Doubt is a bundle of questions, chiseled to a point and encased in the trappings of a Catholic church era now nearly forgotten. It boasts one of the finest leading casts this yearseventeen Oscar nominations between themand some heavy, yet relevant source material. Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play, this Doubt was re-written for the screen and directed by its playwright, John Patrick Shanley.
The year is 1964, and Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the principal of St. Nicholas Church School, a Catholic grade school in the Bronx. Sister Aloysius hovers hawk-like above the school, swooping in as an agent of wrath to punish wayward students via a well-timed smack to the crown of the head. She watches over the other nuns in the parishincluding sweet, naïve eighth grade teacher Sister James (Amy Adams)but it's unclear whether her care is borne of respect, or a preservation instinct for the parish's vanguard.
On the other hand, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), pastor of the St. Nicholas parish, is a man of his timewhich, not accidentally, is that of the Second Vatican Counciland a proponent of a kinder, friendlier church, one in which love and kindness prevail over fear. "Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty," Father Flynn preaches to his congregation, scandalizing Sister Aloysius, to whom doubt is equivalent to sin, or at least a questionable weakness of character. He exhorts his congregation toward tolerance of one another and away from gossip, and teaches the boys to shoot a free throw, wash under their fingernails, and not take it too seriously when girls don't want to dance with them.
One day, Sister Aloysius spots something that affirms her already-entrenched suspicions about Father Flynn. When Sister James later approaches her with a hesitant unease about the relationship between the priest and a young boy in her classthe first black student in the school, who has trouble with both bullies and his fatherthat hunch seems confirmed. Without a shred of evidence but convinced by her own certainty, Sister Aloysius sets out on a campaign to oust Father Flynn, but it's not without consequenceto herself, to Sister James, to the student in question, and to the parish. The line between what is right, who is justified, and what has happened becomes less certain as it is more closely examined.
Watching Doubt, you might imagine that it's really a backhanded commentary on something contemporarypolitics, religion, or another topic du jourwhich simply underlines the fact that doubt, manipulation, and tension toward authority are part of the human condition across temporal barriers. Doubt not only plays with questions about misgivings, certainty, and the lines between the two, but also confronts deeper issues of authority and its proper subversion, as well as whether wrongdoing is ever okay, if it's in the service of a greater good. These ideas are just as resonant in your hometown today as they were in the Bronx in 1964.