Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Manchurian Candidate

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Last week’s film, The Ideas of March, dealt with the theme of political betrayal. This movie, released in 1962, and directed by John Frankenheimer, covers similar territory. Here, we have a story full of disguises, and if one cannot see through the deceptive exteriors, then betrayal is more easily carried out.

The movie begins during the Korea War. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is a sergeant in a company commanded by Captain Marco (Frank Sinatra). Raymond shows his contempt for his almost-out-of-uniform fellow soldiers when he breaks up their party with half-dressed women as they play cards (an omen?) and drink. There is a sign on the wall that says “Home Sweet Home,” a lie, since they are far away from their homes, in danger, in a war zone. Is Raymond just a condescending prude, or, as we later see, has his domineering mother destroyed all of his ability to enjoy life? Perhaps, the soldiers are shown to be disarmed, literally and figuratively, and not prepared for the subterfuge of the enemy. Along with the soldiers on their next mission is a Korean, Chunjin (Henry Silva) who is supposed to be an interpreter and guide for the men. At least that is what he appears to be, but he steers the Americans to a place where they are ambushed, knocked out, and airlifted to the Pavlov Institute in Mongolia. However, we next see Raymond arriving in the states to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism in rescuing his company of men. His mother, Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury, who was almost the same age as Harvey at the time) and her husband, Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), grandstand his homecoming for political gain. The sign over Raymond’s head says that he is Iselin’s “boy,” which is a deception, as Raymond is adamant to point out, since he is Iselin’s stepson. As opposed to the Iselins, Raymond is brutally honest when alone with them when he says he has taken a job with a left-wing journalist because he loathes his mother and Iselin.

We realize that there is something not true about Raymond’s heroics when we are privy to now Major Marco’s recurring nightmares, and later the dreams of Corporal Allen Melvin (James Edwards). At a time before digital special effects had been invented, Frankenheimer presents us with a dazzling display of scene cutting and imagery in the dream sequences. In them, it appears that the soldiers are at a women’s garden club meeting. A rotating set was used to let the scene change seamlessly from this benign image to the real one, which is a gathering of Chinese and Russian communist military and scientific operatives at a demonstration led by Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh). At certain points the two worlds bleed into each other, as happens in dreams: the Russians and Chinese show up at the garden club, and a bayonet turns up in the hands of one of the women. The scientist’s words are spoken by one of the women. The soldiers appear bored as Lo orders Raymond to strangle one of the men and shoot another, the latter followed by blood splattering, appropriately, on a large picture of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Raymond’s politeness, and the accommodating demeanors of the smiling soldiers, are manipulated, sham behaviors elicited because the men have been fooled into thinking nothing threatening is happening; the benign mental constructs built by Dr. Lo are window dressings that do not allow them to see the killings occurring right in front of their eyes. The contrast between what is happening and the calm of the participants is chilling. This film uses the stereotypical impression at the time that women are weak and defenseless, and turns it on its head. The soldiers are lulled into thinking their surroundings are safe in their brainwashed state. (Melvin, an African American, pictures all black women present, making him feel more secure). But these women are a disguise meant to disarm them, camouflaging the present danger around them. We learn that Raymond’s heroic actions are a ruse to cover-up the real reason that the company was missing, which is to turn Raymond into an assassin. Also, by making Raymond appear like a patriotic hero, he will not be suspected of being just the opposite, a threat to American security.



Marco tells his superiors of his nightmares. But, when asked what he thinks of Raymond, he says he is “the kindest, bravest, warmest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” (Melvin repeats the same statement, word for word, like an automaton, when his wife asks him about Raymond following one of his nightmares.) Now Raymond doesn’t even like Christmas, saying one day of the holiday is bad enough, let alone twelve. He later admits that he simply is not a lovable person. Marco knows something is wrong because two opposing beliefs are in his head – one that Raymond is a wonderful person, and the other, illustrated by him saying, “It isn't as if Raymond is hard to like. He's impossible to like!" His attempt to distinguish the lie from the truth pushes him to the brink of a breakdown, and he is put on disability leave. When he seeks out Raymond to see if the ex-sergeant, too, is having nightmares, he encounters Chunjin who has become Raymond’s valet. Here we have another disguise, with the Korean pretending to be someone taking care of Raymond, while actually spying on him. Marco, whose alertness to the enemy is more advanced than the others so that his subconscious surfaces into his conscious state, realizes that Chunjin is a threat. (Evidence as to Marco’s insight is the fact that he reads a great deal, and among the titles we see are The Trial and Enemies of the State, showing his research into conspiracies). He yells at the Korean as they fight (the first karate battle in a Hollywood film), asking him what was he doing there at the meeting in his nightmare, and what was Raymond doing with his hands (Marco remembers seeing Raymond moving his fingers, as if holding something, another form of pretending).

The police arrest Marco after he helps wreck Raymond’s apartment in the fight, and he calls Rosie, (Janet Leigh – more about her later), to bail him out. We see something curious at the police station. There is a man in the background who appears to be putting on his trousers. This image echoes back to the soldiers at the club in Korea, who are in a state of undress. Is this policeman being “caught with his pants down,” symbolizing a country not really knowing who the enemy is? After his release, Marco shows up at Raymond’s place, and the occupant is outraged by Marco’s actions. The latter does discover that Melvin, still unaware of any threat, sent a letter to Raymond, thinking absurdly that Raymond was his best friend in the Army, asking him if he, too, is having similar disturbing dreams. Marco is relieved because he now knows he is not going crazy. He brings this information to his superiors in Army Intelligence, and he recognizes the pictures of two Russian and Chinese intelligence agents who were in his nightmare. Melvin identified the same two. The Army assigns Marco to stay close to Raymond to discover what is going on.

Raymond receives a phone call. The voice tells him to pass the time by playing solitaire. After the Queen of Diamonds is exposed, this supposedly harmless game becomes a sinister tool, turning out to be the mechanism to trigger Raymond’s subconscious conditioning. The game of solitaire is efficient because Raymond does not have to interact with anyone else; it also is significant because it mirrors Raymond’s alienated, lonely nature. When he is awake, even though he is unlikable, Raymond does not pretend to be anything but himself. But, when he plays the card game, he turns into a programmed robot-like being, with no emotions. In many ways he looks like one of the “pod” people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, who, after being taken over, present a disarming, normal appearance, but are really dangerous. Just like that 1950’s movie, there is here the theme of self-betrayal.

