I just saw the movie Doubt starring Meryl Streep. The movie and her lead were both excellent. You would think because I am a Catholic, I would not like this movie. But I loved it and I'll tell you why.
Of course, Meryl's brilliance and the captivating suspense of the film is highly enjoyable. The cinematography is beautiful and the camera angle shots add interesting touches to the meaning behind the scenes.
1. The beginning of the film makes you think that the uptight traditionalist Sister (Meryl Streep's character) is the bad guy. Actually, she turns out to be very likeable because behind the cold, austere exterior, her character truly cares about the welfare of the school children.
2. The priest is a progressive who "in the spirit of Vatican II" (or so they say) doesn't see anything special about the priesthood. Wow! to Hollywood for demonizing a liberal for once.
3. The priest is not just a pedophile, but a homosexual. Empirical data links pedophilia with homosexuality. Further, this problem is not a celibacy problem, but a homosexual problem. It has nothing to do with the fact that Latin-rite priests cannot marry. I appreciated the exposure of this reality as an element in the film.
4. There was certainty at the end of the film that the priest was guilty. This we know by the fact that he did resign his position and by the fact that Meryl's character told him that she contacted a nun who worked with him in the past and he flipped out when in reality she did no such thing. She even said, "His resignation was his confession."
5. I appreciated the line in the film where the more naive, younger sister is told my Meryl's character, "you just want your simplicity back." Life is complicated. Period. We are human and oftentimes are blind to our sins and to our infidelity to God through our impure motives.
6. LOVED the ending. So many reasons. I'll try to express myself well. Meryl's character had certainty that the priest was guilty. The fact that he resigned and that even the naive sister couldn't sleep at night made that evident to the viewer. She did the right thing by doing everything she could to get him away from her school. And she succeeded. But she also lost because by resigning he got a promotion. He got transferred to another school and another parish. The movie ends with her saying "I have doubts."
I didn't interpret this to mean she had doubts about his guilt, but about God. There is a shot right before this scene of the crucifix in her hand.
It's perfectly understandable for her character to have doubts here. I would argue that the number one reason why there is atheism in the world is because of the problem and reality of evil. Even among believers this is a problem. You can explain it, but it's never okay. This is where faith and trust in God, comes in.
Meryl's character was faithful. She did everything she could and yet it seemed like God let her down by the fact that in the end, the priest "won."
Sometimes in life, especially when our prayers don't get answered in the way we see fit, we doubt, right? Even when our prayers do and have been answered, in amazing ways, we still doubt.
Another reason I thought the ending was brilliant was because the film opens with the priest's homily at mass on the subject of doubt. She judged him for that homily only to find herself later relating to it. Perhaps even being helped by it.
Oh, how I enjoy the utter humanity of it all. We have all experienced those pride-busting moments when we are (spiritually) put in our place by someone we did not expect or someone we deemed below us. Now, I don't mean to imply that we should look to criminals to learn morality or for spiritual guidance, certainly not. But even the greatest saint is still a sinner.
Another complex element I enjoyed, and one that begs further reflection, is that Meryl's character sinned to gain her certainty about his guilt which eventually led to his resignation. She lied and told him she had contacted a nun who had worked with him in the past. The naive sister in the film was SHOCKED when it was revealed that she had done no such thing. That she lied. First, I think we have become so dishonest, we are desensitized to it. It's just a little, white lie, what's the harm? Well, venial sins lead to mortal sins and a lie is still a lie and as Christians we KNOW we are not supposed to do it. But we do. And you know what? I don't think we really feel all that bad about it. I mean, who even has the attentiveness to even notice the depth of how dishonest we can be? Both with ourselves and with other people. But in this film, the gravity of her reaction was refreshing to me. I was even slightly taken aback by it. It wasn't until that moment in the film when I realized that the reason the naive sister was so unwilling to believe the priest was guilty was because she was so innocent. As they say, "To the pure all things are pure."
Her lie also begs the question: does the end justify the means? Is it okay to lie for a good cause?
Did the effect of her lie actually cause more harm in the end? His resignation did in fact cause his promotion and thus more opportunity for him to continue in his transgression.
Thus, it seemed as though she had won, she did, in fact, succeed in her will of getting him out. But instead of being punished, as he should have, he was rewarded. Her prayer was answered, but his promotion caused her to doubt.
What if she hadn't lied? What if he remained at her school? It would seem as though she had lost. But maybe this circumstance, awful as it is, in the long run would have been better? Would she have had doubts? Or would she have continued on her resolute path to win this battle?
In seeking justice, you must be just. Was this a problem of method?
My interpretation is one among many I suppose. Obviously, I hope everyone understands the film in the way that I did. Of course, I watched the film not only as a believer, but as a Catholic. I didn't catch any anti-Catholicism, only the reality of what has happened and the reality of the spiritual struggles of even the most faithful believers.
It goes without saying that I felt sad during the film because of what the American Catholic Church is dealing with and how people, understandably so, have been scandalized.
It completely breaks my heart when I hear stories of how people have lost their faith or have left the Church over this matter. We need to remember that there will always be wolves among the sheep. We also, as Christians, ask and hope to be judged by the best of us (the Saints, John Paul II, Mother Teresa) and not by the worst of us.
Lastly, I felt inspired to continue the life of faith, to seek holiness, because God knows, we need witnesses. Everyone needs Christ in their lives, let us make that proposal!