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Power Struggle: “Doubt” Movie Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2019

In the movie Doubt there is a conspicuous power struggle that rages strongly in an elementary Catholic school in Bronx, New York. The power struggle is between Sister Aloysius; the school principal, and father Flynn, the school’s a priest cum games master.

The power struggle rests on the fact that Sister Aloysius is a very strict principal who believes in instilling discipline and religious virtues to the students. As the principal, Sister Aloysius is very strict in ensuring that nuns become watchful to note any emergence of unbecoming behavior amongst students. On the other hand, Father Flynn seems liberal; he holds that students need freedom to enjoy secular music to connect with the ever-changing world.

The differences in the perception of discipline and management lead to power struggle in the school. Dargis posits, “The winds of political change are sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller” (Para. 11). Conflict arises when the school accepts Donald Miller; Sister Aloysius accuses Father Flynn for allegedly having sexual relationship with the boy on top of letting him (Miller) to drink wine whilst in school.

The discussions surrounding the school matters revolve around the interests of the two conflicting powers. In the church, Father Flynn gives an inspiring sermon about the nature of doubt and its unifying effect; a teaching that Sister Aloysius finds unusual as she later seeks the opinion of other nuns regarding the same.

She is afraid that Father Flynn is referring to some indecent behavior she has noted amongst students of late; consequently, orders all nuns to be watchful. Since Father Flynn is critical in his sermons, Sister Aloysius does not want to give him a chance to criticize her. In response to the sermon, Sister Aloysius orders nuns to observe keenly the unique relationship between Father Flynn and Donald Miller; the black student and allegedly Flynn’s ‘lover’.

Dargis argues that, “Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school, now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, locking into a battle of wills with Father Flynn” (Para. 5). This implies that, Sister Aloysius is looking for an excuse or opportunity to expel Father Flynn from the school because he antagonizes his powers.

After Sister Aloysius’ instructions to nuns to investigate the relationship between Father Flynn and Donald Miller, Sister James reveals that Father Flynn has close relationship with the boy; actually, he is sexually molesting the boy! Sister James reports that Father Flynn called the boy from class and offered him some wine to drink. Moreover, Sister James allegedly saw Father Flynn place the boy’s shirt into his locker.

This information is very substantial for Sister Aloysius to accuse and expel Father Flynn from the school. Hearing the rumors and allegation leveled against him, Father Lynn attacks Sister Aloysius and nuns during a Sunday sermon by preaching on gossip; he says, “stopping gossip is like putting all the feathers back into the pillowcase, which is impossible to do, it bears false witness against neighbors, ruins reputations, and is a sin” (Doubt).

The power struggle continues until Sister Aloysius manages to have Father Flynn expelled from the school. However, the Parish does not discipline Flynn; actually, to the chagrin of Sister Aloysius, Flynn is promoted to a pastor and the only thing the poor principal can do is to rue and cry as her attempts to prove her power in the school prove futile. Nevertheless, Shanley manages to underscore power struggle by using Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn.

Works Cited

Dargis, Manohla. “Doubt: Between Heaven and Earth, Room for Ambiguity.” The New York Times, December 2008. Web. <>

Doubt. Dir. John P. Shanley. Goodspeed Productions, 2008. Film.

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