Sunday, January 04, 2009

There Can Be No Certainty Without Doubt


In the history of great epic debates (i.e. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie, Batman or Superman, Transformers or G.I. Joe, Cheer’s Sam and Diane or Sam and Rebecca, etc.), there can only be one truly correct view. How do you know which side is right? Well that is easy; the correct point of view will be the one you feel most strongly about…your own. If you are still not sure that your views are right? It is always a good idea to find others whom share the same views as you. Validation is key to winning any debate. Now you are probably thinking that this juvenile logic has no merit…and you are probably right. Yet there are times in life, such as shown in the film Doubt, where this train of thought is used justify the most sinister of actions.

Based on the play of the same name, Doubt takes place within the walls of a catholic school in the Bronx during the 1960’s. Despite being in the community for several years, St. Nicholas Catholic School is experience a time of change much to the chagrin of long time principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). When Sister James (Amy Adams) starts to question Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) close relationship with the school’s first, and only, black student; Sister Aloysius is determined to uncover the truth. Having only her moral certainty as proof, Sister Aloysius sets in motion a battle of wills with Father Flynn; a clash that will ultimately have irrevocable consequences for all involved.

Designed to generate countless debates after viewing, Doubt is an intelligent drama that does not provide any easy answers. The audience is given just enough information to form an opinion. Yet, like characters in the film, the information is not substantial enough to ignore the lingering feeling of doubt. It also does not help that Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver exceptional performances, which forces the viewer to constantly reassess who they have placed their loyalty behind. Amy Adams does a good job of holding her own as well. She is the embodiment of the viewer’s emotions, always swaying between the realms of certainty and doubt. The one performance that will probably generate the most debate this award season is Viola Davis. As the mother of the student in question, Davis is great. She conveys the inner turmoil of a mother torn between taking care of her son and desiring him to achieve an education regardless of the cost. Although Davis is only in the film for what feels like 10 to 15 minutes, she does leave a lasting impression far more memorable than the one Judi Dench did in Shakespeare in Love. I am still on the fence on whether that really merits award consideration but, judging by the early critic’s award nominations, I am glad that her work has connected with so many people nonetheless. While some might be perturbed by the fact that Doubt provides no clear answer, the ambiguity is what makes Doubt so stimulating. Forget about the recent re-igniting of the Team Aniston or Team Jolie hullabaloo, the juiciest pop culture debate of 2008 is easily Team Aloysius or Team Flynn.

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