’ll never know, and most likely (unless you’re Sister Aloysius or Mr. Quijano), you’d believe the priest to be fully innocent and resume to life’s normalcy.

To make it perfectly clear, you are entitled to doubt that Donald Miller may or may not be molested, but in no way are you entitled to doubt that this is NOT happening in real life. Pedophilia by a man of God has been recorded since AD60 (please watched cited video, I know it’s not scholarly to direct to a YouTube link but anyway, I believe that popular media doesn’t automatically mean a lack of credibility). If someone wants to show the RCC paying its apologies via film, it must do so without leaving room for it to escape those kinds of sexual scandals, something that Doubt had clearly given. Show the molestation, show how these men use their sanctity to power-trip innocent young boys, show the psychological trauma on how kids carry on their faith in God but lose faith in men that hide behind their pulpits. If it’s possible, show these men being liable for their sins. Show a film that portrays RCC in a real internal cleansing. And yes, I’m still waiting for that kind of film to show up.

Moving on to the brighter side of things, I do believe that Doubt is a masterpiece. I could go on and on rambling about how I loved the film, but to keep it brief, I’d wrap it up under two main things.

The first reason is about its ability to lead its viewers to self-reflection. I find this to be a rarity because majority of the film that we see since time in memorial always carry us along a narrative. We follow the story, and we usually see it the same way as how the movie maker end it to be. Here, it’s different and much harder. There is no finality, and the ultimate clincher would be you. If you think Father Flynn was innocent, then you’d feel a sense of injustice to this man being wrongly accused and suffering for no reason. If you think Sister Aloysius was right, you’d feel some sense of justice (though not wholly, as I what I argued from the get go). Ultimately, it acts as if it’s a 2-hour personality test. It’s either you are someone who’d go for the benefit of the doubt and keep their faith on the goodness of humanity, or you’re just inherently suspicious beyond motives that cloak behind ‘goodwill’. I admittedly became troubled with the fact that I seemed to belong on the former (those who have a higher sense of benefit of the doubt) because in the film, it shows that believing in humanity’s goodness can sometimes border on being ignorant. Lesson learned for ‘goodness’ maniacs like me- a small amount of suspicion is healthy.

Liane Candelario said...

Part II

The second thing that I like is… well can I just say the story in itself? Actually, not so much so on gender politics. I personally think that’s irrelevant since the character of Sister Aloysius is outside the stereotypical woman who shuts herself up in the face of patriarchy, so is father Flynn who actually felt threatened by a nun which is, technically, his subordinate. But other than that, I’d say the rest is pure genius. I personally enjoy it whenever the aforementioned two ends up in a heated argument. There’s just something about their sharp, but well chosen set of words, and somehow, it’s amusing to see two sanctioned entities of the RCC argue about truth and lies. I also enjoyed the character of Sister James, she was a healthy balance between the two characters not only because she is easily swayed to either side but because she seemed to be a box where we can put ourselves in and relate to both as an observer and as a witness. Last but not the least, I honestly enjoyed the so-called “sermons” of Father Flynn and how the movie has captured the feel of a Christian mass (I felt like a mass really was in session while I watching it). It’s been a long time since I enjoyed that, even if it’s merely fictional at this instance.

Lastly, I think the ending was a real killer. “I have such doubts!”, cries Sister Aloysius. In the movie, she seemed unbreakable, the fact that she can make the institution yield to her desires even makes her all the more powerful. But the last line proved to be a revelation- it wasn’t because her faith is strong, it ultimately boiled down to her strength of character that is devoid of religion. And so another question is formed, who gave her such kind of personal strength? Sure, everything can be viewed in a determinist approach, but what’s wrong in conceding that sometimes, what we are comes from the choices we make within too?

-CANDELARIO, Liane Stella


Rosie said...

Doubt is one of the more powerful films I've seen this semester. It is the kind of film that is almost impossible to retell to someone who has not seen it; the complexity hides in the simplest of scenes, and the intensity seems to come from all sides: the actors, the setting, the musical score, the dialogue, the plot itself. The acting in this movie is definitely stellar. It’s difficult to choose points to talk about, so here I will only talk about two: Sister Aloysius and her “certainty,” and Father Flynn and the issue of child molestation.

Sister Aloysius is the most fascinating character in the film. She approached life with a matter-of-fact attitude and a cunningness that would make seasoned interrogators proud. Everything she said and did had an air of decisiveness and authority that the way she dealt with Sister James' report about Father Flynn was entirely predictable. Predictable and yet not any less striking.

In the popular TV series C.S.I. the character Gil Grissom is famous for having said “Concentrate on what cannot lie: the evidence.” But in Doubt, there is no evidence, or at least, none that would leave no room for reasonable doubt. And yet Sister Aloysius is completely certain that Father Flynn is guilty – for most of the film anyway. To persecute someone on the basis of intuition and experience is by no means the standard of most of today’s laws, and that is perhaps why we, the audience, found it hard to be convinced. We have become accustomed to the need to present irrefutable evidence in court. Sister Aloysius’ style seems to hark back to an older age, that of witch trials, inquisitions and burnings at the stake.

