Friday, April 17, 2009

Doubt part deux

I thought it would be better to just start a new posting to talk about the movie since we are at 40 comments on the original post.

I watched the movie again last night and I am thoroughly convinced that Father Flynn is innocent. My thinking is along the same lines as Dan's recent comment on the first posting. That is Streep, (I don't know how to spell her name in the movie, so I'm calling her Streep), objects not only to his progressive ways, but just him in general.

Streep is nothing but discipline and she objects to anything that has to do with progress or what she deems inappropriate. Ballpoint pens for example! Did you notice in the nun dinner scene Sister James takes a piece of meat out of her mouth and Streep gives her a look, and she puts it back in her mouth! She doesn’t allow the girls to wear barrettes, she even objects to cough drops. She is not a kind person and uses accusations and scare tactics to run the school.

I believe she resents Father Flynn because he is pretty much the opposite of her. He jokes around with the kids, and he even makes his congregation laugh. She was just looking for something to get him on. She starts suspecting him from the beginning because of his sermon about doubt. Now I would think that doubt is probably a pretty common topic discussed in any church. I think he is telling his congregation to not be alone and isolated if they have doubt, that they can come to him and not be alone. Streep sees it as something he is feeling himself. She even asks the nuns to keep an eye on him. Okay, I think it’s established that Streep is just a suspicious, rigid old hag.

I totally believe Father Flynn is innocent and that Streep wants him to be guilty so badly that everything he says or does makes him look guilty in her eyes. It is easy to read things into people’s actions or words when you suspect them of something. Say you suspect your spouse of cheating on you. Say it all started with something stupid like you found a piece of paper with a phone number on it and no name. If you are the suspicious type, you might automatically assume it is the phone number of someone they are cheating on you with. It can then just snowball from there. Actions you wouldn’t have paid any attention to in the past suddenly look suspicious, and there is nothing that person can say or do to convince you otherwise. (And this is just an example, not something happening in my life. Cam’s a good guy)

I believe Father Flynn had nothing but compassion for the Miller boy. The poor kid is the first black student at the school, he’s gay and his father beats him. Any one of those things alone would be hard to deal with, let alone all three. And to top it off his mother turns a blind eye to it all. So who does the kid have to turn to? His priest. I believe the Miller kid did drink the alter wine and Father Flynn was just trying to keep it a secret. I think Donald Miller told him that his father beats him, and Father Flynn was trying to avoid another beating. I totally believe Father Flynn’s story that he was just trying to keep it a secret so he didn’t get removed from being an alter boy. Father Flynn was right in believing that Streep would stick to the rules and remove him, because that is exactly what she did. Just because he is paying special attention to the Miller boy, which I think was the right thing for him to do, does not mean something inappropriate is going on. Donald Miller is 12 years old and needs an adult to care about him, and he found that in Father Flynn.

One of the best scenes is the one between Sister James and Father Flynn in the courtyard after his gossip sermon. I believe he is truly speaking from his heart. He points out that Streep is not a kind person, and asks if she has ever seen Streep reach out a hand. He says that loving children is natural because how else would you relate to them. He tells Sister James not to let people tell her that the light in her heart is a sign of weakness, that it is a tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue. Just watch the scene again there is a lot of really good stuff said.

Now a lot of people would say that the scene between Father Flynn and Streep alone in her office is his confession. I don’t think so. When he asks Streep if she has ever committed a mortal sin I think he was just trying to bring her back down from her almost insane behavior. He admits he has too and that he left it in the hands of his confessor. You could assume the sin he is referring to is what she is suspecting him of. But, keep in mind, he is a Catholic Priest. He could be talking about anything, it could be that he noticed a woman’s butt or something. The Catholics take guilt pretty seriously. At the end of the scene he stops Streep from leaving the office. He tells her that there are things he can’t say, that there are things beyond her knowledge. I don’t think he is confessing and letting her know she is right. I think he is referring to the fact that Donald Miller is gay. He doesn’t know that Streep knows. He thinks that if she finds out, Miller would get kicked out of the school. He is a man of compassion, and is willing to leave the parish so Donald Miller has a chance. I believe he also leaves the parish to avoid Streep’s accusations from going public. I think in many cases giving in like that is not an admission of guilt, it is more avoiding a long drawn out process that would waste a lot of time.

