Doubt at the Little

Ali and I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see Doubt. It's a fascinating film which, although obviously different from the play (which neither of us saw), is extremely strong. I suppose it could only help that the film was written and directed by the original playwright, John Patrick Shanley. The story primarily follows Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the minister of St. Nicholas in the Bronx in 1964, and Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the principal of the affiliated school. Flynn takes an interest in one of the students: Donald Muller — a black boy in an otherwise all-white school. Sister Aloysius fully believes Flynn molested Donald and intends to ensure he [Flynn — duh] is punished.

The audience is left to their own beliefs to ascertain whether Flynn molested Donald. I found this fascinating, as I maintained his innocence throughout the film but realized afterward that I could experience the film again completely differently by believing he was guilty.

Sister Aloysius is someone who would act to destroy based on their beliefs. I think it's a particular kind of logic that permits this: believing that one's belief alone is more true than having no factual basis — perhaps a manifestation of the nature of faith (although in the case of religious faith, it's more about filling a gap in that which is knowable). The trouble is, there is an element of circular justification: if she succeeds in destroying Flynn's reputation, she feels justified, but by putting her own reputation on the line in making such an accusation, she has no choice but to fight to destroy Flynn's reputation no matter whether he was guilty or not.

Sister James, meanwhile, acts as a foil to Sister Aloysius by believing in the kindness of others. Sister Aloysius' long-time experience as disciplinarian provides her only with evidence of sin and wrongdoing. So is it Sister James' naiveté or Sister Aloysius' limited perspective that is at fault?

For myself, I find that when factual evidence is not available, belief in kindness is the more fruitful path. As is the case with Sister Aloysius, believing more in evil makes you a destructive force in the world whereas believing more in good opens up the possibility of being constructive.

But equally important is that it makes you happier to believe that people are generally kind.


Abel Raises Cain at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Abel Raises Cain, a documentary about Alan Abel by his daughter Jenny Abel.

Abel made a name for himself by being a professional hoaxer starting in 1959 when he founded "SINA": the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals — their "goal" was to clothe animals but the subversive edge was as a protest to media censorship. He waited for the media to catch on that it was a hoax but they didn't — as he points out, even the name of the group defies its own cause.

I was really inspired by his life and work. Although his overarching message is "don't believe everything you hear," I was transfixed by the manipulation of the news media. For if there's one secret the news media cannot bear to let the public know, it's that they are pretending to be expert authorities on everything they report on — journalism is supposedly this noble profession where hard-working reporters seek out the truth and report it for everyone to see.

The trouble with the truth is that you — yourself — need to do the work of fully understanding what it is you're trying to understand. For the most part, we take it on faith that cold water will freeze before hot water, the interstate highway system has straight sections that can be used as emergency airstrips, or that cell phones can cause a fire at a gas station. We take it on faith that the people reporting the news know what they're talking about — that they found experts and checked sources and did all that important stuff to ensure it's all true.

So I'm thrilled when someone like Abel can come around and show that the foundation for the faith in the news is false. Other people, though [also known as "people I tend to not get along with very well"] are deeply troubled by such exposure. They felt safe and assured that everything they were told was true. But when someone proves otherwise, it is they who make the world less safe by pointing it out.