Today I led the discussion on the movie Doubt, and boy, was there a lot of doubt! Not about the movie, however, or the topic. I had the biggest attendance ever – people had to bring in extra chairs. It was a discussion leader’s dream, and the richness of the discussion tempted my fantasy as an audience pulling, audience pleasing facilitator.
But I must defer to the compelling nature of the movie and the timeliness of its topic. Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were stunning in their roles as Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. The cinematography rendered the mood and promoted the story line.
But back to the discussants. There was an immediate dichotomy in sympathy for Sister Alloysius, played by Meryl Streep. At the outset, one person declared she didn’t like the film at all because she disliked Streep’s character. Another spoke up and said that she had a great deal of sympathy for Sister Alloysius because the nun was trying, however imperfectly, to protect the boy Donald. Then we were off and running.
One of the key scenes I showed was the confrontation between Mrs. Miller and Sister Aloysius. I thought there would be some participant disagreeement as to whether Mrs. Miller acted in her son’s best interest, but the group’s consensus was that Mrs. Miller was, indeed, “standing beside her son.”
The composition of the group today included some who were more sophisticated in their film literacy, so there were insightful comments about the director’s use of storms (especially the use of thunder when Sister Aloysius gave a particulary sharp accusation), angled shots to show disequilibrium of truth, and actor placement to show a shift in power. The first scene in Sister Aloysius’ office has a constant transfer to power as Father Flynn sits at HER desk, then she opens the blinds so the sun blinds him, and so forth.
This was a Methodist group watching a movie about 1960’s Catholic schools, and a couple of fallen cradle Catholics were able to answer questions such as “What is a mortal sin?” I forgot to tell the group that Sister James was modeled after the director’s own favorite teacher and that she had been found to lend technical consulting on the Sisters of Charity. So much to say and so little time!
I’m still not sure how to bring Scripture into the discussion so as to spark dialogue. I had short Scriptures read, such as Proverbs 15:14 (The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly) before Scene Eight (when Sister James tells Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn called the boy Donald to the rectory), but we never seemed to get back to it. Perhaps the film medium, being visual, can’t compete with the spoken passages of the Bible.
It was a good day to be a discussion leader. There’s no doubt.