But at the very end Sister Aloysius breaks down and admits she has doubts too. The only thing that kept her going (and kept the story moving) turned out to be a façade: she is as human as the rest of us. We judged her so quickly, wondering how she became the staunch and unyielding person she is without questioning whether or not her certainty is true in the first place.

What then of those people who seem to be so completely sure of themselves? How true is their certainty? How do they KNOW? And without proof, should we be convinced by them? Should faith or certainty be enough? The film provokes us to be more critical of people’s actions and motivations and reexamine ourselves as well: why do we believe what we believe?
I will move on to the most crucial question in the film: Was Father Flynn guilty?

The issue of child molestation in churches and parishes is something that we are all conscious of, mostly because of the media attention is has received. It is the darker side to the religion, often dismissed as the result of individual pathologies rather than an effect of the institution. But despite personally having little trust in the Roman Catholic Church I still gave Father Flynn the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because I was trying to be unlike Sister Aloysius. I was very surprised to find that streak of Sister James in me, but then, as was said in class last week, we define ourselves by what we are not. And I refuse to be the person who judges without basis (that, or I was refusing to be “the nun,” a side effect perhaps of seven years in an all-girls Catholic School).

Rosie said...

I remain unconvinced that Father Flynn was guilty of molesting Donald Miller, even if Sister Aloysius took his resignation from the school as an admission of guilt. I believe that he did it to stop the “feathers” from spreading. But then I also believe that he might have committed or have been accused of committing a similar transgression before. None of the characters are exactly faultless.

As a final note I would like to reflect on the effects of doubt itself. It seems to me that doubt is ultimately a mechanism by which we check ourselves. Doubt is important because it leads to an internal debate. Our own minds present us with a counter-argument which we need to refute before we can go on truly believing what we believe. For people like Sister Aloysius doubt is a weakness, and she disregarded hers. But for me the propensity to doubt is a healthy characteristic that keeps us from blind obedience or unfounded conclusions.

Fiona Arevalo said...


“What do you do when you are not sure?” Father Flynn asks in his opening sermon, establishing the very question which will be answered and illustrated in different ways throughout the film.
John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, as the title suggests, centres on uncertainty, intuitions and suspicions. It is made more interesting with its injection of issues concerning Church structures, hierarchy, the exercise of power and the primacy of discipline and order. Set in the socially transitional time of 1964, the probing story hinges on lurid qualms about a compassionate, forward-thinking priest by a dogmatic, stern and totalitarian nun at St. Nicholas’s Church in the Bronx. The time is the autumn of 1964, a year after the assassination of an American president and shortly after the progressive transition in the Catholic Church.

By the beginning of the 1960s, the Catholic Church was hierarchically structured. A chain of authority runs up via nuns, parish priests, bishops, pope and up to the Supreme Being, the Holy Father. The Church was often accused to have abused their authority by backing it up with the ‘grace of state’. It had been demanding and constraining. To overcome this developing image of the Church, John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in January 1959 and it opened on October 11, 1962 which paved way to changes that began to sweep through the Church. A year after the story of Doubt, the Council would issue its Constitution on the Church which would respect hierarchy but interpret life of the Church as that of the People of God, with the principles of subsidiary and shared responsibility (Malone, 2009).

Now, going back to the film itself, I believe that it derives its strength greatly from its characters. Having Hoffman and Streep play the lead roles adds up greatly to its brilliance. What kept the audience glued to their seats were the unending and exhilarating collisions of the two leads. The battle between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius goes beyond their argument on Flynn’s intriguing relationship with the black altar boy, Donald Miller. The contest suggests the overall struggle within the Church between traditionalist and progressive factions.

Sister Aloysius, who entered the covenant after being widowed in the Second World War, represents the old, narrow order. She rails against modernities and changes in the system—prohibits the use of ballpoint pens in the school and does not tolerate the inclusion of secular songs at the forthcoming carol service. She goes as far as finding dubious connotations in Father Flynn’s preference for sugar in his tea. She sees herself as an authority figure and what she says goes. In order to lead the children to the path of righteousness, she believes that fear must be instilled upon them and strict rules must be implemented and followed. She is pretty much a Nazi, hitting every child who does not pay attention during Church and suggesting to the teacher to put a picture of the Pope (no matter which pope is in it) on top of the chalk board to serve as eyes in the back of her head. Sister Aloysius strictly adheres to long-existing traditions and hierarchy of the RCC that she’s devoted in preserving it. Her school and the adjoining convent are austere places, unlike the priests’ warm-hearted world which she despises.

Fiona Arevalo said...


