For the first time in a while, I tried something new, which was to watch a film I've only vaguely known to be good. It was free from the In Demand network in my corporate apartment, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Butterfield 8 is a morality tale. It is the story about the value of sex and marriage and self-worth of honesty, passion and abuse. It is the story about living with lies and what it does to the psyche, of the difference between friendship, lust and love. It's about class and money, control and freedom. It's an awful fabulous lot in an old movie, and it's the sort of movie they don't seem to make any longer. Perhaps today's directors and screenwriters know better than to tread in this territory.
The film is not very well edited and there's not much panache in the direction, but the acting is good - done for the sake of dialog and not empty emoting or beauty shots. it's the kind of film that begins like something cheesy, develops interestingly and ends perfectly. It is a modern tragedy of timeless values and therefore a classic. In some ways, I cannot imagine not having my soon to be teenaged children watch it. It's the right caution.
Some days ago, I happened to be listening to a late night radio talk show. it was the night that Halo 3 was to be sold at midnight. I missed the sale but I caught the radio talk show. The host was talking about how we make an enemy of our conscience when we indulge ourselves. We do wrong and we begin to despise the part of us that makes us feel bad about it and instead we welcome the kinds of people into our lives that want to share in our badness. We call the drug dealer our friend and we get angry at our true friends - we can't wait for good people to abandon us so that we can abandon ourselves into the arms of abuse.
But at some point in our lives, because most of us live long enough to regret, we realize how we have done ourselves wrong and have undone others in the course of it. We wonder if we can ever make good, if we ever deserve the sunshine on our faces, if we can ever pay the price for our betrayal. That is our moment of humanity, and there is always an opportunity for that moment to come. I say that is the very shape of our minds that does it, the nature of God in us. It's as true and simple as pain. Pain is our way of knowing that we are in trouble and it is only human to want the pain to go away.
At this moment I think of Alter Call. The proper minister always knows an Alter Call is always necessary. We always need to be reminded that we can make the pain go away, that we can return to conscience and that we might someday deserve the sunshine.
Butterfield 8 was an answering service in the film. A cutout conduit between two people unable to face the truth about themselves. So long as they used that underground channel of communication, they could enjoy their complicit deceit. It wasn't until they were ready to deal with their own true feelings, their own real consciences, their own reputations and psyches that they could ditch the conduit. And yet it stood, always something there to remind them, an indelible memory.
One day, we'll have real-time translation of all the voice messages and films and literature of today's recorded digital world. We could InDemand it and watch it at our leisure. But I think all that diversity of information won't matter - it will be the shape of the stories like this one that count. They will be few, but they will be evocative of the real truth about our souls. We can only hope to be watching the right channel.