Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, February 09, 2009

a year of morning thanks


Although some people claim that, as a Pulitzer-prize winning play, Doubt was vastly superior, we saw the film on Saturday night, in an empty theater, save us. First time in my life we were so totally alone.

Although Doubt doesn't really answer its own major conflict--did the priest do it or not?--I found the film profoundly engaging. The four major characters were simply wonderful--the priest himself is warm and gregarious, so sympathetic it requires a good deal of toothy cynicism to believe he could really be molesting the kid in question. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is Old Ironsides, the nun who runs the school with hellfire. Amy Adams is perfect as the sweet and innocent Sister James, and Viola Davis takes on in a thankless but absolutely crucial secondary role as Mrs. Miller, the boy's anguished mother.

Doubt has little to do with good Christian people abandoning hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's about faith we have in each other, faith in what we say we are doing, faith in our mutual commitment and trust. It's about that faith being broken and the cynicism which gives rise to another kind of faith, a faith in one's own basic instincts about perfidy and innocence. Sister Aloysius becomes a fire-breathing true believer when she scribbled down enough about Father Flynn to build a case for him as someone not to be trusted with her schoolchildren.

When a story avoids answering its own central question, it risks a silly kind of cleverness. It's easy to feel hoodwinked. That's what happens here. When all is said and done, you wonder if the writer wasn't a little too cute by keeping us in the dark when the lights go up. The only justification here--or so it seems to me--is that among the myriad abuse accusations the Roman Catholic priesthood has suffered in the last decade, some must be bogus. In other words, maybe there are some stories, like this one, where the truth will never be known.

Maybe, but the burden of the truth definitely lies with Sister Aloysius, and it's hard not walk out of that theater believing her accusations about Father Flynn are legit.

What I loved about the movie is that it drew real red blood when it scratched the skin of our human character, it drew blood. Beneath the celluloid, there's bones and tissue and a human heart. I've never been anywhere close to such a situation, never been a Roman Catholic, never lived in NYC, where this film is lovingly shot; but somehow I know the essential emotions that John Patrick Shanley explores in Doubt. Somehow, I know I've been there, and therefore, to see and feel them again means I've been blessed.

This morning I'm thankful for wonderful plays and films, like Doubt. We may have been alone in the theater, but I swear, whole civilizations were there beside us.

1 comment:

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Doubt (The Play) gave me the impression that Sister Aloysius could've been right. However, it spoke even more to the idea that maybe the Priest was innocent, but that He put himself in a place where doubt could've arisen...a warning to all Christians who are asked to be above reproach. However our enemies seem to always find a way. And the strongest hate is unfortunately the most believable.