Raymond is ordered to check into a hospital to determine if his conditioning is completely intact. The conspirators concoct a fake story about Raymond being involved in a car accident – more deception. The place where Dr. Lo examines him is, too, a phony, a clinic run by the communist agents, appearing to be so authentic, it passes for a capitalist institution, and makes a profit. Lo says he has constructed a perfect weapon because there is no memory of the murderous act which eliminates the emotion of guilt. And, since the killer does not know that he committed the act, he has no fear of being caught. Lo drives home the idea of the danger of this deceptive disguise by saying Raymond will “appear” to be a productive, normal member of society. Before he is turned over to his American operative (mystery added here as we now know that there is an unknown American mole), as a test to see if Raymond will still carry out a kill order, Lo tells him to murder his boss, Holborn Gaines (Lloyd Corrigan). In another chilling scene, because of Raymond’s calm, polite manner, he shoots his employer who was kind enough to give him employment, adding to the list of betrayals. Where is Gaines murdered? He is in his sleep-inducing bed, comforted by wearing his dead wife’s sleep wrap, ready to be lulled into a state of non-alertness, where he, like the rest of us, think he is safe. The film is saying, “Think again.” What appears to be a sanctuary can easily be compromised by someone you think is a friend.



In trying to get close to Raymond and discover what plan he is involved in, Marco gets his ex-Army comrade drunk. We learn that Raymond has a “lovable” side, because he fell in love in the past with Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), daughter of left-leaning Senator Thomas Jordan (John McGiver). The Senator had reason to sue Raymond’s mother in the past for slander. She and Iselin are crusading anti-communists, and she named Jordan as a member of the party. There are noteworthy aspects in Raymond’s meeting up with Jocelyn and her father. A poisonous snake bit Raymond, and Jocelyn happened by on her bicycle. Since her father has a heightened awareness of deadly snakes, his daughter carries medicine with her. She only has her blouse top to tie off the circulation at the wound near the ankle. She takes it off, revealing only her bra underneath. Yet, there is no shame or negativity about this partial disrobing, which contrasts to the undressings in previous scenes, because she uses the discarded garment as a tool to fight something threatening. It seems we have here a reversal of the Garden of Eden story, and another subversion of the weakness of women; Jocelyn is innocent, before the fall, unashamed of her body. She is not an instrument of the devil, aka the Serpent, here, as she thwarts its poison. Senator Jordan, like Marco, is on alert against true enemies, which his awareness of poisonous snakes hiding in the grass, ready to spread poison throughout a healthy body – the nation’s democratic freedom – symbolizes. However, Raymond’s mother exerted her control over her son, and had him send a “vile” letter, cutting off the relationship with Jocelyn.
It is now right after Christmas, usually a happy time of the year in most stories, but which contrasts with the current goings on in this tale. Raymond, arrives at a bar to meet Marco, and accidentally overhears a bartender talking to customers about playing solitaire. He uses the establishment’s deck of cards, sees the Queen of Diamonds, and the bartender says he told someone to drive to Central Park and jump in the lake. Marco arrives just as Raymond leaves. He follows him and then helps him out of the lake. Marco now realizes that in his nightmare Raymond could have been pretending to play cards with his hands. He also noticed that he went off after the Queen of Diamonds appeared. After talking with the military’s psychiatrist, Marco remembers from his dream that the scientist said, “The Queen of Diamonds is reminiscent in many ways of Raymond’s dearly loved and hated mother … and is the second key to clear the mechanism for any other assignment.” So, Marco now thinks he knows how to reverse the plot involving Raymond, whatever it may be.

Mrs. Iselin, too, subverts the notion of women being weak and non-threatening. She is the power behind her dim-witted husband, who, unlike Raymond, is an awake, conscious puppet. He is an obvious reference to Senator Joe McCarthy, calling everyone a communist, in this case per his wife’s orders. All he wants is for her to stop changing the number of fictitious communists in the Defense Department, and give him one easy figure he can remember. She sees him using a bottle of Heinz Ketchup, and settles on “57,” the number of varieties of products the company offered. This incident is a funny, but cutting comment which shows how a simple everyday product can be used as a tool to tell a dangerous political lie. She learns that Jocelyn is returning from living abroad, and decides that reuniting Raymond with her will cause her father not to block her husband from becoming the vice-presidential nominee. She decides to throw a homecoming party for her. But, significantly, she makes it a costume party, which emphasizes the disguise motif of the film.
 At this party, Raymond’s mother (deceptively dressed as Little Bo Beep, although she manhandles her husband with her staff, revealing her true nature) brings him to the study to be alone with him. She then tells him to play a game of solitaire. This horrifying revelation is the ultimate betrayal, both in a family and national sense. What can be worse than turning your own son into an assassin? He turns over the Queen of Diamonds (who not only represents, as Marco remembers, but actually is Raymond’s mother), but Mrs. Iselin must meet with Senator Jordan who has attended at his daughter’s request before she can give her son his assignment. She removes the card to avoid “mischief.” But, in a bit of contrived, but symbolically appropriate storytelling, Jocelyn comes into the study wearing a costume with a large Queen of Diamonds on the front. Again, Jocelyn plays the role of trying to save Raymond. She is the anti-Queen of Diamonds to his sinister mother’s version. They kiss and go off together. They are married, and Jocelyn gets Marco to allow them forty-eight hours to have a mini-honeymoon. (In a sense, Rosie, too, is also a powerful woman, who could under malignant influences, been as manipulative as Raymond’s mother. In the train scene, where the two eventual lovers first meet, and which contains some illogical, funny dialogue which fits the movie’s non-linear plot, she looks like she is brainwashing the broken down Marco, repeating her phone number and address. Lucky for him, she is there to help, not destroy, him.)

The Iselins originally appeared to be insincere and opportunists, but we now have learned that they are a much greater threat to the country. When Senator Jordan vows to stop Iselin at all costs, he says, “There are people who think of Johnnie as a clown and a buffoon, (an impression held by some now of a particular presidential candidate?), but I do not. I despise John Iselin and everything Iselinism has come to stand for (substitute McCarthyism). I think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he’s doing now.” There is a rich irony here, since Iselin is a Soviet agent. Here is also the argument of the movie: by going on witch hunts, saying everyone is the enemy, it makes it very difficult to know who the true enemy is. And, when one always points to all members of a movement or of a belief system for causing problems, one can throw off suspicion from oneself for any wrongdoing.

