Essay

‘Doubt’: an Exploration into the Surface

It is productive to view the character of the ‘Doubt’ – who is not, after all, ‘Linnea Chiang’ – as enzymatic, a pure catalyst for reactions in which she does not participate. Linnea comments on why she becomes the Doubt only once (rather weakly, and in a tone implying that she would be the last to know): ‘I feel the deepest part of me come alive’. At her ‘deepest’, we’re invited to think, Linnea Chiang is no longer recognizable as Linnea Chiang at all, and it is here where she seeks to see herself reflected.

As Harry Lime might say, people are ultimately unknowable, for knowledge is a very partial thing: it’s merely a tool, valid for certain tasks and useless for others. Doubt as enzyme brings this limited nature of knowledge to light; seeking explanations for her, each character confronts the narrow scope of their own perspective. The film is very deliberate as it presents the Doubt as an obstacle to understanding – most so, perhaps, in an early set of humorous cross-cuts between Rollo and Jeremy, who, as they confidently direct their respective agents to discover quite different, even opposite, ‘truths’ about the Minx, highlight the incapacity of any such success to fully describe the Minx at all, not even as ‘a flesh-and-blood human being’. Joe ‘gets’ her as a common criminal, yet breaks down at the Robin Hood angle; the news media can understand ‘daring acts’, but has a tough time conceding her femininity; Edgar digs puppy love with a tough tobacconist, but can’t jive with the thief who won’t turn herself in to marry him. The players on the screen (and also we, the viewers) may comprehend her so far, but no farther. There is no compromise to her mystery, and that’s the chief joy of the film. Both Linnea and the Minx are as inscrutable at the end as at the beginning. There is no private confession, no sticky psychology, no tearful history and no reasoned motivation. It’s all surface.

The Halloween party is the film’s centerpiece. Its gathering drift and off-center framing distills the sweet and off-balance tone of the entire film. One has the sense that it could go on forever. Earlier, Linnea paraphrases Cervantes, stating that ‘life is a series of masks, and death strips them all to leave us equal in the grave’; to that observation, this party scene, with every character costumed, in what increasingly strikes one as a ‘parade of life’, serves as a fine parallel. Virginia Woolf has spoken of a certain shade of meaning which, at any time, for no reason, “decends on people, making them symbolical, making them representative”, and it’s this quality of symbol which the filmmaker, with wry humor, explores; very much through Linnea, who, via Doubt, herself explores the ‘representative identity’ as another available way of being.

– Jeremy Quinn