I’m not going to summarize the plot of the movie because it’s quite the same as the play. After all, the movie was directed and written by John Patrick Shanley. I just want to share with you what interesting themes I noticed.
To start with, everything in the movie is presented in terms of comparison-contrast. It seems that Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn are constantly being compared. Although they’re both a part of the same entity (the Catholic Church), they represent different issues and values. As far as the Church and school go, for Sister Aloysius every little thing needs to be by the book. She is very strict about following all rules without any exception. Unlike her, Father Flynn’s attitude is more individualistic. He treats every case separately. It’s illustrated when he lets Donald remain as an altar boy although he allegedly drank altar wine. Moreover, he believes in the change in the Church, thinks the Church should develop, whereas Sister unflinchingly stands by the traditional principals.
As for the personality of the characters, there’s also a stark contrast between them. Sister Aloysius is a strong, strict, and overpowering person. By contrast, Father Flynn is a friendly, yet authoritative person with attractive personality – a kind of father figure his students look up to, but without any fear (as in Sister’s case). What makes matters worse is this element of doubt we have throughout the movie when we don’t know who’s telling the truth.
Another issue that strikes me is tremendous symmetry presented in the picture. I observed it from the very first scenes. It’s realized, for example, in the sisters’ habits – they look exactly the same when they’re fully dressed, including the head wear. It may be seen when they sit on both sides of the table eating dinner. Similarly, there’s a scene in the church (one of many) when we see parishioners seating on both sides of the church between huge, white columns, located in perfect symmetry only “interrupted” by the priest, Father Flynn, standing between them (both parishioners and columns). Finally, there’s also human symmetry, so to say, on Sister Aloysius’s face: her wrinkles are in perfect symmetry.
This symmetry I noticed brings to mind order. However, where’s order, there’s chaos, as well. The ostensible order is at some point disturbed, and disrupted. It’s illustrated in the storm scene – the blinds throw light on the wall creating very symmetrical horizontal shadows; however, the image is distorted by branches bent by violent wind. It’s the first sign of impending chaos. Eventually, the order is shattered as Father Flynn opposes Sister Aloysius – it’s like a clash of two immense forces. Last but not least, when we expect the order to be restored (we expect Sister Aloysius to remain unwavering till the end), it turns out she has “such doubts.”
One more thing about the picture itself. It’s visually pleasant and appeasing. I enjoyed the toned-down colors of fall and winter as well as the realism of the ‘60s. Besides, I liked the tilted angles – I felt it was a hint that the image we watched was not perfect, even crooked. Apart from that, I can’t forget about the cast. Briefly, they were brilliantly convincing – frightening, innocent, trustworthy, reverent and fallen.
I feel my mission is accomplished: I read the play, I watched the adaptation. I feel fulfilled, and satisfied. In this case, the collision/coalition of cinema and literature is a memorable experience.
Long days, pleasant nights,