At the opposite end of the spectrum lies Father Flynn who represents the liberating spirit of Vatican II. He advocates that priests should become a loving part of the larger parochial family rather than remain distant, feared and aloof moral exemplars. He coaches basketball, advises the boys not to be dismayed when a girl turns them down for a dance and develops a more intimate and friendly relationship with the children. And for the same reasons, he is charged of paedophilia by Sister Aloysius. These two characters are on a collision course where decisions on moral and social affairs, as well as on matters of fact, are left to the audience as jurors.
The intelligence of the film lies in its ability to make the audience ponder during and after viewing it. The film raises several questions but doesn’t necessarily deliver answers. It remained true to its title, Doubt, for the great thing about the film is that nothing is certain. The events presented are hardly black and white. This probably is Shanley’s argument against absolutes. Through struggling and acknowledging uncertainty, or the murky middle, compassion is arrived at (Toloui-Semnani, 2009).

The film never revealed the truth as to whether Father Flynn really touched that boy or not. The direction was very effective in keeping hold of the suspicion. Every camera angle was that of an on looker and every conversation felt like we were eavesdropping. However, in the course of the film, people would develop different interpretations of what really happened. Shanley brilliantly awakened and encouraged the audiences’ personal biases in receiving the film. In 2002, six years before the film’s release, the Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals erupted in America. This might lead some into assuming that the film serves such purpose as exposing the issue of clerical abuse of children, strengthening the thought that Father Flynn is indeed guilty of charge. Nevertheless, Shanley has indicated that he is not so much concerned with the issue of clerical abuse of children as of pitting two characters against each other to highlight the uncertainties of certainty and the nature of doubt (Malone, 2009).

From live stage to big screen, Doubt is equally brilliant. The sounds, costumes and settings reflect the tone of the characters and the period of the story very well. At the same time, the linear narrative style is refreshing, with no flashbacks and flash forwards. A significant and overemphasized motif in the film is the strong winds that rage around the school—pushing the characters out of frames, injuring a blind nun. These winds may symbolize the winds of change sweeping through the Catholic world as well as driving Flynn from his position as Pastor. Its other symbolisms were a bit too heavily imposed—a cat’s about to find the mouse in the house, Sister Aloysius’s windows that kept on opening, among others.

Doubt is one of the few films worth remembering. It chose to shake up our world rather than re-assert it. It proves that sometimes uncertainty can be just as exciting and compelling as the truth.


Toloui-Semnani, N. (2009, January 12). Doubting Subtlety in Doubt. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from

Malone, P. (2009, January 2). Catholic Analysis of ‘Doubt’. Retreieved September 13, 2011, from

-AREVALO, Nina Fiona Vianca S.

Bulawi said...

The stark contrast between conservatism on one side and liberalism on the other is evidnet in almost every aspect of society. An example would be the presence of bias between the two groups in the context of religion where each and every religious denomination, especially here in our country, claim to be the sole channel to salvation. The movie Doubt, released in 2008 as a remake of a play of the same name, highlights this clash in a religious context as the film focuses on a series of events in a school run by nuns under the supervision of a priest. The film Doubt is full of many contrasts, including the aforementioned one between conservative Sister Aloysius on one corner and the more progressive, even liberal, Father Flynn on the other which may be seen as the impetus behind all the action in the film. Whereas conservatives are characterized as well-meaning, good mannered and more grounded, progressives on the other hand are seen as more liberal, radical and reckless. It is ironic to see that the embodiment of conservatism in film exercised those values commonly associated with the more progressive individuals. Sister Aloysius did everything in her power to evict Father Flynn out of the parish, including those which can be seen as acts hitting below the belt as she lied in order to achieve her ‘truth’ evidenced in her argument with Father Flynn where she claimed to have called his previous parish. It is, however, worthy to note that the said characteristics are only among those commonly seen to be possessed by the aforementioned groups of individuals and are not mutually exclusive.

The film draws similarities One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as both have a strong female character, and both deal with deviations from the norm. Like Mac, Father Flynn attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to counter and somehow rebel against the prominent female matron. Father Flynn somehow showed that he deviated or believed that the norm back then was already outdated for their time. He advocated his progressive principles, including the inclusion of Frosty the Snowman as part of the Christmas pageant against the staunch conservative principla, Sister Aloysius. Then again, inasmuch as I admired both characters for their courage to stand for what they believe in, they were beaten in the end by the stronger female character, who was backed up by the institution.

As in first movie shown in the class, the film leaves the audience hanging as to the nature of the relationship between Father Flynn and Donald, or if it even existed in the first place. However, as the characters in Rashomon were compelled to tell different stories so as to preserve their own interests, Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius battled it out mainly because of their personal convictions. Also, both believed that they were acting for the welfare of Donald, claiming to help the African-American boy to live a better life in the context of racial discrimination.

In the end, as the film left us hanging, it gives us the power to decide on what we believed happened or not between Father Flynn and Donald. We see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe.


faysah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
faysah said...