There are several times during the film where Abraham Lincoln’s noble, revered image is undermined by the Iselins. Iselin looks into the glass-covered portrait of the former president, significantly one who was assassinated, seeing his own reflected image, which symbolizes the threat to the country for whom the great president sacrificed himself to preserve. The bust of Lincoln sits in the Iselin study, desecrated by the occupants who participate in the worse type of betrayal – treason. At the costume party, Iselin dresses up like Lincoln, turning the great man into a caricature as Iselin dances the limbo (how low can we go to have this man in a high office?). A particularly satiric, and scary image is the one of this faux Lincoln digging into a caviar representation of the American flag, desecrating the symbol of the country’s unity and history, and literally devouring it. At the same time, he hides his true allegiance by saying of the caviar that it’s not Russian.

When Raymond returns to his mother’s home to stop Iselin from trying to get Senator Jordan impeached and tried for treason, Mrs. Iselin, in an ironic act of retribution, uses Jocelyn’s Queen of Diamonds costume to turn Raymond away from his wife by exerting her power over Raymond. Because Jordan is a threat to her husband, she orders Raymond to kill the senator. Again, the killing takes place in a place of presumed security, Jordan’s home, and even he, in the relaxed clothing consisting of pajamas and a robe, is not aware of the imminent threat. The bullet goes through a carton of milk he is holding, its pristine, white liquid ironically mixing with the betrayed blood of his wound. But, the ultimate horror occurs when Jocelyn appears, and according to Lo’s orders, Raymond shoots her as a witness. Here, love does not conquer all. When Marco brings a newspaper into his home with the headlines informing the reader of the deaths, the camera angles are askew, showing how the world has been knocked off-balance. Despite no evidence, Marco knows Raymond is the killer, and feels guilty for giving Jocelyn the time before acting to bring Raymond in.
Raymond, his subconscious guilt attacking his programming after reading about the deaths of Jordan and Jocelyn, calls Marco. The Major visits him in a small rented room just across from the convention center. Marco shows up with a deck filled with the Queen of Diamonds face cards. He finds out the whole scheme from Raymond, but does not yet know his true mission. Marco basically tells him that his brainwashing is over, that he is not to play any more solitaire, and that he should call Marco when he knows what the end game is. Raymond gets a call, tells Marco it’s from his “American operative,” and then says, “Yes, Mother,” and leaves to meet her. Marco’s eyes widen in surprise at the depth of the manipulation. We also learn that Iselin has won the vice-presidential nomination with Senator Jordan eliminated as an impediment.
Mrs. Iselin reveals Raymond’s purpose in the plan. He is to kill the party’s presidential nominee during his acceptance speech, so that Iselin can give a speech, worked on for years in Russia, and they will sweep into office with powers granted to them to protect the country “that will make martial law seem like anarchy.” The question then arises, who should we most be on alert against, the obvious foreign enemy, or the domestic one who only pretends to know what’s best for the country? But, Raymond’s mother is planning a betrayal of her own. She asked for “a killer from a world full of killers,” but they chose her son because according to her, “they thought it would bind me closer to them.” But, she says when she takes power, “they will be pulled down and ground into the dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.” Her depraved influence on Raymond comes to the surface as she seals her promise with an incestuous kiss on his lips. Be afraid, be very afraid.
In another bit of disguise to falsely reassure others of the absence of a threat, Raymond dresses up as a priest. He heads to a small booth near the ceiling of the hall, and assembles a rifle that Chunjin provided him. Marco, sweating profusely, as he does throughout the film emphasizing the tension he is under, waits for the call from Raymond that does not come. On the television, we see a couple of convention delegates wearing the Lincoln beard, implying that Iselin’s political poison is going viral, and who appear as harbingers of an assassination. Marco decides to go to the convention to stop Raymond. He sees the booth lit up and rushes to it. Raymond, instead of killing the nominee, shoots Iselin and his mother. He puts on the medal of honor, and as Ben breaks into the booth, says that only he could have stopped them. He turns the rifle on himself, and commits suicide.
The film ends with Marco reading about men who earned the Medal of Honor. He delivers a testimony to Raymond, whose only audience consists of Rosie and himself. The unlikable soldier who had his soul stolen, the phony hero, redeemed himself by earning his medal, saving his country from tyranny. Raymond was supposed to shoot the nominee right after he said that he would give up “my life before my liberty.” If Raymond would have killed him, he would have lost his life, and the country would have forfeited its freedom. But, in the end, Raymond sacrificed his life to preserve his country’s liberty. But, this a sad, frightening tale. Marco’s last words are “Hell. Hell,” which is where he, and perhaps, us, feel, in horrible times, we reside.

The next film is Unforgiven.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Ides of March

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

This 2011 film is based on a play called Farragut North, written by Beau Willimon. He is the man who brought House of Cards to Netflix, and the same cynicism toward American politics in that TV series is present in this movie.
 Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is a media expert working for the campaign to elect Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, also the director of the film) to the presidency. His job deals with making the candidate look good for the press and the public; thus, his specialty centers on image, how the person running for office presents himself or herself. For Stephen, the message will not be heard if it isn’t packaged well. They are in Ohio for the Democratic Party primary. Morris comes off as a smart, progressive politician, who believes in clean energy, cracking down on concentrated wealth, and is against the death penalty because, even though he might want revenge if his wife was killed, feels that the law must be held to a higher standard than the individual. Stephen tells journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) that he actually believes in Morris, that the man can change lives, and must be elected. He later makes his philosophy clear to Morris when he says that, “I will do or say anything if I believe in it. But I have to believe in the cause.” So, because, as he tells Ida, he has drunk Morris’ Kool-Aid, and it tastes “delicious,” we know right from the start that Stephen is willing to play the nasty game of political campaigning to achieve a lofty goal. As an example of his plotting, he tells one of the staff that he wants to play up the rumor about Morris’ opponent, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell), being involved in diamond mines in Liberia. Stephen knows that even if it isn’t true he wants to see Pullman receive bad publicity just by denying the charge.

