Friday, September 11, 2009


(Movie Review)

It took a while for this movie to make it out to my little video store, but I've been wanting to see it ever since I saw the interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman on "The Daily Show"--(view clip here).

A movie that explores the crisis of doubt in religion? And the acting of Philip Seymour Hoffman? Sounds great.

I was reminded of an interview on NPR I had heard abut the book "Losing my Religion". (And if you missed that one, it's a fascinating listen--check it out here).

Based on the clip shown in "The Daily Show", I imagined this movie would cover similar ground. It would explore what happens to our faith when our religious leaders let us down.
(No doubt this is more of a problem for Catholics, who are taught that the church is infallible, than it for those of us raised as Protestants. But I think for anyone who believes in something they can not see, they draw a large amount of reinforcement for their faith from authoritative figures in the church. Much of my childhood faith was just based on thinking what a smart guy my pastor was, and how he knew the answers to everything. My faith would have been devastated if he had been involved in any sort of scandal.)

This would have been an interesting topic to explore, but unfortunately it turns out this isn't what the movie is about.

Instead the movie is a show down between the head nun (Meryl Streep) and the priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Streep's character is convinced that the priest is having an inappropriate relationship with one of the alter boys, and Hoffman's character strongly denies it.

Sister James is caught in the middle of this argument, and she vacillates, not knowing who to believe. At one point the evidence appears to suggest Hoffman is in the right, and at another point we get the impression Meryl Streep is correct. However at no point in the movie do we get conclusive evidence that either side is right, and no matter who Sister James is siding with at the moment she, and the audience, are plagued with doubts about what the real truth is.

Obviously this is a metaphor for religious faith. And this is all very clever as far as it goes. My main problem with the film is that it never goes any further than this. The film never offers any deep insight into the nature of faith. Once you get the whole premise, than it never develops at all. You just watch the battle of wills continue between Hoffman and Streep.

What makes this film worth watching is the tremendous acting job Streep and Hoffman both put into the film. If anyone else had stared in this film it might not have been worth watching, but they really carry this film, and for that reason alone I recommend checking it out.

The director's commentary is also interesting. He talks about how he wanted to recreate the feeling of a Catholic neighborhood from the early 60s. The sex scandal appears to have been pure fiction, but almost everything else in the film comes from his own experience or is in some way autobiographical, and he outlines this in the commentary.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky On The 9 11 Truth Movement ,
and Another Beckian mom speaks out against Obama's eeevil brainwashing plan

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