Part 1:

As a student, one learns to beware of the phrase “I know” and of making conclusions without empirical support. This way of thinking is not confined to the academe but several other fields. Different perspectives and ways of framing also preclude the formation of a universal Truth among scholars. However, it must be remembered that this way of thinking is grounded on a scientific paradigm. The film Doubt is under a religious context which requires belief and faith. This unwavering belief in a Supreme Being is a fundamental pillar in all religions. Engaging in political action using a religious lens is the subject of this commentary.

The theme of conservatism vs. progressivism as presented in the blog entry is a classic in the discourse of the role of religion in society. While most liberal societies have insisted on a complete separation of the church and the state, it cannot be denied that religion plays a major role in political socialization. Religiosity can have an effect on one’s position in the political spectrum. I am not suggesting a deterministic relationship here but an association. Religion can be considered as a component of politicization since religious characteristics can be channelled into political action (Wald 29). However, Doubt repackages the dichotomous theme of conservatism vs. progressivism as it is no longer under the context of the church vs. the state but within the church itself. It can be argued that the clash between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn is not merely a religious and moral confrontation but a political one. Many have criticized the thought of politicizing religion because it is supposed to be confined within the private sphere while politics is in the public domain. But separating the public and private sphere has proven to be very difficult. The broad definition of politics is premised on the competition of different ideas. Even issues that are not directly considered as public can be political. The case of Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn is politicized because it is essentially a conflict between Sister Aloysius’ defense of traditions and the status quo and Father Flynn’s reception to reforms. Donald Miller’s alleged sexual harassment is a legitimate issue but it has been politicized for Sister Aloysius’ agenda of expelling Father Flynn from the school. One then wonders Sister Aloysius’ claim that she is after what is moral and the general welfare of the students when her character has shown nothing but an almost obsessive need to control the students and her subordinates. There are subtle hints of her contrasting character with Father Flynn as evidenced by their differing attitudes towards ballpoint pens, Christmas carols, and sugar. Sister Aloysius is shown to disapprove of Father Flynn because he is someone who dares to take a differing view from what she believes and because he cannot be cowed into submission like the others given his position as a priest. Viewing him as a threat to the “order,” Donald Miller’s case presents a timely opportunity for Sister Aloysius’ interest of upholding traditions. One of the main merits of the film is that it shows that the church is not a monolithic entity filled with close-minded people who are unresponsive to change. Just like any facet of society and private life, the institution is also confronted with politics and how it intends to survive in a rapidly modernizing era. It shows that the church and modernity are not completely irreconcilable depending on how the actors involved have been socialized towards tolerance.

faysah said...

Part 2:

Societal norms are also shaped by religiosity. The behaviour of the characters in the film is a manifestation of this. Sister Aloysius’ concern for propriety as shown by her insistence of a third party before she can be in a room alone with Father Flynn, her reaction when a boy who has not even reached puberty lightly touched Sister James on the arm, and her conviction that something inappropriate has transpired between Donald Miller and Father Flynn because of their warm interaction. However, the meanings that she attributes to what she sees are social constructs. The irony is that while she strives for ethical standards, she has actually been acting in a contradictory way by assigning malicious meanings to what may be innocent gestures. Her world view may have been shaped by her experiences as she claims but these experiences are not representative of the experiences of human kind. One may infer that the reason why she finds it hard to conceive that an innocent relationship can be formed is that she has remained so detached from people whom she views as a group to control in order to maintain orthodoxy.

The film contains many ironies just like other award winning movies. The sheer brilliance of it starts with its title. With just one word, it manages to encapsulate all the themes that one can glean from the movie. It is also the reaction it elicits from its audience as most viewers are left in doubt of what actually happened between Donald Miller and Father Flynn since the actual events are never revealed. Most importantly, it poses a question to faith based belief systems such as religion wherein the centrepiece lies on strong religious convictions and a steadfast belief in God. When Sister Aloysius breaks down into confessing that she has doubts despite her convincing displays of certainty, it shows that even the most devoted religious authorities cannot guarantee unwavering faith and certainty despite religion’s emphasis on absolute truth. By refuting doubt, one is caged within his religious beliefs. This translates to the lack of willingness to negotiate which is a central feature in politics. It can be inferred that it is this relentless stance that drove Father Flynn out rather than his alleged guilt. But triumph continues to be elusive for Sister Aloysius because even she cannot win against herself as doubts will continue to hound humanity despite insistent claims of certainty.


Wald, Kenneth. 1987. Religion and Politics in the US. New York: St. Martin

Abdullah, F.

Victoria Tiangco said...

"What do we do when we are not sure?"
The film opened with this simple yet provocative lines as Father Flynn sermons in his parish. When we think about it, there are a lot of things we are unsure of in life. Our very existence and our reality cannot escape the shadow of doubts and uncertainties. One of the major issues of this film is the conflict between Fr. Flynn and Sister Aloysius, the existence and evidence of whether or not a child was molested. I would argue that we cannot prove this allegation for certain, and that at the end of the day, we choose what we want to believe based on our values and experiences. 