At the debate between the two candidates, Stephen and his boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) meet Pullman’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Duffy compliments Stephen by saying he is the brains of the outfit, to which Paul responds by noting Stephen may have the brains but he “has the balls.” As it turns out, we discover that Stephen is no slouch in the ballsy department. Duffy also says he might have to “steal” Stephen from the Morris camp, which is a foreboding of future events. Paul goes to North Carolina to meet with Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), assuming that the latter will sway delegates pledged to him to vote for Morris and assure the nomination. But, Thompson is reluctant to commit. At a group meeting with Morris, Stephen gets a call from Duffy who wants to meet with him.
It is at this point that the title of the movie becomes significant, since it refers to the day on which Brutus, along with his co-conspirators, killed Julius Caesar. The movie presents the audience with a number of betrayals. Stephen is not supposed to meet with the opposing campaign members. He knows this to be the case, and leaves a message with Paul that he needs to talk with him. But, he meets with Duffy anyway at a bar where no one will see them. Duffy says that Pullman will get Thompson’s support in exchange for appointing him Secretary of State. Thompson, thus, breaks his prior promise to support Morris for his own personal gain. Duffy tells Stephen that he is with the losing candidate and should switch to Pullman’s campaign. He says because Ohio is an open primary state, the Pullman campaign will convince independents and Republicans to vote for Pullman as the lesser of two evils. Stephen is taken aback by the tactics, but Duffy says they have to be more like the Republicans, who are meaner and tougher, and that Democrats have lost because they didn’t want to get into the mud with the elephants. Duffy portrays politics as a dirty business, no matter what side one is on. He also flatters Stephen by telling him he makes his job look, on the “outside,” so easy, that people fear him, but love him for his ability. Duffy says that Stephen has the most valuable ability in politics by winning respect through making people mistake their fear for love. In essence, Stephen tricks people; he betrays them by winning others over even though he is a threat to them. Could this characteristic be what makes many dangerous politicians so successful?

Stephen does not jump ship, but when Paul calls him back, he betrays their trust for each other by not revealing that he met with Duffy. He eventually meets with Paul in a highly symbolic scene. Morris is on stage in front of a huge American flag presenting an optimistic message to the public. Behind the flag, behind the backs of the electorate one might say, Paul and Stephen discuss the unseemly maneuverings of backroom politics. It is here that Stephen tells Paul of his meeting with Duffy and his offer to have him join Pullman’s staff. He also reports the cabinet post offer to Thompson. Paul is enraged that Stephen met with the opposition. They meet with Morris who tells Paul that he said he didn’t want to make these kinds of deals. He has contempt for Thompson and says he won’t make the deal.
Later, Ida tells Stephen that she knows about his meeting with Duffy. If she releases this information, then he is ruined. He says that he has helped her by giving her information in the past and asks her why would she turn on her friend. She says he used her to leak information and that they are not friends. This act, too, is a betrayal since Ida does not see any moral code to live by in the political world other than self-interest.

Stephen calls Duffy who says he did not leak the meeting to Ida. Stephen meets with Paul and talks about what Ida said and how that will hurt the campaign. But, Paul says he told Ida about the meeting so it would be easier to fire Stephen as he will look like a traitor to Morris. Paul tells him that the most important thing to him is loyalty, and that Stephen, despite his protestations to the contrary, knew that the meeting with Duffy should have been reported when Paul called him back. Paul tells him that he met with Duffy because it was self-serving, it fed his ego that Duffy wanted to meet with him instead of Paul, and that Stephen liked being flattered. Stephen is incensed when Paul tells him that he has already spoken to Morris who has agreed to get rid of Stephen. Even though it appears that Paul lives by a higher ethic here, he, too, has performed a dirty political trick to smear his co-worker instead of just giving him an opportunity to quietly resign.
In order to appreciate the extent of this world of betrayal, we must examine the way these politicians treat the intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter of the Democratic National Committee head, Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin). She flirts with Stephen, who does not even know that she is Stearns’ daughter and even forgets that they worked together before. He is insincere with her from the start, acting like he knows her name when he doesn’t. They agree that her father is an “asshole.” They have sex, but the next morning Stephen gets a phone call from one of the staffers who asks who is talking in the background. Stephen says it’s the housekeeper. So, he is insensitive in the dismissive way he treats her, and makes her agree that their encounter should not be made public (like a political cover-up?). After another sexual encounter, he discovers that Morris has called her in the middle of the night. She reveals that she called the governor because she is in trouble, and she needs money because she can’t go to her father because her family is Catholic. She reveals that she slept with Morris just once. Stephen now only sees Molly as a dirty problem that must be cleaned up. She says that she and the governor screwed up, not just her. But, Stephen basically tells her that Morris matters more. He gets his subordinate Ben Harpen ( Max Minghella) to get money out of petty cash, which he gives Molly for the abortion. He says she must leave the campaign, exiling her in this time of need. He tells her to be secretive and only drops her off at the clinic without staying with her. He is even too late because of his job problems at this point to pick her up. She is left all alone after being discarded. After hearing from Ben about Paul wanting to fire Stephen, who said he would reveal everything and bring down the campaign in retribution, she is devastated about the scandal she will become involved in, which will harm her father, too. Perhaps her involvement with two older men in politics implies that she wasn’t treated will by her father, also a politician, and she sought a substitute who she hoped would compensate for that neglect. When Stephen arrives at her place at night he finds out that she is dead from an overdose of medications given to her at the clinic. But, he still puts politics as his primary priority as he takes her cell phone, thus stopping any information about Morris from getting out so he can use the information as leverage. Even in death, Molly is just another person to be used.
After finding out he will be fired, Stephen, knowing that he tried to protect the governor concerning his involvement with Molly and the subsequent pregnancy, feels that Morris turned on him and is now willing to betray his boss. He goes to Duffy offering to join their staff, saying he has big news that will sink Morris. But, Duffy says he can’t use him now that he has been let go, because he is damaged goods at this point. It comes out that Duffy was playing the cynical game of political chess, sacrificing people for political gain. He knew about Paul’s love of loyalty. He realized that as soon as he got Stephen to meet with him, he won. If Stephen would have joined the Pullman staff then, Duffy would have hurt the Morris campaign. Since he didn’t change sides, Duffy banked on Stephen telling Paul about the meeting, knowing that would result in Stephen losing his job. He advises Stephen to get out of politics before he becomes as jaded as himself, before he loses all of his idealism. But for Stephen it is already too late. He meets with Thompson, who does not know that Stephen will be fired, and cuts a deal with him that will give the senator the vice-presidency if he delivers the votes for the nomination.

