The Reviewer: Doubt

Every subjective conclusion – no matter how slightly questionable – is its prey. It’s that thing that lurks behind every bad decision, and even every good one. You ask yourself: What if I would have chosen a different path? What if what I believed to be true, the very core values of my existence, are merely an illusion? Then, the horror sinks in as you realize a fate worse than knowing your error, is failing to know at all. The true assault on the human spirit? Doubt.

A film with penetrating performances from both leads – Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt progresses from first displaying the simple suspicion that accompanies a mystery unsolved, to the most compelling uncertainty. The movie’s central conflict is between Streep, a frighteningly strict headmaster of a traditional Catholic preparatory school, against Hoffman, a liberal priest with more than his fair share of vices. In a priest dinner scene, Hoffman chases his gluttonous meal with a large glass of beer, then puffs on a cigarette as he makes fat jokes about the school’s nuns, causing his fellow priests to explode into the kind of laughter that only accompanies pure adoration. A flash to the nun’s dinner setup shows Streep at the head of the table of silent nuns, all scared to make a sound as they chew each bite with caution.

Streep’s character wants to maintain the things Catholic School nightmares are made of: endless homework, strict behavior regulation and severe punishment for even the slightest act of rebellion. Hoffman threatens her system with his modernity, by defying every traditional ideal about the priesthood. Doubt is just a tad overzealous in its attempt to tackle one social commentary after the next, whether segregation, dogma or even child molestation.

But Doubt is one to see. As viewers attempt to figure out whether or not Hoffman is in fact guilty of Streep’s extreme accusations against them, they will become engrossed in the characters, the performance and a deeper question. While the mystery of Hoffman’s guilt remains the unkown, a more valuable truth is realized in Streep. A nun intensely devoted to her religion and her vision of its intention, even she questions the entire premise of God, Catholicism and the system. Doubt begs viewers to consider uncertainty a force just as, if not far more powerful than undying faith.

-Doubt is showing this week and next week at Muvico Baywalk 20, 101 3rd Ave. N. in downtown St. Petersburg.