Courage is something most of us would be content to avoid. Though most would concede that the character trait is a venerable one, we all pray occasion never arises to determine whether it's something we actually possess. Two new films challenge our generally cautious species' capacity for courage, both of the ordinary and extraordinary variety.

In Doubt, a sandpaper coarse, puritanically strict nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, oversees the goings on in a New York Catholic school in 1964, a time where America is at a crossroads, painfully evolving in all matters including race and religion. The fearsome disciplinarian's connections to people, to education, to her God, all seem to be filtered through a cold, steely outer shell that disallows the investment of any warm sentiment; not love or passion or even reverence. It is as if she, as expressed with brutal conviction by a dominant Meryl Streep, has, either through harsh experience or a natural inclination, removed herself from human bonds. We are then suspicious of her motivations when a gregarious priest named Father Flynn, played with his patented man-beast charisma by Philip Seymour Hoffman, becomes the target of her curiously zealous ire. With a slight nudge from a young, idealistic nun (Enchanted's Amy Adams), Sister Beauvier begins her campaign, her crucible if you will, to deflate and dethrone the popular, possibly predatory, church father. The main issue of Doubt is only superficially (and eponymously) about the inner turmoil commonly known as doubt. In John Patrick Shanely's remarkably sharp and involving drama, based on his own play, first we must figure whether Beauvier's intentions are pure, whether her relentless pursuit of Father Flynn is rooted in virtue, fear, jealousy, or a troubling brew of all three, because while Flynn represents progressive thinking in the church, the tough as nails nun applies a vice-like grip to the old ways. Only if we conclude that she appeals to the more honorable inner-influence, and there is no overtly compelling reason to do so, can we even begin to give credence to the alleged torment of her self-doubt. This is why the multi-layered, yet minimalist film is such a satisfying conundrum (and the reason we must thank the movie-gods for awards season). The audience must scratch and claw at multiple surfaces in order to reach an only subjective (hence, self-revealing) resolution.

The courage depicted in Doubt