And what about Morris? He seems to be an idealist publicly. But, in his private life he flirts with the woman putting on his makeup. In the conversation with Stephen on the plane, Morris asks what is in store for Stephen after his association with the candidate. Stephen says he may be a consultant who pimps for ex-presidents. Morris makes a joke about how he better win then. However, the remark shows his sexual proclivities. The next scene, ironically, shows Morris talking about his strong marriage, in public, of course. He tells his wife in private that he is upset that he has to keep crossing the ethical line in order to win. He bemoans this fact to his spouse to whom he has already been unfaithful, so he is compromised from the start. When he holds a press conference after Molly’s death he acts like he did not know her well. He doesn’t want to make a deal with Thompson, but political reality makes it inevitable. 
The movie portrays Morris and Stephen as doubles. The film opens with Stephen on a stage in front of a microphone, making a speech. It first appears that he is the candidate. We quickly realize he is just doing a sound check, but he echoes Morris in other ways. They are both political idealists who feel they must use unscrupulous means to justify their cause’s ends. They both subvert their better judgment by exploiting the same young, vulnerable woman. This act alone symbolizes the defiling of innocence; she may be seductive, but they take advantage of her instead of trying to protect her. When these two meet it is again hidden from the public in a dimly lit back room signifying their avoidance of the light which would reveal the truth of their indiscretions. They are no longer fighting for their ideals, but instead for selfish political survival. Stephen is ready to betray Morris by exposing the governor’s affair which he will spin led to Molly’s suicide. He wants Paul fired, he be made campaign manager, and that the deal be finalized with Thompson. Morris realizes that Stephen was also having sex with Molly. He says there is no DNA evidence, and it comes down to a sitting governor’s word against that of a fired, disgruntled ex-employee. Stephen goes deeper into deception by saying Molly left a note incriminating Morris, who counters by saying he doesn’t believe she would leave such incriminating evidence. But, Morris has to capitulate, because just the allegation can sink him. It is what is made known that matters, the image, as opposed to weightier issues, that feeds the public’s desire for sex scandals? That is why Stephen says that as president, “you can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t f … the interns. They’ll get you for that.” Is the movie making references to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush? We see a new, young, attractive female intern bringing coffee to Ben, who has taken over Stephen’s job. He asks her, “Are you a Bearcat?” It is the same line Stephen used on Molly. The implication is that the cycle of political corruption will continue.

Morris rewards Paul’s loyalty by firing him and offers Thompson the vice-presidency. The two stand on a podium, smiling, acting like friends, hiding their contempt and selfishness, again exhibiting betrayal of the public trust. At Molly’s funeral, Stephen encounters Paul. The new campaign manager is so self-centered, so much a selfish a political animal at this point, that he assumes Paul is there to meet him. His fallen state contrasts with that of Paul, who is present because he knew Molly since she was a child, got her the internship, and is there out of his loyalty to the family.
The end of the story mirrors the beginning. Stephen is again on stage, but this time he will be interviewed as the promoted campaign manager. Will he follow in his boss’ fallen footsteps on the road to elected office? His cold, empty stare into the camera is chilling. As in the Robert Redford movie, The Candidate, it appears that as soon as you enter into American politics, one is doomed to lose one’s soul. When someone betrays others, he also betrays the best part of himself.

The next film is The Manchurian Candidate.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.


What an impressive film directing debut for Mike Nichols in this 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee’s acclaimed play. He had steered Broadway productions to success before this movie, which helped him here in dealing with stage material. But, he had to cope with the two biggest, and some may say most difficult, Hollywood stars of the time. The proof of his success is in the Oscar pudding: multiple nominations, including ones for its four main actors, the movie, and the director, with wins for best actress and supporting actress.
The story presents us with modern marital warfare. George (Richard Burton) is married to Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), who is the daughter of the president of a New England college. She constantly belittles her husband, admonishing him for not being aggressive enough to rise in the scholastic ranks. It’s as if the only reason for the two main characters to keep living is to play games that allow them to attack each other. When George points a rifle at Martha, which, when fired, only projects a parasol, Martha appears to get excited, saying, “Yeah, that was pretty good.” Later, after coming out of a bar, George and Martha get into a heated exchange, and their alternating sadomasochistic relationship is laid bare. George says that she humiliates him and tears him to pieces. Martha says to him, “You can stand it, you married me for it!”


But, the specific details here reverberate with more general concerns about the modern state of American life. Albee has said that the fact that George and Martha have the same names as the first president and lady of the United States is no accident. George significantly teaches in the history department, and there are numerous references to how these two, in a sense, represent history itself. George makes reference to being in the Punic Wars (they live in New Carthage, after all), and says that Martha is “a hundred and eight years old.” While speaking to Nick (George Segal), he channels his namesake by saying, “You take the trouble to construct a civilization, to build a society based on the principle of … principles. You make government and art and realize that they are, must be, both the same.” But, what judgment is rendered by the youthful Nick concerning what he has inherited? Nick says, “Up yours.” History provides knowledge through experience, and that understanding brings no optimism, in the context of this movie, for the future. The couple, which Martha has invited for drinks after a party at her father’s house, are, in contrast, young, thus representing the future. Nick teaches, appropriately, in the biology department, since that discipline evokes youthful physical development, sex, and procreation. It may even conjure up evolution. George, being the man of experience and an observer of history’s documentation of failed human endeavors, is skeptical of youth’s scientific plans for the future, including, as he notes, genetic manipulation.

