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Meryl Streep, Without a “Doubt”

Adriana Pratt | Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thomas Aquinas once said, “Doubt is the beginning of wisdom.” When it is brought to Sister Aloysius’s (Meryl Streep) attention that the new priest at her 1964 Catholic church and school in the Bronx might have made homosexual come-ons to the school’s first African American student, doubt is not a word to be found in the severe no-nonsense woman’s vocabulary.

Even though Fr. Flynn is very well liked as the parish priest whose homilies transcend heavenly matters by infusing inspiring doses of pragmatism, his charming personality and warm persona only irritate and displease Sister Aloysius more and the issue is not to be treated lightly on her part.

Tired of the changes Vatican II is attempting to make and the rascally students who are constantly trying to pull the wool over her eyes, Sister Aloysius’s patience has fatigued and no plea will convince her that Fr. Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is innocent.

Sister James (Amy Adams), the na’ve and innocent young sister who brought the suspicions of the miscreant behavior to Sister Aloysius’s attention when she smelled alcohol on young Donald Miller’s breath after a visit to Fr. Flynn’s rectory, plays the gullible go-between, changing her opinion on who’s guilty based on whose side of the story she most recently heard.

Another twist to the plot comes when, in Sister Aloysius’s attempt to uncover more evidence of Fr. Flynn’s corruption of her youthful son, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) reveals to Sister Aloysius that Donald is “that way” and that she will allow any attention he receives from Fr. Flynn to continue.

The issue further complicates itself when Mrs. Miller begs Sister Aloysius not to make anything of it, both because Donald’s father would most likely beat her son to death if he found out what was possibly taking place and also because African Americans did not have much of a chance to succeed academically during that time period and it would only be a few more months until Donald could graduate and they could put all of this behind them.

With a rosary in her hand and her black bonnet severely strapped tight to her head, Sister Aloysius leaves behind Mrs. Miller’s request and has one final confrontation with Fr. Flynn.In this climactic scene Sister Aloysius snarls that she will accept nothing less than Fr. Flynn’s dismissal from their parish.

A conversation between the two sisters who brought this case to light reveals the complexities of each of their characters and the soft core that lies beneath Sister Aloysius’s tough exterior. A fantastic performance by Meryl Streep brings the many dimensions of her character full circle. The audience leaves wondering which aspect Sister Aloysius doubted -­ her accusation of Fr. Flynn, or even more consequential, a doubt of her very own faith.

Though this film received many accolades and acclaim for its adaptation of the 2004 play to the screen, it was overly praised. The fact that it was about a controversial topic (in particular one that deals with homosexual Catholic priests – a media favorite) brought it enormous attention. The performances were beautifully done and the words were beautifully spoken, but the storyline made for an overall unexciting plot, a key component to any movie that deserves true praise. See this film if you are in the mood for something thought-provoking, but it is not worth skipping your homework to do because, as Sister Aloysius says, “Every easy choice today will have its consequence tomorrow.”