What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this brooding, play-based drama isn't for kids. It tackles questions about God, faith, and evil in a way that will most likely be either uninteresting or too complex for young audiences. Though children are in the cast, the movie's themes are mature -- particularly the question of whether or not a priest has abused a child and how doubt about what happened undoes three main characters. Another storyline examines the patriarchal nature of the Catholic church, despite its dependence on the good works of its (female) nuns. Though there's little swearing, violence, or drinking, the movie isn't meant for kids (and isn't particularly likely to interest them, either).
What's the story?
It's 1964, and young Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is transforming a Bronx parish with his thought-provoking homilies and easygoing manner. Already, the area's parochial school is feeling the winds of change: It has just admitted its first African-American student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). Taking it all in -- and not in stride -- is Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the fearsome school principal who's not entirely sure about a priest who takes three cubes of sugar in his tea and wears his fingernails long. After novice teacher Sister James (Amy Adams) informs Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn called Donald to a private meeting from which the child returned with a whiff of wine on his breath, Sister Aloysius becomes certain that the priest has made inappropriate advances on the boy. She won't rest until all suspicions are laid to rest (hell hath no fury like a nun scorned), but what she uncovers is spiritual and emotional ambiguity.
Is it any good?
Often, adapting a play of this magnitude for the big screen gives birth to disappointment, but Doubt survives as an engrossing, provocative drama. On Broadway, John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, riveted audiences with its unremitting scrutiny of faith and its worthy adversary: uncertainty.
Yes, there's a heavy handedness to the direction that's better suited to the stage. There are also far too many portentous elemental triggers (the wind-spun leaves, lashing rain, dreary skies -- we get the message, the end is bleak). And the usually excellent Adams is only passable here. Still, you can't deny the powerful themes Doubt dares to take on: Is it true, as Father Flynn says, that doubt can be "a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty"? Or is it, by its very nature, bad for the faithful? The film may not answer all of these questions mightily, but at least it tries.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. What is it saying about religion? The Catholic church in particular?
Why do Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn clash? Who's right, and who's wrong? And what of doubt? Do you think Father Flynn is guilty or innocent?
What characteristics do movies based on plays tend to have in common? Do plays always make good movies? Why or why not?