These two men represent areas that purportedly deal in facts, certainties. But, in the world of modern twentieth century literature, absolutes are suspect because people began questioning what beliefs were taken for granted in the wake of world wars, racial holocaust, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. In the theater, the feeling of uncertainty is evoked by an inability to communicate anything definite, which leads to an inability to emotionally connect to others. So, in this story we have multiple instances of characters unable to comprehend what others are saying, or not capable of knowing what is really going on. Martha told George that Nick was in the Math Department, but Nick says he teaches Biology. Despite Nick’s protestations, George keeps saying he is in the Math Department. The two men sometimes confuse whose wife they are discussing. George discusses Martha’s rich stepmother. Nick says that she never mentioned a stepmother. To which George replies, “Maybe it isn’t true.” Toward the end, Nick says, “Hell, I don’t know when you people are lying, or what,” and George says, “You’re not supposed to.” Nick’s inebriated wife, Honey (Sandy Dennis), says that among the games the couples have been playing, is one she plays called, “peel the label.” She holds up a wine bottle and says, “I peel labels.” George metaphorically responds by saying, “We all peel labels, sweetie,” with the cliché of peeling the layers of an onion to get at the heart of things thus coming to mind. George tells a supposedly true story about a boy he knew in school who accidentally killed his mother with a shotgun and eventually his father in a car accident. Later, Martha implies that George admitted to her father that a novel he was working on contained that same tale, but admitted that he was the boy who killed his parents. What is the truth behind the tale? We don’t know, and that inability to truly understand “reality” is one of the points of the film.
Which brings us to the supposed existence of George and Martha’s boy. He warns her not to bring him up in front of the strangers. However, Martha mentions the youth to Honey. This admission after his warning angers George. We later get hints that the existence of the child is questionable. When George and Nick are outside near the tree with the swing (ironically, a child’s play thing), George says, “Martha doesn’t have pregnancies at all.” Later, because she has broken the rules of their game by speaking of the boy, and to retaliate against her sexual indiscretion with Nick, he decides to kill off the child. He says that there was a telegram that stated that their son was killed when his car hit a tree when he avoided hitting a porcupine, which was the same story he told about the boy who killed his father. (Accidents are mentioned often in the film. There are the two automobile ones, and George drives the car recklessly on the way to the bar. Also, in George’s story, the boy “accidentally” shot his mother, the gun incident mirrored in the mock shooting of Martha. These incidents lend a feeling of things being dangerously out of control and echo the destructive nature of George and Martha’s relationship.) Nick finally realizes, as George delivers a prayer for the dead in Latin, that his hosts could not have children.

The younger couple’s future does not seem all that promising. Nick admits that he married Honey because her father was rich and she was pregnant. However, Nick reveals to George that Honey had a hysterical pregnancy. Thus, there are parallels between the two couples, and it’s possible that Nick and Honey could turn into George and Martha, thus undermining the idea of evolutionary progression. George Washington is called the “father of our country,” but, here, with a modern George and Martha, we have a spiritually barren world, where the only things growing are regret, contempt and loneliness.
 There is a bit of hope, though, at the end. Honey, after hearing that George and Martha have no children, says emphatically, “I want a child!” which suggests that the future may have a glint of possibility in it. Martha even acknowledges that George is good to her, because he “can keep learning the games we play as quickly as I can change them.” The play starts in darkness but ends at dawn, with George forcing his wife to face the reality of their childless marriage. When members of an audience see a play or watch a movie, they suspend disbelief, fool themselves into believing that what they observe is real, so they can have that Aristotelian purgation of pity and fear, or just escape into an entertaining story. At the conclusion of the show, they reenter into reality’s atmosphere. Martha had not been able to pull herself back from the land of make believe until now. She is on the scary terrain of the self-aware adult. So, when George repeats the silly academic version of the child’s song sung at the party, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” she answers, “I am George, I am.”

Next week’s film is The Ides of March.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Doubt

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.


I hope you don’t have doubts about the length of this post. But, there is a lot going on in this movie. The title of this 2008 film says it all. John Patrick Shanley, who directed the movie and adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen, said he hoped that the audience would “transcend” the mystery aspect of the story and think about how does one act in a world of uncertainty to know how to benefit fellow human beings. To provide definitive answers to the questions raised in this story would defeat the purpose of the writing of it. Thus, as soon as we think we have the characters figured out they provide a twist to their personalities that cause us to shift our conclusions.
The tale takes place in 1964 in an Italian/Irish Roman Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx. Donald is an altar boy worried that he looks fat in his church garments; he is insecure about his appearance. Could he possibly doubt his attractiveness to the celebrator of the mass, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman)? In the church, Flynn says the topic of his sermon is “Doubt.” He talks about how the assassination in the prior year of President John F. Kennedy, a catholic, could cause people to have doubts about what they believe. But, Flynn says, they were all sharing the tragedy together, so there was comradeship in the loss. People were not alone. And, he says, even individual everyday doubts are shared by all people, so no one should feel alone in these questioning times. He says, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”

To sanction doubt is an unusual argument to make for a sermon in a church, especially a catholic one (this I know from personal experience), since possibly one of the main purposes of religion is to provide the relief of absolute certainty as to what to believe and how to live, thus warding off the anguish of agonizing over varying answers to disturbing questions. After all, didn’t Christ chastise his “Doubting Thomas?” But, the people of this country, and especially the catholic citizens, had the security of their world shattered by the violent loss of their beloved leader, the first catholic president of the United States. So, given the context, the topic of the sermon may be appropriate.
Not so for Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, in, my opinion, her best performance), the principal (of principles?) of the school associated with this church. She is the queen of certainty here. And, for certainty to continue to reign there is no room for doubt. She cannot exist in insecurity, nor, in her opinion, can the Catholic Church. She is the Christian cop when it comes to being vigilant in maintaining adherence to the rules of her religion, thus preventing any drifting into unsettling, uncharted waters. She patrols the pews during mass, making sure all the children do not talk or snooze, which can lead to straying away from the well-worn religious path into a forest of multiple routes determined individually. She criticizes Sister James (Amy Adams) because she finds a ballpoint pen in the latter’s class. These writing devices indicate selfish laziness, and, thus, penmanship overall has declined. Cough drops are considered by her to be “candy,” which means children using them indulge their physical appetites, leading to uncontrollable, and thus, less certain, patterns of behavior. Later, she condemns Father Flynn for liking his tea very sweet and using a ballpoint pen. She gives a chastising look at Sister James for spitting out a piece of unsavory meat at dinner. To her, food is for nourishment, not for enjoyment, which leads to self-indulgence, elevating the individual above its place in the scheme of things. To her these tendencies represent change, and change allows too many variables that can undermine reassuring certainty in a belief system. 