I was deeply troubled by the film because it highlights the flaws of the foundation of the church: a sister with her authoritarian rule and her misdoings, and the alegations of molestation to a holy priest. However uncomfortable I maybe, these characters reflect the reality of them being human, subject to temptation and sin. As a young Catholic, doubts are my normal companion as I learn to know more about my faith. but as we try to know more about the world, more difficult questions arise that are in need of answers. 

Where do we base our certainties? As for Sister , her unfathomable certainty is founded on her past experiences and sheer intuition alone. When she saw Warren pull away as Fr. Flynn grabbed his arm, immediately she was so certain. This is why she is so confident that her lie would work against the priest. However, there are also instances when Fr. Flynn seems guilty of the crime. The most awkward scene for me is when he placed the clothes of Donald in his locker that could suggest something may have happened. It is obvious that the priest has an inclination towards the boy but at times, especially when he hugged the boy tight after being discriminated upon, looks malicious. And why would he break down in front of Sister like that and resign from office? What happened in the rectory will remain between Fr. Flynn and Donald, and anyone outside will always be in the dark. Even Sister who was so confident of her assertions, admitted that she has doubts.

An interesting character is Mrs. Miller who presented another interpretation of the issue on molestation. Instead of being outraged like Sr. , she is resigned to the racial discrimination during her time. For her, the better solution would be to provide Donald a better future by avoiding further conflict and graduating from the school. From here, we can see that no two experiences are alike. Our interpretations on these experiences differ based on the values that we have. But then again, what are the basis of these values? And what would be a better solution to the problem? Again, for us to know what is better, ultimately we must have an idea of the good and the best. Which brings us back to the question of how do we know with certainty that one is the best?

Victoria Tiangco said...

The Director intentionally leaves the audience hanging as he left us with so many unanswered questions. The central point of the film is not to determine whether or not the priest touched the boy because we really cannot prove this incident with certainty. The film shows the beauty of having doubts, of having uncertainties and its power to move people into action. Sr. James, a very keen and innocent nun approached Sr. and conferred with her the suspicious events in her class. Sr. Aloysius on the other hand is so persistent to fight against the hierarchy of the church and arguably, to fight for the rights of the boy. "Doubt is as powerful a bond as certainty," says Fathern Flynn as he ends his sermon. Doubt is a powerful mover for social action. However, one must be careful of the consequences of acting on the basis of these uncertainties. But this is another issue to be addressed another time.

Having doubts is good, for in the pursuit of trying to find out the truth, or a closer version of the truth, one is always better. One gains more knowledge as more questions demand more answers. I think that nothing is for certain in this world except for our doubts. In the words of our wise professor, "in everything that we do, there is always faith." Faith, a belief that something exists, even in the absence of evidence.

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 1

Doubts can be as binding as certainty, as the movie Doubt puts it. It tackles themes related to the dark side of the Roman Catholic Church, the conflicts between conservatism and progressivism, and claiming for the truth using just one’s own doubts.

Sister Aloysius is a stern principal of a Catholic school somewhere during the 1960s. As she administered the school with the other nuns, every student there learned of her as a “dragon” that is ready to devour anyone breaking her rules. No walkmans to listen during class, no flirty clips to display on your long, wavy hair, no physical contacts with the nuns—from the petty things to the serious offenses of the students, Sister Aloysius is on guard.

Yet, Father Flynn, a progressive priest, entered the Catholic school and imbued ideas that triggered Sister Aloysius’ temper. He insisted on playing more secular songs during Christmas; he taught and played basketball games with the male students; he tolerated more worldly attitudes of fellow priests. The oxymoron between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius is so evident—one represents the more progressive individual; the other one, the more traditional person. And with the young and innocent Sister James’ observation of unusual actions of Father Flynn toward Donald Miller, an Afro-American boy enrolled in the school, Sister Aloysius was just even more maddened and her certainty of something ‘fishy’ in Father Flynn was aroused. She wanted to get rid off of Father Flynn in the Catholic school just because she knew it based on her experience.

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 2

So she confronted the priest, and she cornered him by a made-up story that she called up a nun from the church where he once served as a priest, and he eventually gave up. But the scene did not really prove that Father Flynn is guilty of molesting the Afro-American boy. It just made the priest surrender to the insistent principal; that he admitted something that he actually might or not might be. The priest resigned from the Catholic school, yet at the end of the movie, he was promoted to a higher position in another church. And Sister Aloysius told Sister James in between sobs and tears that she also had her doubts, and her myth of certainty was broken.

What does the movie say about how we know the truth? The certainty of Sister Aloysius is indeed deductive. She collected her own data from her previous encounters, and she had an observation of Father Flynn’s curious interaction with William London when she looked from the window down. The clues she had lead her to that conclusive ‘I know it’. Yet, is she really right? What about the Father’s explanation of Donald drinking the altar wine? What about Donald’s mother’s tolerance of the seemingly advances of the Father over the boy? What about the promotion and not expulsion of the priest from the Church, despite the accusations? Perhaps, the priest might have experienced traumatic events from his previous parishes, explaining his mobility as he already served three churches in just five years. Maybe all the things that Sister Aloysius thought of as ‘evidences’ were just coincidences that fueled her suspicions. And what would Father Flynn do to a boy who wanted someone to look up to? Of course, his resort is to become a fatherly figure in the absence of love coming from the biological father of Donald. Throughout the movie, I was about to conclude that the Father is guilty of those accusations, but did he really commit it? I don’t know. I am not certain of it. All I know is that Sister Aloysius had a very huge grudge on the priest, and that propelled everything else to her irrefutable ‘I know it’.

