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December 17, 2008

Yawn: Hollywood Makes Movie Where Fire-and-Brimstone, Anti-Sex Priest Turns Out to Be Pedophile, and Crusading Progressive Nun Is Heroine Out for Justice

Oh, wait. That's not the plot of Doubt. Actually it's reversed -- it's the "attractive," "progressive" (um, liberal) priest who's the likely pederast, and the anti-sex moral scold nun who turns out to be... well, kinda having a point, at least about this particular issue.

Perhaps predictably, TNR's liberal film reviewer pans it:

The real problem with Doubt, though, is that it exhibits too little of its titular quality. I have not seen the play, which is widely praised for its ambivalence on the subject of Flynn's guilt, but somewhere in the transition from stage to screen the equilibrium appears to have shifted. From the start, it seems clear that Father Flynn has taken erotic liberties with his young charge, and it only becomes more so as the film progresses: His demeanor is too guilty, his evasions are too feeble, and the evidence gradually accumulates in one direction alone. (The fact that there are several scenes featuring the victimized boy, who was only described secondhand in the play, may also tilt the balance.) As a result, the intended moral reversal, in which the attractive is revealed to be ugly and the intolerant to be just, lacks bite. Yes, Sister Aloysius may be an agent of repression--typically a scarlet letter of cinematic villainy--but some impulses need repressing, and sexual predation of the young is rather high on the list.

It's not clear to me his criticism is political; if the film really was supposed to be about "doubt" as to the man's guilt, well, maybe that was lost in translation.

But the plot seems more interesting to me this way, and not merely because of politics: On a meta-level, we all know the heavies Hollywood prefers and the heroes it likes. By switching them around -- a minor trick, to be sure, but a crucial one -- the movie casts, um, Doubt on the unquestioned assumptions of most of the art-house indie-film audience.

I've noted before the tendency of Hollywood -- and liberal critics -- to praise films that "challenge the audience's assumptions and make them question their beliefs," but they always mean films that question conservative assumptions and provoke questions about conservative beliefs. They never write plays or make films that question their own assumptions.

When someone, in the very rare case, does make such a film, it gets panned. Obese liberal Roger Ebert, for example, panned Team America: World Police as "nihilistic," because, um, well by hitting both liberals and conservatives, the film did not take a proper stand... in favor of liberals and against conservatives.

Playwrights, actors, filmmakers, and critics always praise films that "challenge the audience's assumptions" as being edifying and important. But only so long as other people's assumptions and beliefs are being challenged; their own they prefer to be reinforced constantly.

If it is edifying for one's beliefs to be challenged -- aren't liberals doing themselves a disservice by not, um, challenging their fellow liberals more, instead pandering to them at every opportunity? Why does Hollywood so hate liberals as to deny them this important source of enlightenment and personal growth?

I have no idea if Doubt is any darn good. I'm inclined to see it now, if only for the odd inversion here -- liberal bad, anti-sex Conservative Stereotype good. It is at least an interesting experiment on a meta-level: How will liberal audiences, long accustomed to having their every bias and belief flattered and pandered to, react to seeing what it's like to be on the other side?

I'll check other reviews. For some odd reason I think that movie reviewers might find themselves finally finding a film starring Phillip Seymour Hoffmann and Meryl Streep they don't like. I'm guessing we'll see that universal rule about how terrific it is when movies challenge assumptions and beliefs isn't quite as universal a rule as advertised.

Well... It's got a 74% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but many of the "positive" reviews are only grudgingly so. Like the one that begins:

Objectively good, but that doesn't mean I enjoy it. I mean, woo hoo, debating suspicions of pedophilia in the Catholic church!

Incidentally... It's very easy for people to disagree on what constitutes "doubt" in a film. I liked Mel Gibson's directorial debut (I believe) The Man Without a Face. A friend called it a cop-out, because he said there was never any doubt about whether Gibson's character had committed the unspeakable act he was alleged to have committed (coincidentally, taking sexual advantage of a young male student); it was obvious, the friend contended, he hadn't,. It was clearly not t in his character, he contended, so the film had made itself more audience-friendly by making it clear the character was not a pedophile.

I didn't think it was nearly that clear. I wondered if he was guilty or not. Was he always a great guy, or was he only a great guy because he was trying to make amends for a past sin?

I remember similar discussions about Mamet's Oleanna. Some people thought the film was "balanced" and equivocal between its strident feminist/collectivist and her male victim/professor; I thought it was nowhere near balanced, and liked it for that. (The woman, I think, is clearly deranged and evil, and anyone who thinks the play gives her a fair showing is himself kinda deranged and evil -- only if you buy into the nonsensical, vicious gibberish she spouts can you believe she's remotely sympathetic.)

Anyway -- there's often a lot of doubt about doubt in movies.

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posted by Ace at 01:05 PM

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