The silent ‘b’ in ‘doubt’ speaks of more than its Latin root; because there is more than meets the eye there. The silent b is sacred in the best sense of the word. In doubting there is recognition of, and reconciliation with the unknowable, the numinous, as Joseph Campbell would put it. There is more than meets the eye in cinema as well.
During my focused, timeless young years I ignored movies. They were frivolous, a waste; fans of movies were somehow pitiful, like people with diabetes. Now, in my reflective years, I doubt either conclusion. More, I reject them. After retirement, unaware of the beauty and power of idleness, or of ‘record, pause, and rewind’ I began to watch some movies. In no order of significance there were: Tango Lesson and Yes, La Meglia Juventud, The Legend of 1900, Monsoon Wedding, The Golden Door, The Lives of Others, The Visitor, to name only a few. That is not to minimize other genres of film, but to reveal my own proclivities; the list reveals my own limitations of course; I tend to be overly reflective. Yet it seemed to me that one day people will look back at this time as the golden age of cinema, with the reverence we have for Shakespeare’s works. A great film is as complex a matter as a moon landing, involving so many disciplines I don’t have the energy or wisdom to name them all. I concluded that cinematic art, like all art, is the product of a time and a set of circumstances that are never duplicated. I gradually became so captivated that I took a screenwriting course, and wrote a script.
But when I watched the film, Doubt, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, I recognized my own screenplay, set in another environment, with only a little different focus. The universal details are so true to my own experience, that I am certain they are distilled from life. Family and friends of writers will often find themselves ‘written in’ somewhere; and this film is surely evidence of that fact.
To be specific, the details I find so telling include:
1) The Priest, even if he were proven a flaming pedophile, is not an evil person. There are no unmitigated villains.
2) The Principal, the head nun, severe, judgmental, and unbending, knowing she must act though in doubt, and will ultimately be over ruled by the ‘system’, heroically defends what she feels are the best interests of her school and its students.
3) If one must find a villain, it is life itself, which forces each of us to live in a separate realty. Much misunderstanding, isolation, and conflict results.
4) The boy’s mother, living her own separate reality, knows that the possible or likely sexual abuse is inconsequential in view of the obvious benefit to her son.
5) The young nun, who is drawn into the conflict, has not yet been sufficiently humbled by her own life to define her own values; she is limited to those she has been taught. Life assaults us all; we survive and grow if we are able to do so. But we don’t know who or what we are until that process takes place. We are like Augusto, principal character in Miguel de Unamuno’s Niebla, who realizes he only lives when he suffers.
As for me, I shall never write a great script. But I will always be grateful for those , like John Patrick Shanley , who can, and who do. As I read about this author director, I realize his life has not been easy. But he has made much of it. More, to make films like this requires the devotion of many. I am grateful to you All.