The film reminded me of a lecture from my PolSc 177 class last semester. According to my professor, there are four sources of knowledge (ie. How do we know what we know?). First, there is reason or logic to explain something that happened through rationality and sequences. Second, there is experience—as what Sister Aloysius had used in deducing her conclusions—which is based on past encounters. Then, there is intuition, which is innate among warm bodies like us, and which is also what Sister Aloysius used to drive her point further. Finally, when all of these fail, there is faith that makes us believe something even if we really don’t know. In my case, I can only have faith on Father Flynn whether he is guilty or not guilty, simply because I really don’t know what happened between him and Donald during that meeting. I cannot totally trust Sister Aloysius’ haunches because of her hatred toward the priest. I cannot rely on the innocence of Sister James, either. Just like Rashomon, where the truth is negotiated among the four varying accounts of the witnesses, and in 12 Angry Men that I also watched in PolSc 177 where the presented facts are actually based on pre-judgments of the juries, I must have that leap of faith to believe something that I am unsure in order to surpass the challenge of truth. I may not be exactly on the plane where truth is, but at least I negotiated and fought what I believe in.

Doubts can be as binding as certainty, yes. I doubt Father Flynn is guilty of the allegations against him. Yet, neither I am certain that he is not guilty. The film can be a material for us to reexamine how we arrive at such thing as “truth”: that simply because, we are certain of it. We can use all the four sources of knowledge to make us closer to it. #

-PINEDA, Roldan P.

Petersen said...

Part I

I have first watched John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt on its year of release, mainly because I am the self-confessed Oscars geek. 2009 was such a great year for films, and so Doubt remained to be quite just one of the underdogs rather than belong to the front-liners of said year. Upon learning that it will be screened in class, a scene suddenly came to mind. It was that Viola Davis and Meryl Streep confrontation that earned the former an Oscar nomination even if the scene only lasted for about seven or eight minutes. I remember having my jaw dropped - literally - while I watched this very powerful and perfect scene, in awe of the magnitude of emotions established naturally by these two talented actresses.

I have nothing but testaments of accolades for this film. How the ensemble of the cast flawlessly drove the narrative to be understood the way it is to be understood, and the underlying themes to be perceived, the way they are to be perceived. From the first second up to the final minutes of the last sequence, there is no dullness there is to be noticed, not a moment that is unimportant to the film’s totality.

Mr. Oliva is right when he says that the characters of Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn operate in a way that they depict the binary oppositions of conservatism and progressivism. 1964 may be deemed a year of transition; and in a period where drastic changes ensue here and there, both sides of the conservatives and progessivists call out an undeclared war to dictate what should be decided upon. Which is what happens in Shanley’s Doubt. There is a Situation that is dealt in the concealed walls of a parish school. We see the very servants of God raising voices, pointing fingers, and heavily arguing with each other - behaving in a way we do not expect them to behave.

But that is not an error of hypothesizing the behavior of such people, be the topic of discussion priests, nuns, or even bishops and so on. We never know because there is such a thing as a “Pontifical Secret” and all problems of this kind are to be “dealt with internally”. And so Doubt offers us a kind of perception that may be ultimately true, as the mechanics of how the problem was dealt with was how it has always been dealt with - and get this - since the early sixteenth century.

Petersen said...

Part II

The film, however, does not limit its narrative’s scope with just merciless revelations of this side of the Roman Catholic Church. The film, ultimately, is about, simplistically and palpably enough, doubt. Opening the film is a sermon that lectures about doubt and closing it, the figure of certainty that we most trustingly believed to hold no resonances of doubt, honestly says, as if more to herself than to Amy Adam’s character, Sister James, “I have doubts... I have such doubts.”

In conclusion, what the film tries to exemplify is how doubt creates its own consequences, be those on a positive or negative note. We create our own truths, yes, but our own doubts? Where do they come from? How sure are we that Sister Aloysius’s certainty was in itself a personal truth -- and having herself claim her own doubts, how is her truth defined, then? Shanley masterfully stitched a narrative that voices out such compelling thoughts and afterthoughts alike, may they be concerning the Roman Catholic Church, the relativity of truth, and the major issue in discussion, doubt.

-- Petersen Vargas

therese said...

Part 1

There is a point in the film when someone asks Sr. Aloysius, "but how can you be so sure?" She replies with her overflowing conviction, "experience."

