Doubt, On Stage and Screen

As a follow-up to the previous post, I should note that when I saw Doubt on stage, with Cherry Jones in the lead, I thought it was much more complicted, subtle and serious than A.O. Scott gives it credit for - that it felt like more of a successful argument-generator than a "hermetically sealed melodrama of received thinking, feverishly advancing a set of themes that are the very opposite of provocative." But I haven't seen the film adaptation, and some of the reviews to date suggest that Meryl Streep's interpretation of Sister Aloysius pushes the character, and the story, in a more unsuccessful and caricatured direction. Which is unfortunate, if true, since the material has a lot going for it - or so I thought two years ago, when I wrote the following:

What it does ... more effectively than any work of art I've seen, is dramatize both the weaknesses of old-fashioned, pre-Vatican II Catholicism - the legalism, the occasional cruelty, the seeming heartlessness - and the ways that the 1960s reforms went so quickly wrong, good intentions and all. It dramatizes, as well, the central paradox of the entire sexual abuse scandal, which is that it partook of the worst of both "liberal" and "conservative" Catholicism - the former's sexual permissiveness and contempt for time-tested traditions, rules and safeguards; and the latter's clericalism, its insistence that the hierarchy knew best and the laity should just "pray, pay and obey," its willingness to use authority as a screen for irresponsibility. In the name of freedom and progress and experimentation, priests justified their own sins and those of their fellows; in the name of order and tradition and obedience, their superiors protected them.

My full take on the play (and, inevitably, what it says about the difference between art and agitprop) is here.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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