And I also think that it is this scene that Streep’s doubt starts creeping in and she recognizes it. But, she is the type of person that she is not going to let it go, after all, she has her certainties! She is not willing to admit she is wrong. She has no proof, and she knows it. It’s only when Father Flynn starts writing down the things she is saying, so he can get her transferred, that she makes up the lie about calling his old parish. She has it in her head that he is guilty and she will stop at nothing. I don’t think his being in 3 parishes in 5 years is proof either. There could be several reasons he left the other two parishes. One reason could be that woman’s nice butt. He didn’t seem worried at all to me that she called his previous parish.

I think in the ending scene Streep knows that for selfish reasons, she almost destroyed a man’s life. I think Sister James’ innocence brings it out of her. I believe the doubts she has, are doubts in herself, and not doubts in the church. I think she realizes that she does not represent the vows that she took when she became a nun.

It all comes down to that if you want to believe someone is guilty, you can convince yourself that they are. That kind of thinking can distort everything you see and hear, and you can twist everything to convince yourself and others that you are right. Politicians do it all the time!

A couple symbolic things I noticed:

The wind scattering the leaves, especially when Streep is around, represents gossip. Just like the feathers in the wind in his sermon. Watch the dinner scene with the nuns when they are talking about the doubt sermon. Streep’s napkin flutters for no apparent reason. I think that foreshadows the beginning of Streep’s thoughts.

I think the same light going out in her office twice represents the light in her heart going out. I think it is the same light that Father Flynn talks to Sister James about.

At the beginning of the scene between Father Flynn and Sister James in the courtyard, there is a crow cawing. (is that the right word?) Father Flynn asks Sister James what kind of bird that is. She tells him it’s a crow and he says of course it is. He knew it was a crow. I think it was put in there because Father Flynn knows the two sisters are going to eat crow, as they say.

In the classroom scene with Streep and Sister James the wind blows through the window. Streep describes the wind as peripatetic. I looked that word up. It means to travel or wander about, but it also refers to Aristotle’s school of philosophy. Wind does travel and wander about, but I find the Aristotle thing interesting too. Aristotle came up with the idea of causality. That for every cause there is an effect. Chew on that for awhile.

Okay, that’s it. Sorry this is so long. I think he’s innocent, so try to convince me otherwise. Bring it!


B said...

Hehe. Smackdowns with Sue! I think you summed it up when you said that if you want to believe someone is guilty, you can convince yourself that they are. We're all convinced of something different. Sue, I like everything you said. I also liked the scene in the courtyard, but I was convinced he was guilty by this time, and seeing as how he is a priest, and preaches compassion every week, I think he was just feeding her good stuff about herself to make her like him more. I also am confused about the fingernails. You never addressed that.

I disagree with what you thought about the symbolism. I believe that she kept trying to turn on the lights, both physically and metaphorically, and the other people in her life kept making them go out. I also thought it was interesting what Amy said about us having a suspicion of Catholic Priests already because of everything that went on in the past few years.

I don't know, I can see both sides! Maybe that is the point. I wonder if the actors and screenwriters even know if he is guilty or not! Maybe it's just such a brilliant story that there is enough evidence to prove both sides, and they made it just to confuse the world and get people talking.

P.S. I hate debating.

Sue said...

No need to debate here, just a flow of ideas. I totally agree with you B when you say even the actors and screenwrites don't know if he is guilty or not. I found out that the guy who originally wrote the play also wrote the screenplay and he directed the movie. I think he absolutely purposelly wrote it so both sides could have good points. I think that is the reason the movie is called Doubt! You think you have it, then something gives you a little bit of doubt.

It reminds me of the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The entire play is just two guys sitting under a tree waiting for someone named Godot. The seasons change, you can tell by the tree, and they still just wait and have intense conversations. And then it ends. You never know why they are waiting for this guy. It opens it up for all sorts of interpretation.