It is perhaps human nature to derive our insights and truths from experience. After all, it is experience which gives us the greatest right to assess the value of something. It is experience that tells us which products in the market are worth buying, which subjects are worth taking, which way is the best way to review for an exam. As the old adage goes, "experience is the best teacher;" and we can only ever claim that we really know something if we have experienced it. It is from these experiences which we derive the truths we live by, and from which we base our actions and reactions.

Now, how do we normally arrive at the "truth"? We seek evidence - anything that would validate what we make of our experience. It seems like a fairly simple set of steps to follow: the experience, an insight which is basically a hypothesis of sorts, then the search for evidence, then finally, a conclusion.

The film Doubt by John Patrick Shanley stands to me as a challenge to so many simple notions about experience, or about how human beings experience life in general. Mainly so because it asks: can we really say that we experience what we experience; that we experience something as it is?

When Fr. Flynn confronts Sr. Aloysius, she reveals that the only thing she saw was him grabbing the wrist of William London, and the boy pulling away. Devoid of all contexts, this isn’t as fishy an occurrence as Sr. Aloysius finds it to be. Objectively, it is just what it is: Fr. Flynn grabs the boy’s wrists, and the boy pulls away, and there is nothing more to it than that. As already discussed in class, however, there will always be a gap between what happened and what we make of it – between our physical experience and our story of it. So here allow me to question the notion of being shaped by “things bigger than ourselves” such as environment and life experiences, as Mr. Quijano claims. If we never really experience something for what it is, given that we always and automatically make something out of every experience, is it really proper to say that it is the experience itself that shapes us? I believe Doubt shows that it is far more complex than that. The experience, in the physical sense, does not shape us (that is, in more ways than also the physical). It is what we make of our experience that does.

therese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
therese said...

Part 2

To look closely at the plot, there really is nothing there but accusations and insinuations. There is no real evidence against Fr. Flynn, only little hints that may not even necessarily point to the act of molestation. Yet Sr. Aloysius was so certain; more than this she actively looked for evidence that would validate her assessment of Fr. Flynn: she talked to Donald Miller’s mother, and even feigned phoning Fr. Flynn’s previous parish to provoke the priest. It is true that her certainty was stemming from her own principles and convictions - her aversion to ballpoint pens, secular songs, and too much sugar in tea, or her aversion to progressivism in general. Nevertheless I would like to point out that these, too, were the product of her experiences and what she made of these experiences. In other words, these were decisions she made, at some point in her life, when she had a bad experience of ballpoint pens, maybe. Thus to me it would be deterministic to say that she or any other character, for that matter, just sat there like a boulder and waited for life experiences to carve her out. As human beings we do have the capacity to decide.

And so, allow me talk about Sr. James’ character. I agree that among all three she is the character in which the audience can place themselves. She had her own doubts as well, but what makes her different from the other nun is that she was perfectly conscious of what she wanted to believe. Sr. Aloysius’ almost-mad desire to get Fr. Flynn out of St. Nicholas’ was driven by her conservatism and all the other objections she has towards Fr. Flynn. In many ways, she was driven by circumstance; trapped in a “because this, therefore this” logic that she long ago created for herself. Everything about Sr. Aloysius proclaims “this is really the way things are and should be,” which can be a very limiting frame of mind (her breakdown at the end of the film thus becomes a very insightful scene). Sr. James, on the other hand, made a conscious choice – she believed what she wanted to believe. Perhaps Sr. Aloysius was right in saying that Sr. James did so because she wanted simplicity. But I guess it is also worth noting that by giving herself that ability to choose, not because of any logic or conviction, but because she wanted to have her simplicity back, I think she is, contrary to what many say, far more enviable that Sr. Aloysius and her oppressive certainty.

As a final note, Doubt is a great film for many reasons: the superb acting, the poignant script, and even the technical details. What makes it so compelling, though, is that it does not answer questions, but asks the audience back and provokes the audience into experiencing the same thing all these characters experienced: their search for their own doubts, certainties, and truths. Indeed it leaves the audience feeling as confronted as the characters themselves.

Therese Buergo

Juan Carlo Tejano said...

When I first heard of Doubt in 2008 and saw its trailer of a priest preaching about doubt during a mass, I immediately felt giddily excited as an agnostic hoping for an intellectually intriguing film about the existence or absence of a god. Imagine my disappointment when I entered the cinema and found out that the film is about nothing more than a priest molesting a boy! Such an incident was never as surprising, as intriguing, as the more metaphysical question of the reality of the divine.

It took me this second viewing and Sir F’s discussion to realize what the film was really trying to say. Although the film never really pointed to the question of a god, it tackled the much bigger question of faith – faith that is not limited to religiosity. As I interpret it, the message of the narrative is this: That faith is never absolute, that certainty is never certain, and that doubt is an integral part of the truth – that, without doubt, we will never arrive at or even get close to the whole truth.

