Wednesday, January 7, 2009


As Jon Stewart said, why couldn't they have called this something more positive, like Certainty? Well there is a reason.
I'm here to recommend all Catholics and former Catholics see this movie, which bludgeoned open up a large memory bank for me. I attended a parish school very similar to St. Nicholas, late 50's to early 60's (the movie is set in 1964), except mine was in Chicago, not Brooklyn. St. Catherine of Sienna. Mostly Irish and Italians. I was an altar boy through at least the seventh grade. Then off to an all-boys Catholic high school.
The plot of the movie involves a possible molestation of a young altar boy by a new priest Father Flynn (played to perfection by Phillip Seymour Hoffman who I've admired ever since Magnolia). Meryl Streep, the closest iconic star we have to Katherine Hepburn plays the accusing principal of St. Nicholas, Sister Aloysius Beauvier. Just to see actors of this caliber face off is worth the price of admission, but conflicts and lines of tension abound, as do the uncertainties: Gender - Nuns, the teachers are hierarchically inferior to the priests, monsignors, and bishops. Progress - Flynn is a "new" affable, open and welcoming priest who is trying to make St. Nicholas more, pardon the insidious phrase, user-friendly; Sister Beauvier is strictly old school, and believes in a strict discipline, pencils over pens, and absolute decorum. Racial, class, theological and philosophical divisions also rear their heads, or rather their banners, since the movie is too short to explore any of these in detail.
There are two weaknesses to my mind: the issue of child abuse by priests seemed to be informed by contemporary knowledge and beliefs rather than the morays of the late 50's, early 60's. Abusing priests had not yet been "outed" and they were either ignored or not recognized. Secondly, in thypical Hollywood overkill, the kid (Donald Miller) that Flynn was suspected of abusing was the first black student in the school, and I'm sorry but that's just too damned convenient.
The film is best at its grittiest. Go see it with friends and plan to have a drink afterwards. Lots to discuss here.

No comments: