“Doubt” By John Patrick Shanley: Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Movie And The Play Movie Review Samples
In 2004, John Patrick Shanley staged a play “Doubt: A Parable” at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In 2008, he adapted it for the film “Doubt”. Both the film and the play depict the same story where the author reflects upon the nature of doubt. But the plot is conveyed in different manners – the play and the film have individual strengths and weaknesses; and this essay is going to reveal the devices the proposed media use in order to create the psychology of the characters and the symbolism of the notion “doubt”.
The first advantage of the play comparing to the film is its preface which prepares the reader for the theme of the play and gives some additional information. It helps to understand better the idea of doubt in the life of every person. In the preface, John Patrick Shanley shares his opinion about America’s courtroom culture with its confrontation and judgment. He experienced insisting on things he doubted, and this became an idea for a play. Definitely, the playwright is positive about the feeling of doubt – he sees it as growth because “doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy” (Shanley, 7). Being confident is easier and more peaceful while the doubt encourages a person to stay wide awake all the time. It was Shanley’s personal experience in the Catholic church school in the Bronx that formed the image of the devoted Sisters who conveyed the wisdom of the doubt to him.
There are three main characters both in the film and in the play – Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn, and Sister James. These characters reveal their background and inner worlds through the dialogues, and each word or sentence gives the audience (or the reader) a hint at what kind of person this character is. The first character we truly get to know is Sister Aloysius – in the film, we see her severe look and the way children are afraid of her while in the play, she reveals during the dialogue with Sister James. This aged woman is not satisfied with the work of the young teacher, and her strict requirements let the reader imagine the woman of high principles. She is stern, and no one can walk out on her as well as nothing can avoid her observation.
The characters of Sister James and Father Flynn don’t have any particular differences in the movie and the play. But what makes them fuller in the play is their more detailed background. We find out that Father Flynn is a working class, Northeast – the fact which is not mentioned in the movie.
The scene of Father Flynn playing basketball with kids differ in the play and in the film, and the play has the advantage because unlike the movie’s version it concentrates more on the character of Father Flynn and the concept of the doubt rather than the kids. There is an accent on him speaking about a doubt before shooting from the foul line – here, the reader’s attention is focused on him and his words and not distracted by the kids around him. Father Flynn says that when the player competes against himself, there is a danger he starts to think – the attentive reader will draw a parallel of “thinking” between “doubting”. What the parish priest advises is to relax.
So what is his attitude to doubt? How does he react when this feeling appears? In his sermon, at the beginning of both the play and the film, Father Flynn encourages people to go through doubt together, make this experience collective. This jovial man sees nothing wrong in stimulating kids with cookies and ice cream as well as fighting the doubt with the help of a company and not alone. He has a positive perspective of doubt, and he promotes the soft approach to overcoming this emotion.
Instead, the director proposes the audience the episodes which are absent in the play. They are very important in the context of the plot, and they may change the attitude of the audience towards the mystery whether there was something between Father Flynn and Donald Muller as well as the personality of the priest. The scene of Father Flynn putting Donald’s underpants into his locker is decisive and the audience might draw a lot of conclusions of that. But in the play, there is no evidence at all, and the idea of the playwright was to create the situation perfect for doubting. This might be a weakness of the medium or at least the director’s intentional wandering from the text.
Other examples of the movie being different from the play concern depicting Father Flynn. In the movie, he smokes during the sentimental conversation with Sister James – this fact hints at him being not really heavenly minded priest as he should be. In the play, the reader feels something is wrong with him, he suspects Father Flynn dissembles but the reader has no proof, and this is the main point of the plot. But in the movie, the spectator is proposed such episodes which may not be the evidence of the priest’s vicious propensities but they testify of his hypocritical personality. John Patrick Shanley shows two scenes one after another which oppose the evening meal (and thus, the life) of men and women in church – while the priests smoke, drink alcohol, listen to music, laugh, eat all kinds of greasy food, and talk about some women they know, the nuns eat simple food, drink milk, and mostly don’t speak. The director obviously wanted to underline the questionable devotion and mortification.
I would like to mention the film’s strengths as well because they are numerous. Technically, it is easier for the film to convey the atmosphere to the spectator because of such devices as colors, lighting, camera angle, music, and, of course, the close ups of the actors’ facial expressions. All this simplifies the process of thinking and imagining but it contributes a lot, too. The first thing the audience sees is the image of the city – here, the director uses the method of low saturation in order to make the city look grayish, bluish and cinnamonic. The director wants the audience to feel the autumn as well as the puritan society where everyone visits the church. The merry music by zither player accompanies the image of the city and creates the peaceful mood of this society.
The natural lighting in the movie looks better than the artificial one in the play. Being staged, the play cannot compete with the film if speaking of the image – the wind cannot be shown better than in the film. The audience feels the damp weather by the leaves, the falling trees, and the way the nuns wrap the cloaks around them; it can feel the early morning and the late night. The camera angles vary from scene to scene, and the director is able to propose different views for the audience – the views he wants. During the conversation of Father Flynn and Sister James, the particular part of discussing what happened between the priest and the boy is shown from another angle – we look at the characters’ faces from below. It seems like the director wants to shoot not only close-up but the frame where the emotions would be truly visible.
The sermon in the beginning of the movie is accompanied by Sister Alosius traversing the rows and checking if the kids are listening – here, the director chose to shoot from behind so that the audience sees only the nun’s black robe and guesses she is stern according to kids’ reaction to her but with no idea how she looks like. Another interesting camera angle can be noticed in the scene where Sister Alosius pays her attention to William London springing back from Father Flynn when the latter touched his hand. The camera moves to the window reflecting the school building with the nun’s face seen partially – apparently, Shanley wanted to underline the nun’s cautious watching and suspecting Father Flynn in something wrong.
The unknown connection between Sister Alosius and Father Flynn is depicted in the scene of the nuns’ evening meal in the room – the priest enters the house, the draft appears, and the air touches the pages of the Bible near the nun (the camera shoots from below). Father Flynn, in his turn looks upwards (the camera shoots from top downward), and there is a sense he might be looking at the nun but the object he is looking at appears to be the stained-glass window with the eye in the middle. The director hints at the fact that the nun carefully watches the priest and he knows it. Obviously, this method of depicting symbolic details cannot be used in the play.
Except for the film’s strength of symbolism, the motion picture definitely shows more tension than the play. It is capable to keep the audience on the edge of its seats because every questionable and dramatic scene is followed by the corresponding music. And of course, the added episodes strengthen the tension.
The last scene is shown the same both in the movie and the play – the principal doubts whether she did a right thing she got rid of Father Flynn. She sounds so confident in the beginning and cries and confesses she has doubts in the end. Doubt is a change outside of anyone’s control, just like the wind opening the windows in the nun’s office all the time. Sister Alosius fears the feeling of the unknown. The scene underlines we can only guess what really happened and there is never any certainty in anything.
Shanley, John P. “Doubt: A Parable”. New York: Theatre Communications Group (2005). Print.
Shanley, John P., dir. Doubt. Godspeed Productions, 2008. Film.