Friday, December 18, 2009
Wings of the Dove -- hypocrisy and fake love
Director: Iain Softley, 1997.
Based on the Henry James book of the same name, Wings of the Dove is a forgettable disappointment. Sure, it has beautiful locations from London to Venice, with wonderful cinematography. It dresses its stars in fabulous clothing. But that is expected in an English period piece film. What lets it down are the characters themselves. They are cold and hard to sympathize with.
The protagaonist is Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter), the daughter of a wealthy woman and a penniless opium addict (Michael Gambon, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series). But with her mother dead and her father in the poor house, she is a ward of her aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling), who gives her the chance to return to the high society life her mother gave up for love. But it comes at a cost. Kate must give up her lover, Merton Densher (Linus Roache, Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins). Kate's love for Merton is true love. Despite Merton's working-class background, they are secretly planning to be married. What a choice she faces.
Wings of the Dove raises the question of the priority of economic security or love. Would we sacrifice true love if it meant we could live a secure life of comfort? Would we marry someone we did not love for this purpose? Love is a precious thing, more valuable than simple creature comforts. Life is a fleeting thing, a mist that disappears (Jas. 4:14). So, to find love is to find a pearl of great value. Casting this aside for physical comfort is a sad indictment of a warped value system.
Kate, though, chooses initially to please her aunt and not follow in her father's footsteps. She cuts all ties to Merton and refuses to answer his letters. When he unexpectedly shows up at a black tie party, they are once more thrown together, and their love cannot be denied.
It is at that party that Millie (Alison Elliot), a red-haired American and "the world's richest orphan," enters the scene. She meets Kate and then espies Merton, seeing him as a handsome Englishman. She is an heiress with everything but love and sees her opportunity for love. Meanwhile, Kate sees a scheme to get everything she wants.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Kate as calculating and manipulative. She is a selfish lover who is at once both jealous and Machiavellian. One character says of her, "there's something going on behind those beautiful lashes." And there is, but we cannot be sympathetic to her, as she connives against friends who care for her. With Millie bearing a secret, she is an innocent who we root for, not Kate. And Roache seems miscast as Merton. He is not handsome enough to be credible as the love interest for multiple women. He does fill the role.
Merton's character, too, is somewhat unlikable. He is a jaded journalist, raking up muck to satisfy the masses who buy the rag he works for. A hypocrite, he says of himself in one scene, "I don't believe in any of the things I write about. I fake passion. I fake conviction." In a word, he is a fake.
This brings us to the question of true love vs fake love. If love is precious, is fake love worth anything? Should we fake a love we don't feel to attain a true love we yearn for? Surely the ends do not justify the means. Fake love is a lie. If we still feel a love that is true we cannot disguise it in the shape of a love for another. That is unfair and untrue, to ourselves and to the other person.
Merton's hypocrisy plays itself out. Hypocrisy is the pretense of having a virtuous character, in this case to be in love with someone you're not in love with. It comes from the Greek root to act in a play, to pretend. It is not a positive quality. Whenever we consider faking it, whether in love or in other situations, we must realize we are lying. The New Testament exhorts us to avoid lying (Col. 3:9). Indeed, one of the Ten Commandments says, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exod. 20:16). For reasons good or ill, it is a slippery slope that will pull us down to a dismal end.
When the credits rolled, my wife reminded me that we had seen this film before. Apart from Carter's acting, which earned her an Oscar nomination, it was not one that stays in the memory long. Like fake love, it is best left alone.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM