I’ve been wanting to see this since I watched a Anatomy of a Scene episode on NYTimes.com. It was well worth the wait and viewing.
Three great actors – Seymour-Hoffman, Streep, and Adams – along with a silent fourth, the unassuming photograpy, make this film truly masterful. The exchanges between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius were just gripping and mesmerizing, watching one character take charge for a while, then the other conquer, then the same fall. From an actor’s perspective, there’s so much to learn from, watching Meryl Streep take in Seymour-Hoffman then pounce then retreat.
This film is jarring because you never really know. It doesn’t give it away early in a flashback and I’m so glad it didn’t resort to some childhood memory or some psychologizing. You’re left to interpret every scene and encounter; is he right? is she right? is she delusional? is he a liar? You never know until the very end when it hits you not like a hammer but like a needle. And you feel the fluid go up your veins and soon enough it hits your brain. It’s that subdued yet incredibly powerful.
The power of suggestion, of gossip, of suspicion is often much more powerful than flat out fact or evidence, shown in Aloysius’ exclamation: “But I have my certainty!” And as much the film is a quiet commentary about the state of the Catholic church and the distrust sowed by the paedophile scandals, this film is also about the real people caught up in it, without weepy dramatization or sentimentality.
The photography is measured and controlled and in a few places, takes inspiration from still photograpy and art. The image of Sister Aloysius swept up in the wind, after her conversation with Miller’s mother, is truly beautiful. Also, the lighting and set design in this film also had a powerful impact. The contrast between the warm reds in the boisterous dinner scene with the clergy and the staid beige and black of the nuns tells you something.
A film to be owned, watched again, and to learn from.