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Whom do You Trust?
on November 5, 2009
The director and screenwriter in this blockbuster drama, John Patrick Shanley, has created a dynamic movie that intentionally stirs up more questions than it answers. By the end, the viewer is thoroughly perplexed as to what is evil and where absolute truth resides in life. Is it in the freedom to embrace change or resist it because of its great potential to destroy? The setting is an east New York City parish in the early 1960s.Traditional values are under assault and values are changing fast, especially with the forces of modernization arriving at the doors of the parochial school in the form of a progressive-thinking priest played by Philip Hoffman. Before too long, through the power of his evocative homilies, he has the local congregants questioning their own doubts and feelings. He sees his mission as one of sewing the seeds of kindness and open-mindness in the minds of those who are willing to seek a more enligtened view of life instead of slavishly obeying the strict laws of the Church on virtuous living. Right from the outset, his message of loving each other as Christ first loved us meets with stiff opposition from the graceless principal, Sister Beauvier, played by Meryl Streep. As these two persons lock horns over what is the appropriate way to physically handle children, the battle lines are drawn along a whole new set of issues: sexual misconduct, racism, bigotry, and gossip. At the end, I was left with some mixed feelings as to who is ultimately really right in this conflict of values: a risking-taking priest who often skirts the edges of morality, or the prudish, anal-retentive principal who is too mortified to admit her need to loosen up. Shaney doesn't provide any easy answers as to how to resolve this dilemma between freedom and authority because he like Sister James in the story wants us to respond to others out of liberating compassion regardless of the inherent risks. Brilliant movie that cuts to the quick of what plagues society: the need to trust one another.