Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Doubt and the role of Child Abuse

I recently saw John Patrick Shanley's film Doubt which features Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It was potentially one of the best films I have seen recently, not only for the superb acting of Streep, Hoffman, and the rest of the cast, but because of the stories it seeks to tell. If one has seen the previews, one sees a film that seems to explore the Catholic priest sex scandal with the school principal Sr. Aloysius - played by Streep - believing that the parish priest Fr. Flynn - played by Hoffman - is having an inappropriate relationship with one of the students - Donald Miller. Of course we never really see the student and if one sees the film one realizes that the film is much more complex...Donald is the first black student at this school, Sr. Aloysius has no evidence of her belief and is a rather unlikable character, Fr. Flynn is likable but borders on creepy, etc.

However, I only want to dwell on a particular scene in the film. A scene in which Sr. Aloysius walks Mrs. Miller - played by Viola Davis - to her work place. In this brief scene, Mrs. Miller wants the sister to leave it be, telling her that Donald only has to make it to June when he graduates and starts high school. Within this conversation where Sr. Aloysius tells Mrs. Miller that she believes there is an inappropriate relationship between her son and Fr. Flynn, Mrs. Miller notes that it is in Donald's nature, that Donald would have been killed if he had stayed in the public schools, and that his father beats him for this "nature". Now, in my interpretation this "nature" is Mrs. Miller noting that her son is gay...something rather taboo in 1964 (5 years before Stonewall, the oft spoken start of the "gay rights movement"). She notes this because in many ways she is happy that Donald has found someone that makes him comfortable, that comforts him with his "nature". Sr. Aloysius is obviously disturbed by this notion...asking Mrs. Miller what kind of mother she is for thinking such a relationship has any validity.

It is this scene that was fascinating to me. It is fascinating because Mrs. Miller appears to be troubling the traditional notion of age of consent. I would argue that she is illustrating that consent laws in many ways are problematic for "gay" children. The establishment of consent laws, creating age demarcations for who can fuck when and where and with whom, had an important impact on how gays on different sides of the adult/child binary interact(ed). Now, this argument is not meant to condone per se pedophilic relationships and I recognize that there are serious issues of child abuse in the world, but my argument is meant to call into question how such consent laws - meant to protect the child - inevitably abuse the (gay) child by closing off the possibilities of entering relationships and spaces with other “gay” adult-persons. One can just think about the lack of “gay” things in mainstream society to recognize that that the “gay” bar all of the sudden becomes a mecca of becoming intelligible to oneself – a holy place that one goes to become oneself and see others like it. Of course it is problematic to think about the notion of becoming oneself and the limitations that even the notion of the “gay” bar create in terms of possibilities for “gay” youth…but that’s not my point.

My point is that Mrs. Miller, painstakingly perhaps, recognizes that Donald has no one else to turn to, no one else to be in relationship with because there are no other "gay" persons around. If Fr. Flynn is a person that Donald trusts and is comfortable with, then she is happy that he has found someone that loves him...something his own father cannot do, unless one constitutes being beaten as "love". Now of course this is difficult to comprehend because discourse in contemporary US has pathologized relationships with large age variations...and further more when the "child" is involved. And of course we do not know what type of relationship exists between the two characters in question. If the relationship is sexual it is obviously complicated by issues of power and ability to consent...however these issues are issues that should be taken seriously and explored...granting Donald some form of sexual agency, if he is knowledgeable of the choices and what is at stake in any relationship, especially a sexual one. In thinking about this then we see that Fr. Flynn is placed in a rather precarious place because if he takes a "gay" child under his wings to form of bond with him, he is immediately suspected as having inappropriate relationships BUT if he does not develop such relationships, that child may never experience love or a relationship that validates the feelings that child has. NOW, of course some adults could take advantage of that...but not all adults will as some adults recognize the plight of children and the needs of children to have validation and love in a world filled with violence and abuse...especially towards those "gay" bodies.

All in all, I found this film rather thought provoking in thinking about an issue (specifically Sexual Abuse in the Catholic church) in new light. I don't know if many viewers will catch this little nuance in the film...but from my perspective is was incredibly provacative and insightful

1 comment:

pharmacy said...

It is indeed a great movie, the message is just great.