So I went to Catholic school. Not this past weekend, thank god, but Doubt jogged my memory.
I didn't go to a life-sucking Vatican I-type place like St. Nicholas. But we did sing alot of the same hymns, such as "Ubi Caritas et Amor." I think the lyrics roughly translate to "Where charity and love are, there God is/The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock." I don't know. The kind of stuff that rolls off you when you're kind of Jewish and have vocabulary flashcards tucked behind your program.
Choir was its own mini church hierarchy. We had "Send Down the Fire" to commence a gathering, "Gather Us In" for Convocation ceremony, and "This Little Babe" when you wanted to turn the performance into a trainwreck. That, a majority music-illiterate population, and our black crushed velvet uniform was our claim to fame.
But I digress. Meryl Streep. As usual, the trump card they whip out just when you can no longer take the anticipation. This time she was the bonneted nun, skulking down the church aisles row by row, smacking Sunday school children back to attention. Streep plays the Sister Aloysius, Principle at St. Nicholas Parish in the Bronx, sports a braying Brooklyn toughness and even has her own catchphrase regarding unruly students: "You just send them up to me."
Like the Devil Wears Prada, Doubt featured one of those explosive Meryl Streep performances -- you know, one that is so good that the rest of the movie kind of sucks by comparison and the audience giggles appreciatively at all the wrong times.
But this time, Meryl was not co-starring with Anne Hathaway pretending to be ugly and that boring guy from Entourage. Doubt had some serious freaking chops. Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis (all of whom, along with Streep, are nominated for Academy Awards.)
In 2002, Marshall Sella wrote a fascinating article about the crafting of a film trailer. It was the first time it occurred to me that, beyond its physiological effects, ambiance was an art form, the result of sustained effort. Of Signs, Sella wrote
"In a Hollywood trailer, the tinkle of wind chimes signals the arrival of something eerie. So does a dog barking. . . .; A series of jump cuts establishes that Mel Gibson's family is facing grave danger (although what kind is unclear) [...] The trailer appears to climax with the glowing title screen, but then there's the obligatory final jolt: a glimpse of (possibly) alien leg."In Doubt, ambiance is a disruptive force which runs opposite to church mores. It's a sin, and Sister Aloysius and the other nuns live in its bleak vacuum. They eat dinner in silence, punctuated by the sounds of chewing and the occasional clang of metal plates. In contrast, their male counterparts dine on bloody meats and eat their dinner to modern music, their meal lit with a pleasant dimness.
Try as the nuns might, they cannot deny the haptic, olfactory and aesthetic sensations. Ambiance cannot be transcribed as fact. But snatches here and there -- a glance, a slipped present, the smell of alcohol on a young student's breath -- can break through and converge as evidence.
Sister James is traumatized by these moments, as she is the harsh elements -- dry leaves and darkness and the wet cold, the watchful black crow perched on the top of the school building -- and the particular associations these provide for the young nun.
She didn't see anything. Can she trust the convergence of the elements? Is conviction rooted in fact or is it just an emotion?
Father Flynn is played marvelously by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But I am continually amazed by Streep. She plays status so well. Amy Adams -- also awesome.
For the record, though, my favorite Amy Adams performance will always be the following:
Amy, you can win Golden Globes and Oscars, you can match Meryl intense tortured moment for intense tortured moment. But you will always be the "Hot Girl" from The Office, season 1.