Doubt: A Parable

Doubt: A Parable Study Guide

Doubt is a 2008 period drama film. The movie, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, is an adaptation of the writer’s award-winning stage play Doubt: A Parable. The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. At the time of the film’s release, there was much anticipation surrounding the play’s adaptation on screen. In 2005, Doubt: A Parable won both the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2005 Tony Award for Best Play. The film was likewise met with universal acclaim—at the 2009 Academy Awards, Doubt was nominated in the categories of Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film chronicles the happenings at a Catholic church in the Bronx during the fall and winter of 1964. After Father Flynn delivers a powerful sermon about doubt and uncertainty, Sister Aloysius—the principal of the parish school—begins questioning the nature of the priest’s relationship with the school’s first African-American student. After Sister Aloysius instructs the fellow nuns to be aware of Father Flynn’s conduct, a young and innocent nun, Sister James, supports Sister Aloysius’s suspicions. Although there is no concrete evidence, Sister Aloysius pressures the priest to confess and resign.

As the film progresses, the audience is intentionally implicated in the film’s central conflict. As viewers in the twenty-first century, we are prompted to consider the recent developments in the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic church. However, we are also led to think about the traditionalism that characterizes the Catholic church as an institution. Historically, progressive changes within the church have been met with resistance. Is Sister Aloysius staging a personal attack against Father Flynn because she is threatened by his reforms? Or is she aware of institutional abuse and aims to protect a vulnerable student?

Doubt has been praised by critics for its astute acting and sensitive storytelling. Critic Roger Ebert commended the film for its “timeless relevance” and for Viola Davis’s unwavering performance. The movie has also served as a point of departure for scholarship surrounding media representations of religious institutions and the scandals therein.