The second movie I picked up last Tuesday was Doubt, which I watched last night. My brain has been chasing itself in circles all day as a consequence. (It was also rather reminiscent of a board game I played recently, called 'Scruples' - in this morally grey situation, what would you do?).
Although it is set in the early 1960s, the situation is not exclusive to that time - as Meryl Streep says, "There is nothing new under the sun". People are still doubting the character of others, children are still bullying each other, we are still eating the forbidden fruit. And then lying about it.
However, actions speak louder than words. In the Catholic parochial school context of the movie, isn't it better to be kind, as Sister James is to all her students (and everyone, for that matter), and as Father Flynn is towards Donald Miller? Donald speaks highly of Father Flynn, and it is clear the priest is the only one who makes this 12-yr-old black gay boy feel like a worthy human being.
At this point in my musings, I think Sister Aloysius must have it wrong, she must be the dragon in all this (and Meryl Streep does Dragon Lady so fabulously well). Yet. No matter how much we hope to be living in a world of rainbows and soft kittens, the reality is grittier. Not everyone adheres to the same rules. Some people think the rules are more like guidelines. Humans are human, flawed, imperfect. And as a principal of a school, Sister Aloysius has a duty of care towards the children. If she is too quick to believe the explanation of a suspected misdeed, she might be turning her back on the welfare of a child. We'd all like our parish priests to be saint-like, but what if that's not the case? What if there was more to the explanation, more that wouldn't be looked upon kindly, that would be evidence of wrong-doing? Surely, then, Sister Aloysius is in the right...? Better to have a priest of suspect morals removed, rather than always be wondering if there's something wrong and damaging going on behind closed doors. In the end, though, it is evident she is wracked with doubts, the poison of leading a suspicious life.
The contrasts in this film I find interesting. The suspected priest acts always in a Christian manner (kind, loving, protecting); the nun set on proving his guilt 'steps away from God in the pursuit of wrongdoing' (a line said near the beginning and repeated at the end of the movie), and she even lies - an admission the naive Sister James finds horrifying. The nuns eat in silence; the men eat merrily, joking and laughing. Dragon lady forbids ball point pens ("Every easy choice today has its consequence tomorrow"); Father Flynn wants a secular song included in the Christmas pageant - maybe Frosty the Snowman (gold!).
What would I want, if I were a parent of a child in this school? Someone suspicious and fear-inspiring, who will nevertheless be on the lookout for anything harmful to my child? Or someone who will act with kindness, maybe 'take a special interest'? Not having any children, that's really a hypothetical situation. I know that children need boundaries and structure; I know that children need kindness.