I didn't mention the fingernails because I just don't think it's too significant. So the guy likes to wear his fingernails a little long, I don't see the big deal.

I like your point about the light. There is more to the lights than just that one light bulb. She opens the blinds so the sun is shining right on him, he gets up a little later and closes them. So there is definitely something to the lights.

And last, I just don't think that because other priests have been known to have inappropriate relationships with alter boys etc, that it is fair to assume he does too. That is judging him by something his peers did. It is not fair to generalize behavior like that based on a stereotype. If that were the case then we could believe that every muslim is a terrorist, or everyone from the south is a hillbilly. Yes, it does seem like it was all over the Catholic church. But I bet if you take the actual number of priests who did it and compared it to the number of priests that exist, I bet it was only like 1% of them.

Amy said...

I had the exact same thoughts you guys did; I think that maybe they wrote this script and put enough symbolism in it to make it go both ways. You could probably go back and forth forever and like you said, maybe the writer doesn't even know!
Also, about the last comment. I hope you know I wasn't generalizing about corrupt priests in the Catholic Church. I just felt that the general audience would be quick to assume he's guilty and that's why it is a brilliant idea for a story. Sue, you made some great points in favor of Father Flynn. I'm pretty confused and feel like I need to watch it again when it's not 2 am. I'm a terrible debater, but it is neat to hear all your opinions. You guys noticed a lot more than I did.

Sue said...

I didn't think you generalized that Ames. In your comment in the first posting you mention maybe that is why the topic was chosen because it had been in the news a lot. I think our family is pretty good about not letting pre-conceived notions about things like that get in the way. At least I hope so.

You should watch the movie again. It's even better the second time.

Dan W said...

Hey all,

Sorry for weighing in so late. Lots going at work with a press release and some other deadlines, then I had my monthly gathering with the theology boys last night, then Saturday honey-dos this morning, etc. Ugh. My life is running me rather than the other way around.

Great discussion. Thanks for doing your post Sue--tons that I would have said in supporting that same position. Let me add a few more minor things.

At the end of the Flynn's opening sermon, when everyone is crossing themselves, etc., Streep has to cross herself, too, but she makes this way interesting face that tells you right then and there that she totally disapproves of this guy and what he said--and it's after that at the first dinner with the nuns that she puts it out there to watch for things with him. This is before her seeing the blond kid pull away from Flynn as they are lining up outside, so when she confesses later that that was a moment that made her suspicious of him, it confirmed to me that right from the start she was reading into him what just wasn't there.

Some other things about Flynn that I like and that work for the "innocent" thesis. I think the scene in the hallway when he hugs Donald after his books had been knocked out of his hands and that toy was broken was just great. The way he touched his face and hugged him was handled perfectly. No hint of sexual stuff--just compassion. Donald hugs him back and doesn't seem uncomfortable at all. Even is Donald is gay, if he'd been taken advantage of by the father, he'd not be comfortable around him. Donald seems sad when Flynn does his goodbye sermon.

I love the flowers in Flynn's prayer book. They remind him of spring. When he pulls those out again after the big confrontation in Sister A's office, to me it was just a wonderful metaphor for "okay, I can weather this injustice. Spring will eventually come again."

I loved the wind metaphor running throughout the whole movie, of things being blown around by unseen forces, and how that played into his final sermon. He was being blown by forces he couldn't foresee or predict, but he trusted that he was in God's hands and was willing to be blown in whatever direction it was God's will to take him. This wind, to me, was also the winds of change in the Catholic church about this time, just after Vatican II and all the decisions to modernize the church--no more purely Latin mass; nuns' clothing style changes; much more lay participation; and so much more. As Flynn said several times, we must make the church feel more welcoming, more in touch with the communities and what's happening in the real world. It took decades for this wind to really change Catholicism, and Sister A and those like her loved the traditional ways and simply had to be worked around as best they could. I love that he got a promotion to head a parish afterward: this could be God wanting modernizing forces in the church--that was the explanation for the wind that Sister A stirred up. Though unpleasant, God worked to make it work out for the better.

