Movie Mom

Movie Mom


posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for thematic material
Nudity/Sex:The movie concerns allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest and there are references to a child being beaten for being gay
Violence/Scariness:Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:December 12, 2008
DVD Release Date:April 7, 2009
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material
Profanity: None
Nudity/Sex: The movie concerns allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest and there are references to a child being beaten for being gay
Alcohol/Drugs: None
Violence/Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date: December 12, 2008
DVD Release Date: April 7, 2009

Before movies, there were plays, and before plays there were stories told around the campfire. One of the deepest human impulses is the need to tell our stories in part because of the way they help us make sense of the world. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end and stories have a purpose. Extraneous details are excluded and everything we are told is there to help us understand. The power of stories is that they provide something life cannot — certainty and a sense of control.

“Doubt” is a story that turns this upside down. The title refers not just to the question of proof of the ugly allegation at the heart of the story but to our own need for certainty and understanding in a world that is ambiguous and contradictory.


It takes place in 1964, a transitional moment just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and in the middle of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council that would bring great change to the practice of Catholicism. We smile now as school principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) , comes down firmly against ball point pens and “Frosty the Snowman” because we know how small those incursions on tradition are in comparison to the upheavals of the late 1960’s. Sister Aloysius wears the heavy, formal religious habit modeled after Italian mourning garb of the 19th century, with a black bonnet enclosing her head so completely it might as well be blinders.

Sister Aloysius, named for the patron saint of youth, knows about mortal sins far more serious than pens and secular Christmas songs. She thinks, no, she knows that one of the most horrifying has been committed in her school. She knows, without a doubt, that the priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has behaved inappropriately with a student. And he is not just any student; he is the first black child to enroll in the school.


Sister Aloysius is certain, but we are not, and the most compelling aspect of the movie, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is the way that it keeps us from any kind of certainty. Every time you think you’ve made up your mind who is right, another scene challenges you assumptions. By the time the boy’s mother (Viola Davis, in one of the most mesmerizing performances of the year) gives her point of view, the movie becomes something of a Rubik’s cube, twisting not just facts but values in both directions at once. Like life.

  • Laryssa

    Thanks so much for your review! Too Shy to Stop movie critic Adam just wrote his own commentary on Doubt. You can read his review here.

  • Your Name

    The odd thing about this movie is that so many reviewers have gotten it wrong: there is no doubt the priest has had an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The tell-tale undershirt the priest puts back in the boy’s locker and the priest’s tears after being confronted with the fact he’s had three parishes in five years, essentially confessing his guilt, proves he’s guilty. The doubt, rather, involves Sr. Aloysius’ ability to still believe in a church, and a God, that lets priests abuse children, and in this case, get rewarded for it.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for the comment! As noted in the interview with the man who wrote both the play and the movie, those “clues” are not intended to prove that the priest is guilty of abuse. Every bit of evidence is as easily explained by innocence as guilt. There were a number of reasons to keep moving the priest, starting with his “progressive” approach in a very restrictive era. The last confrontation with the nun suggests that she is projecting some of her own issues and past onto him. The author says that he wrote it to leave the question of guilt completely open to interpretation and discussion. So if the reviewers came to the conclusion that he was successful in doing so, it is understandable. I am not saying that he is innocent; I am just saying that your conclusion “there is no doubt” is not what the author intended.

  • Terik Ororke

    Folks, it is only a movie. It is not intended to explain sexual abuse but the inability of people to use correct judgment while they freely let their own “issues” guide them, rather in a free-fall manner. It proves that if I can “trounce” you then I am stronger, better, and certainly more worthy to be God’s vessel than you are.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for a thoughtful and perceptive comment, Terik. Beautifully stated. I hope you will return often and let us know what you think of the movies you see.

  • Patti C

    I’m a little late in posting a comment to this movie, but only just discovered your great movie blog. I saw this movie with my 21 year old son and 24 year old daughter. We all loved it, but best of all, we had an hour long discussion about it when it was over. Not too many movies we’ve seen together have sparked such varied viewpoints.
    By the way, I love your reviews. I’ve been reading through them all and find your comments very helpful in deciding what films to add to my Netflix queue. Please give my compliments to your webmaster. If I go to the full review and then back to the chronological list of reviews, it returns me to my place in the list (rather than back to the top). If only every blog was programmed that way.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Patti! You made my day. If you get a chance, read my interview with the writer/director of the film and you will see that you did just what he hoped — he wanted more than anything to have people argue about the movie. The critics I saw it with stood on the sidewalk for quite a while after the screening.
    I appreciate your kind words very much. Please return often and let me know what you think about the movies you see.

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