January 2, 2009

My mothers and I went to see this yesterday afternoon, and I am here to tell you that all the good things you’ve been hearing about it are 100% true, and more.

For those who don’t know, here’s the Miramax summary of the movie:

“It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the schools’ strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community with irrevocable consequence.”

John Patrick Shanley is the playwright, and also wrote and directed for the screen. It’s a well-made movie; he uses a technique of skewing the shots during confusing, troubling conversations that I feel really captures the off-kilter feeling those discussions can have. And the movie effectively depicts the 1960s, Irish and Italian Catholic, Bronx (at least, as I think it must have been). But the most staggering thing is the writing. My mom and I just sat for a while afterwards talking about the story – how much more we wanted to know, how powerful the evidence is on both sides, how accurately the movie depicted the confusion that can tear communities and families apart.

And the performances are as incredible as you would think, from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman and also all the supporting characters. The movie is about gender, authority, leadership, compassion…and much, much more. And even more complex, by the end, than I had thought it was going to be. Certainly not one of the “neat” endings I complain of.  I highly, highly recommend it.