I think the scene with Sister A about whether she had committed sin was not an admission of guilt but a reminder that the gospel message is about love and compassion. He'd said something similar to Sister James earlier in their scene in the courtyard. Flynn was a man who'd known forgiveness through the processes he'd gone through with his confessor, and I see him as calling Sister A to remember that in her own life, if it had ever happened to her.

In the additional materials on the DVD, the actors talk about just what we're taking about here: that there is no one clear answer to the film's "did he or didn't he?" issue. They talk about people leaving the play or the theatre, having seen the same film/play and yet totally experiencing it differently. The film is definitely a Rorschach test: what we see in it is truly a mirror about ourselves. Shanley wrote it to be that way, and he pulled it off. Hooray for an amazing accomplishment.

Don't know what to say about fingernails and the t-shirt into the locker, except they are there to do the job they are doing in this discussion: to complicate the too easy siding with Father Flynn. I also actually thought Sister A had more compassion than Sue gave her credit for. The care for the nun who is going blind, and I occasionally saw some glimmers here and there that she actually liked and cared for the children.

I'm still processing the scene with Donald's mother. Gotta watch that and the ending scene with Sister A's confession of her doubts a couple more times....

Too long a post. Sorry. Loved the film and the acting. Incredible. Glad I saw it and look forward to a few more viewings before I send it back.

Amy said... guys are good. I'll have to watch it again. I think Scott would like it.
One thing I'd like to know...What were your feelings as you watched the movie. Did you think he was guilty? Did the end cause you to go back and think about all the symbolism? Just curious.
By the way, I'm home in Riverton now. Got home tonight. It was so hard to say good-bye to Allison, Haley & Marcus.
Dan, how is Jeanine doing? I haven't heard anything. I was planning on calling her tomorrow. I hope everything went well. I'm sure she's in a lot of pain. I've been thinking of her a lot.

B said...

So. Matt and I watched the extra features the other night, and it totally confirmed my suspicions that it was written with no right answer. The playwright/director even said that he wrote it so that you would go see it with someone and come out and find that they had seen a completely different play. The cast were all laughing at how often they are asked if he did it or not. The writer also said that he didn't want the main topic of discussion to be whether Father Flynn was guilty or not, but just wanted people to start thinking and talking about anything. I highly recommend the extra features.

Also, her name is Sister Alloysius Beauvier.

Pops said...

you guys are awesome. Sue, Dan, B, Amy....good thinkers. I thought Father Flynn was innocent as I told Matt when we discussed the movie. I also thought that the writers wrote it that it could go both ways. and be argued both ways. Very slick and smoothly done. Props to the actors, director and writers. Enough of the headbanging movies. Give me more good guys against bad guys like "Independance Day" or Absolute Power. Black or White is for me!!!!

Dan W said...

Hey all,

Just got off the phone with Jeanine. She’s at Sharon’s recovering—slowly but steadily. She had a really big scare with her blood. Normal hemoglobin counts are about 13 or 14, and the expectation following a surgery like hers is that it will drop a few points. Hers went all the way down to a 4 (she says the doctor was totally shocked, as during the surgery he didn’t think she was losing more than the average amount of blood), so they had to rush-push three units of blood and infuse a bunch of iron. Because of all of this, she had to stay in the clinic a couple of extra days. She will head back there Thursday to have a couple of drains removed, along with most of her sutures.

She’s still in a lot of pain. As you can imagine, her skin is really, really tight in lots of places it wasn’t before, and it pinches something fierce whenever she moves. That, along with typical suture pain, has made things pretty miserable this week. Luckily she’s arranged to have six weeks off—all paid. What a blessing!

She says to tell all of you hello. I read her the Sunday with Sue clues from this week, and none of them rang a bell with her either. We’ll both be anxious to hear what movie they are from! She promises to blog here in the next day or two so you can get some first-person recounting.

She says thanks for all your prayers and good wishes. She’s felt them and really appreciates your love and support. Please keep them coming as she still has much more recovery ahead.

Amy said...

Poor Jeanine. That sounds so miserable. Watching Haley recover from surgery last week, I remembered how rough it is. Jeanine's surgery was so much more involved and I'm sure she's so sore and uncomfortable. I feel so bad for her.
Jeanine, hang in there...we love you and hope you feel better soon. So good you have Sharon to help you. You are in good hands.