There are numerous references to wind in the story, and in this case, it is the winds of change that Sister Aloysius fears. She does not like windows open in Sister James’ classroom or in her office, allowing the wind to blow in. She tells the handyman after a wind-blown large branch caused a sister to fall that “The wind has changed,” and for her, the changes are not for the better. A wind gust spins leaves around Sister Aloysius after her confrontation with Mrs. Miller who astounds the sister with her tolerance of possible inappropriate behavior between her son and Father Flynn. The wind represents something uncontrollable. It can knock your hat off, exposing you to what you don’t want to see. Streep said that to emphasize her character’s narrow-mindedness, she scrunched her bonnet, making it look as if she had blinders on. Amy Adams said that the nuns she talked with in preparation for her role had their own individual ways of tying on their rosaries, but each said their own way was the right way. This anecdote is an indication that people seek security in certainties to avoid being unsure of what to do, even though the reality indicates that there are no absolute right and wrong ways to act.
Sister James represents innocence in the film. She can’t believe that one of her students, William London (Michael Roukis), would give himself a nosebleed, just to get out of class. She wants to believe Father Flynn is innocent of any crimes. She does not like to be cynical of human behavior, like Sister Aloysius, who urges her to use a picture of the Pope on the blackboard, not for religious inspiration, but to use the glass covering to spy on the class as she writes with her chalk. (The principal would be right at home in the NSA). Aloysius asked the nuns to be on alert after Father Flynn’s sermon on doubt, because it made him seem suspicious. Sister James says, “It is unsettling to look at people with suspicion. I feel less close to God.” To which, Sister Aloysius says, “When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God. But, in his service.” Aloysius’ statement sounds like we should act for the greater good. But, it can also mean the ends justify the use of some unscrupulous means, as we witness later. Aloysius says her certainty comes from her “experience” and that she “knows” people. But, knowing, in the biblical sense, is carnal, sinful, and thus, ironically, Sister Aloysius is a fallen woman who immerses herself in the muck of the world to clean it up, but who cannot come out unstained. Perhaps that is why she sees, with darting eyes, sin everywhere undermining the solidity of her belief system. She even says that the song “Frosty the Snowman” fosters a pagan belief in magic.

It is also ironic that she enters St. James’ classroom just as the line from Franklin Roosevelt about having nothing to fear but fear itself is discussed. Sister James later tells her that all the students are terrified of the principal, whose response is, “Yes, that’s how it works.” One response to that would be, how does what work? Fascism works that way, establishing a world totally without doubt, but also without the freedom to question anything, too. Roosevelt was trying to urge people to overcome fear, not to give into its paralysis of the human spirit.

But, we are also shown that Sister Aloysius’ realistic outlook about the unholy nature of people can be true. William London does give himself a nosebleed so he can escape school, and indulge in underage cigarette smoking. He sneaks over to a girl’s desk when the teacher is facing the blackboard, and he is rude to other students. Which brings us to the suspicions concerning Father Flynn. After the sermon at the beginning of the movie, Donald tells Flynn that he would like to become a priest. The Father gives him a curious gift which is a miniature ballerina that spins as a tiny mirror is placed next to the dancer. Is this sort of effeminate gift hinting at a homosexual subtext? Since it appears to be a trick the way the toy works, does it imply Flynn is tricking the boy, grooming him for seduction? We have no proof, but Shanley plants doubts about the priest’s intentions, which the audience is susceptible to given the recent investigations exposing the Catholic Church’s harboring of pedophiles. Also, Flynn hesitates while staring at a stain glass window with an eye in it looking down at him. Does he feel that the eye of God sees what he is and is judging him? The student William flinches and pulls away from Flynn when he touches the boy to see if the child’s hands are dirty. The audience sees him react the same way at the gym where Flynn coaches basketball and lectures the students on keeping their fingernails clean. Is William’s reaction because he is a problem kid who doesn’t like the Father’s signaling him out? Father Flynn says he likes to keep his nails a little long, and later, Sister Aloysius tells him to cut his nails. Demons and vampires have been depicted as having long fingernails resembling talons. Are we to believe Flynn to be demonic? When the classmates ask Flynn about a girl turning down a boy’s invitation to the dance, the Father says that when all the girls turn you down, you become a priest. William’s reaction is a turning away and a shaking of the head. Did Flynn make advances on William and that is why he cringes at his touch? Does he scoff at his joke because he knows the man prefers young boys? Later, when Flynn says goodbye to the parishioners, William smiles; is he happy that this threat is gone? Or, is he glad that he doesn’t have to deal with the priest pointing out his shortcomings?
Sister Aloysius saw William’s initial pulling away, and along with the “Doubt” sermon believes Flynn is guilty of being a pederast. Again, she tells Sister James that she has experience coming across this perversion before. Because she told the nuns to observe anything suspicious, Sister James notes that Donald was called into the rectory to meet with Father Flynn, and was upset when he came back to class. He put his head down on the desk, and there was alcohol on his breath. Later, she saw Flynn put Donald’s undershirt in the boy’s locker. She reluctantly reports her observations to the principal.
Sister Aloysius is now convinced that Flynn is a predator. She sets up a bogus meeting about the Christmas pageant to trap him. She says because Donald is the only African American boy in the school, he should not be exhibited too much in the show, nor hidden. Flynn says he should be treated like all the other students, but Aloysius says Flynn already signaled him out for special treatment by calling for him to go to the rectory. Sister Aloysius turns the meeting into an interrogation. She opens the blinds so that the sunlight shines onto Flynn’s face like a bright lamp used in the grilling of a suspect. (She doesn’t like it when, as Sister James later questions her motives, one of her ceiling lights burns out. She replaces the bulb later, which goes out again. It’s as if she doesn’t want any dimness which would symbolize uncertainty in her moral vision). She has Sister James relate her observations. Flynn says that Donald became inebriated drinking the sacramental wine. It is ironic that the wine is supposed to represent Christ’s blood used to nourish souls, but here was used for what someone like Aloysius would consider the satisfaction of a baser appetite. Flynn felt compassion for the boy, and didn’t want to expose him which would lead to him being dismissed as an altar boy, which is what must now happen. He says the boy left his undershirt behind and Flynn did not want to cause him further embarrassment so he dropped off the piece of clothing.
Sister James is relieved by Father Flynn’s explanation, returning her to what Aloysius calls her innocent “simplicity.” For Aloysius, humans brought about their banishment from that simplicity of not knowing sin in the Garden of Eden, and now we have to deal with it. But, in a meeting, appropriately in the church’s garden, Father Flynn tells Sister James to hold onto her purity. She deals with innocent children and the only way to respond to them is with love and kindness. He says that Donald was a boy in trouble, and he was just trying to show the boy compassion. He tells her, obviously referring to Aloysius’ deep immersion in the fallen world, that “There are people who go after your humanity, Sister, that tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it. It is an old tactic of cruel people who kill kindness in the name of virtue.” This sounds like an indictment of Aloysius’ statement about stepping away from God to do his service. Later, Sister James observes students deliberately banging into Donald, his books and Flynn’s gift dashed to the floor. Father Flynn helps the boy gather up his belongings, and the priest gives him a long hug. Caught between her own innocence and Sister Aloysius’ suspicious nature, she can view this scene as either an act of generosity or one of depravity. And, so can we.
Sister Aloysius is not satisfied with Flynn’s explanation, and meets with Donald’s mother to get more information. There are a few surprises about the nun in these scenes. When Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) enters, she finds Sister Aloysius listening to a transistor radio she confiscated from a boy in Sister James’ class. She says she is addicted to it, an unusual admission from someone who is against change, even the invention of the ballpoint pen. However, she is not so heretical that she listens to music, only to the news stories. She also surprises Mrs. Miller by telling her that she was married before becoming a nun. So, the principal, despite her belief that those in the religious orders should be considered to be on a separate level from the lay people, actually is not that different from them. She champions against giving into human appetites, yet has been sexually intimate in her past. But, then again, she said that her “experience” allows her to understand transgressors.

