James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Remains of the Day

I'm not normally one to make a big deal about pro-freedom film or literature. Movies about rebels and individualists can be wildly popular yet fail to transform the political culture. Children cheer on Han Solo, but grow up to become state troopers dedicated to violating Constitutional rights on our highways, or imperial warriors in far-away deserts. They are more like stormtroopers than freedom-loving rebels, and they don't even realize it. People don't get parallels and metaphors. Entertainiment is viewed primarily as just entertainment. After all, people watched MASH and All in the Family in the 1970's only to vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980's.

That said, I recently saw Remains of the Day starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson again, and I wonder if it's an overlooked classic for individualists. Not because it perpetuates the Munich Myth that Britain was somehow responsible for the security of small European countries. Rather, because it's essentially a cautionary tale.

Hopkins' character, Mr. Stevens, is an English butler whose lord is part of the aristocracy involved in high-level affairs. Stevens dedicates his life to serving someone dedicated to public service. It makes sense; this is one way to be part of something bigger than oneself. By serving his lord, Stevens is also serving King and Country.

And Stevens would suspend judgment, override conscience, sacrifice love, and lose his own individuality for his job. Time and again, he remained silent when he could have spoken up; he wouldn't intervene in affairs he was sure were far over his head. But the whole time, he was serving a gullible Nazi dupe.

Remains of the Day is certainly a warning to all who feel a "devotion to duty" in one of the traditional institutions of society. You could easily just end up wasting your life following orders from incompetents. Who wants to spend their life serving stupid and evil men? And who wants to look back on years of misplaced faith? Who wants to sacrifice everything only to end up with nothing - not even a clear conscience?

Better to make one's own judgments and make one's own mistakes. Subordinating one's own self to some "higher calling" actually helps no one in the long run.

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