Doubt is the suspension of belief and disbelief. As such, doubt is an essential step towards the human pursuit of knowledge, a key technique of the scientific method, and a necessary stage as we find out what is true and what is false. Without suspending belief and disbelief, we are left to empty faith, arrogant certainty, and a stubborn hallucination of self-infallibility. Without questioning first a proposition of the “truth,” we leave all scientific and careful investigation to our whim, which can rarely be trusted to deliver accurate and valid findings.

Thus, the film portrays the necessity of doubt – in fact, even its inevitability. The viewer is struck with the film’s carefully plotted final scene: Sr. Aloysius crying, admitting to Sr. James that she too has doubts. Whether these doubts are about Fr. Flynn’s case of child molestation or something else, it no longer matters: What is important is that even Sr. Aloysius, though impressively stubborn about her infallible faith and certainty, cannot escape the inevitability of doubts.

So why then did the film use the Roman Catholic Church to convey its message? Why not use a judicial court, where the truth is more thoroughly debated and the importance of doubt is much more saliently highlighted? If the doubt the film was pointing to were about the existence of a god or the Catholic interpretation of divine scripture, it would make sense that the RCC was chosen over the court. The film, however, points to a case of morality – actually, a case of legality – which would have perhaps made it more apt for a court setting.

As I see it, the Roman Catholic Church in the movie is alluded to because it symbolizes faith in something uncertain, belief in something unscientific, and superstition that has been rarely challenged or doubted for centuries. Thus, the RCC is used because it is supposedly an institution that does not tolerate doubt, an institution that is largely traditional and unscientific. It was perhaps necessary for the filmmaker to depict a situation wherein doubt serves as the agency that challenges the structure of faith, wherein doubt within the entrapment of certainty becomes not only important but necessary and even inevitable, wherein the lack of doubt can destroy a person’s reputation through feathers-like gossip. Thus, Doubt shows how while curiosity can kill the cat, certainty can destroy the priest.

In fact, the message is so strong and consuming that one is even left without a conclusion as to whether or not Fr. Flynn really did abuse the African-American child. So, did he? I doubt it.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Ginx Petterson said...

Doubt reminded me of a play I saw about five or six years ago, just a sweet one act sketch with two characters, a young nun quite like Sister James, so naïve and full of optimism, the other a senior nun, who (instead of terror, like Sister Aloysius) had an air of gentleness and wisdom about her. The young nun confides in the other of how she’s heard of drugs and other such illegal substances being stored and—get this—being dealt from the convent. After about 20 minutes of riveting discussion, in the end it is revealed that the drug dealing was headed by no other than the senior nun herself. The play was well-written and the acting convincing as well. But incomparable to Streep and Hoffman’s, of course, whose performances were beyond amazing. Very articulate and precise, measured and weighed. Not lacking in getting the message across, and never too much to give anything away. Those two can keep everyone guessing on Flynn’s innocence even way after the credits have ended. The characters’ approach on the material was probably heavily dependent on Shanley’s directing. I sensed some theater acting feel, especially with the Sister Aloysius role (though I bet that may have been partly due to the iron-fist-of-tradition symbol that she was supposed to carry, plus it was Meryl Streep—she was the only one who could pull that off). But Shanley moved between the two media and translated his play “Doubt: A Parable” into the film Doubt almost quite flawlessly.

Beyond the performance of its talents, Doubt drew me in with its storyline. It helps that the audience is part of the tale. Shanley makes you think, and think you will. But I’ve wondered if whether I had been caught up in the narrative because it was a controversial one from my own religion. I’m not new to the possible pedophilia in the RCC, I’ve had my share of documentaries on abuse victims who speak up from within the silent walls of churches and seminaries and whatnot, but though I’ve lost complete faith in the RCC as an institution years ago (see also: agnostic phase), I still am a practicing Catholic—because I very much believe in God, even if I don’t believe in the ceremonies they attach to Him anymore. That is how I’ve negotiated the doubt I have for the institution.

The trick is, though, that even those doubts are doubtable. As much as it has been made to be the antagonist, the RCC can be a victim too, as what we find in Doubt. Does it matter that the RCC was in transition then in the 1960’s? Does it matter that the film was released in 2008? Do the doubts against this institution change depending on its context?

They don’t. Forty seven years and X number of RH Bill drafts later, issues of conservatism, not to mention authoritative tradition, are still as fresh as ever.

Themes of pedophile priests and drug dealing nuns are still popular today within the world of entertainment even after the RCC has loosened its belt through the years. Many will insist that it is because they are always fueled by actual events, and/or for others because there really is entertainment value there. I find that such themes are mostly sustainable due to its position as an institution and the point of view of individuals who see themselves for what they are—man. Religion is useful for the billions of people in need of something to believe in, those in need of comfort, or solace. But those who lead the Church are innately fallible beings. You may not always doubt the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but you can easily doubt a priest who is mortal, just like yourself.

And that is the easiest of all to doubt—oneself. It’s practically visceral. Just like how at the film’s end, frustration boils within you and you were certain Father Flynn was guilty. You were so so sure of yourself—and yet. And yet.