However, she does not comprehend Mrs. Miller’s attitude of nonintervention when she tells her that that the relationship between Father Flynn and her son is inappropriate. The mother says she is grateful the priest looked out for her boy when he was caught drinking the wine. When Aloysius says that Flynn is the kind of man that chases boys, the mother says that some boys want to be caught. She says that her husband beats Donald because of his “nature.” We now understand that Donald has gay tendencies, and in 1964, most considered this an abomination. His mother voices a modern, anti-Catholic Church, belief when she says “You can’t hold a child responsible for what God gave him to be.” Mrs. Miller sent her boy to the catholic school to get him away from harassment at the public school and only wants him to graduate in June when he can go to a good high school. She tells the Sister that he needs a man to care for her son. Of course, Aloysius says it can’t be in that way. When the principal threatens to remove Donald from the school, the mother tells the nun that if the situation becomes public, Donald will suffer because his father will kill him with his beatings. Mrs. Miller hits at Aloysius’ need for certainty about the crime of which she is convinced in the absence of concrete evidence. Concerning the true nature of the relationship between the priest and her son she asks, “Why do you have to know something like that when you don’t?” Here, being in doubt will be the kinder way to go, at least for her boy. We do see Sister Aloysius’ compassion here, because she is appalled that the father beats his son. She sees the need to protect him.

The scenes with Mrs. Miller also emphasize the gender issue brought up in the film. The mother is known only as “Mrs. Miller,” showing her subservient status in the society. She understands the reality of the male-dominated world when she says that the nun will not be able to win against the man in a robe who has the power. The audience sees that the nuns eat in reverent silence at dinner, drinking only milk. The priests have a sumptuous meal, accompanied by alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, and raucous laughter. When Father Flynn is in the principal’s office, he sits at her chair, usurping her authority. She must serve him tea, although she admits she is rusty at doing so. Sister Aloysius tries to protect one of the older nuns who she is afraid will be banished supposedly to some retirement home by the male hierarchy if her developing blindness is discovered.

Aloysius knows the male chain of command, but she is now willing to go against it, breaking rules she has upheld, in her crusade against the man who she is convinced is guilty. When Father Flynn confronts her after he sees her with Mrs. Miller, she basically says she has the goods on him. He has been at three different parishes in the prior five years. She says she talked to a nun at his prior assignment, and found out he has a history of improprieties. He was the one who didn’t want the Catholic Church to dwell in the Dark Ages, and appeared to be a reformer in terms of wanting secular songs at Christmas and breaking down barriers between clergy and parishioners. But, he now becomes the one who defends the system and she appears as the rebel. He plays the church male dominance card, telling her that she should have talked to the pastor, not a nun. He says, “You have no right to act on your own. You have taken vows, obedience being one! You answer to us! You have no right to step outside the church!” But, she is willing to do just that at this point. She says, “I will step outside the church if that’s what needs to be done … though I’m damned to hell!” He says that she has no proof. She says she has her “certainty.” She promises to be relentless, going to families to expose his sins. He realizes that he is unable to stop her. He says that he can’t tell her everything. What does he mean by that? Perhaps Flynn is gay, and he saw a child who suffered as he did as a youth, and only wanted to show that he was not alone. Or, is he on the verge of confessing that he did give the boy the wine to make it easier to seduce him? In any event, Aloysius is able to get him to leave without making a public scandal, thus protecting Donald.

At the end of the film, Sister James, after returning from caring for her ill brother, talks with Sister Aloysius in that same church garden. She says that although Flynn is gone, the male power structure has promoted him, making him a pastor at his next parish. She admits now that she made no such call to a nun at a prior parish. She lied in order to, she believes, get at the truth. The ends justified the means. She says that her lie would have had no force if the priest was not guilty. “His resignation was his confession,” she tells Sister James. But, is it? In a sermon about gossip, Father Flynn gave an analogy to a pillow being ripped and the feathers flying everywhere, impossible to be gathered up once released. The lie takes on a life of its own, as it did in the Salem Witch Trials, as it did during the period of McCarthyism. Maybe Flynn realized that proving there was a lie was harder than Aloysius proving there was a crime.
 Sister James says that she wished she was like Aloysius, because she can’t sleep anymore, and it implies that maybe certainty allows rest from struggle over doubts. But, the principal says, “Maybe we’re not supposed to sleep so well.” Maybe she, too, can’t sleep. She admits that stepping away from God to do his service comes at a price. Maybe her vigilance has caused her only to see the evil in the world and has cut her off from observing what Flynn called the light of “humanity.” Could that be the reason that Sister Aloysius starts to cry and admits that she, too, has doubts, “such doubts?”

The next film is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?