Emily said...

Now that I know there is no real wrong or right answer, I'm wondering a few things. A) How did the actor's motivate themselves? Did they both act in their own heads with the conviction that their character was in the right? B) Does the conclusion you drew from the movie supposed to tell you something about yourself?

Sue said...

Dan, I love your comments. You touched on some things I didn't in the posting because I thought it was getting too long. But they did cross my mind.

I too believe the hug he gives the Williams boy in the hall after his books have been knocked to the floor, is innocent. There are the reasons you mention Dan, like the boy isn't uncomfortable or anything. But I also think that if Father Flynn was guilty, he wouldn't have made such a stupid move. I think a truly innocent person doesn't care of the implications a hug like that may have. I see it as he was giving the finger to the sisters accusing him.

I also noticed that there was some compassion Streep showed. It was sweet that she was watching out for the nun going blind. But that is pretty much the only compassion she showed. Dan, you said you saw some glimmers of kindess to the children, but I don't see it. You are going to have to back that up.

And to answer your question about noticing symbolism etc, Amy. Before watching the movie, I knew what it dealt with, and I knew that it made people think one way or the other. I watched it the first time with a completely open mind about who was right and who was wrong. I found myself leaning towards Father Flynn, so I watched it again with my mind on his side. So I paid a lot more attention to Streep the second time and noticed a lot more about her behavior.

And Em, I think the answer to your first question is yes! I think the actors would have to believe their character is right. I don't think we would have gotten the performances we got without them believing they are right.

And for your second question Em, I'm pretty proud of what my conclusion says about me. I will give the benefit of the doubt to anyone. You really are innocent until proven guilty with me. Some may see that as a weakness, but I don't think so! Streep had circumstantial evidence at best!

Dan W said...

Back at you, Sue, on loving YOUR comments. As I hope I conveyed in my long post, I was only going for things you hadn't overly touched on--you had anticipated so much of what I would have said if I'd gone first.

Defend Sister A's compassion to the children, eh? Admittedly, there isn't a ton of evidence. To me it was more of a cumulative effect of a few moments. Here are some that occur to me right now:

When she and Sister James are alone in Sister James's classroom and she's asking about Donald and a bit later goes to that girl's desk in the back (the flirty girl with the bartette) and encourages Sister James to help ensure that she stays "intact" before graduating from the school (that very subtle word choice really tickled me).

Her explanation of her attitude toward ballpoint pens I think has a bit of concern for children in it: they have to press downward and this hurts penmanship. Good penmanship is becoming a lost art, and I think she bemoans that as something that will be impoverishing for the children's future.

I also see it a bit of compassion peeking through in her look and reaction to when Sister James tells her that the kids are uniformly terrified of her. She seemed to imply a big "of course they are!" kind of thing, which to me is an indication of her unquestioned belief that this is the best way to ensure that children are socialized properly so they can become good people. A lot of parents during that time thought that. Dr. Spock hadn't fully caught on back then, especially to the older generation. Discipline was love!

Finally, I DO think she had compassion for Donald that went beyond her quest to get rid of Father Flynn. Some of the things in the scene with Donald's mother brought that out (she softened when his mother reacted so strongly to her seeming willingness to use Donald as a pawn in her war against Flynn). It is even mildly there in her musings about how she'd expected some boys hitting Donald and perhaps a parent or two complaining about admitting a negro to the school. She had been determined to address these things in the interest of doing right by Donald.

Anyway, don't know if any of this hits you the same way. But somehow I just saw Sister A as driven more by ideology, fear of change, belief that traditional ways are best, more than just by being a disagreeable person by nature. She's a zealot not an unfeeling, uncaring woman. (Oh yeah, it wasn't toward children, but I loved the genuineness of her "You were missed!" to Sister James as she came to sit with her after returning to school following her visit with her sick brother.

My two (okay, more than two) cents.


Cat said...

Yeah, I should have read this one too before my post. Sue already brought up the peripatetic thing. But with the fingernails: Father Flynn said that that's how he likes them, but they're clean...