Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (based on his own play)
Watched on 11th February 2014
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have several old favourites of his lined up to watch soon, but first I’ve been checking out some films that I missed when they were released. This was one.
And I really liked it. It’s uncomfortable and thought-provoking. Set at a Catholic church and adjoining school in 1960s New York, Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest who takes a special interest in the school’s first and only black student. The school’s principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) becomes suspicious of Father Flynn, accusing him of molesting the boy. Neither the audience nor Flynn’s accusers ever find concrete evidence, hence the title of the film. (In actuality, only Shanley and Hoffman knew the truth about Father Flynn.)
Yes, as I said, I really liked it… up until the last 30 seconds. Having been successful in her quest to have Father Flynn removed from the school (although his new job turns out to be a promotion — the bishop didn’t believe the accusations either), Sister Aloysius breaks down and confesses to the young and naive Sister James (Amy Adams) that she herself has doubts. “I have doubts… I have such doubts!” are her exact words, over a dramatic swell of church organ music.
That final moment was the death of nuance, so brazenly signposting the theme, indeed the title, of the film. Perhaps it was the music, from the notoriously unsubtle Howard Shore, or perhaps just saying the title of the film in its final moments, but something about that finale just spoiled the film for me. It left me wondering if any other films I have yet to see with one-word titles end in a similar manner. I now have visions of Michael Fassbender weeping and sceaming “I HAVE SUCH SHAAAME!”