At the Precipice

When I heard Robert Duvall speaking with Mike Huckabee last year about his film, “Get Low”, I knew it was my kind of movie.  It’s the story of a man who wants to throw his own “funeral party” while he’s alive and have people come and tell stories about him and is loosely based on a true story that took place in Roane County, Tennessee in 1938.

Sounds a bit quirky but the movie is anything but.  Mr. Duvall plays the main character, reclusive Felix Bush, who has lived the life of a hermit for the past 40 years on the outskirts of town.  He’s taunted by children who throw rocks at his windows, rumors have been spread about him and he’s feared by the town folk.  As the movie unfolds, we realize that it’s Felix who has a very dark secret, well hidden from everyone but his friend and minister, Charlie Jackson, who has to be coaxed by Felix into attending the “funeral party” to insure his story is told if he, Felix, is unable to unload the heavy burden himself.

Eventually, Felix’s secret is uncovered.  He slowly and painfully reveals to the hundreds of town folk who have assembled that, 40 years before, he fell in love with a married woman who planned to leave her husband and start a new life and family with him.  A tragedy results.  Spoiler alert: Move on to the next paragraph if you plan to watch the movie.)  When she doesn’t arrive at their pre-arranged meeting place, Felix goes to her home, confronts her husband, who sets fire to the lower floor of the house.  Felix rushes upstairs to find his love on the floor having been beaten by her husband.  The husband, who was able to make it up the stairs, attacks Felix who cannot recall if he leaped from the window or was pushed.  In either event, he is emotionally destroyed because, ultimately, he was unable to save the woman he loved.

He details his shame in having even looked at the woman, who, in his words, allowed him to feel love the only time in his life.  He admits that had he not done so, the tragedy would not have occurred.  The guilt he felt over the past 40 years was palpable and his public confession was excruciating to watch.  (Mr. Duvall’s performance was superb but overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards.)

I commend Mr. Duvall for having executively produced this film and bringing to the screen a story about old-fashioned ideas like shame, guilt, remorse, forgiveness and, finally, redemption.

As I watched the credits of “Get Low” roll, I thought about people similarly situated today.  Do the characters in these modern-day real-life dramas feel anything – remorse, guilt, shame, humiliation?  Do they ever seek forgiveness or redemption?

The latest in this long list of public offenders is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just this week publicly admitted to having fathered a child with a member of his household ten years ago.  After serving as Governor of California and leaving office in January, he finally told his wife.  He now asks the press and public to respect his wife and children.  How come he didn’t?

There was a time in America when any type of scandal would have and did destroy the careers of celebrities and politicians because the public was not as forgiving as today.

Celebrities and public officials like Woody Allen, Paris Hilton, Barney Frank, Roman Polanski, Al Sharpton, Jimmy Swaggart, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Kobe Bryant and Kim Kardashian, all who’ve done shameful things, breathe a sigh of relief because, in today’s America, they can continue to maintain political power or enjoy highly lucrative careers because of society’s acceptance of their “indiscretions.”  We’ll see how Arnold’s career goes after this.

On the other hand, I often wonder if the average Joe actually feels the kind of regret, dishonor or embarrassment felt by the character, Felix Bush.  In the real world, obviously no one is reduced to ashes because of their behavior, but lives and families are affected forever by bad behavior and are often destroyed beyond repair.

While celebrities and public officials often have no sense of shame, I’d like to think that there are those private individuals who do regret their actions and try to make amends.  But for those selfish, narcissistic people who couldn’t care less about the destruction they leave behind in similar circumstances, life goes on.

On good days, I have to believe there are more people in the former category than in the latter.  While seeing the public offenders continue to enjoy profitable careers and acceptance by the public, the pessimist in me says we’ve lost the notion of right and wrong, we’re circling the bowl and we’re going to Hell in a hand basket, but I’m hoping we haven’t completely lost our moral sense of direction but merely on the edge of the precipice, still able to take a step back.

Bottom line:  I get Felix Bush.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
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  • J.L. Tharp

    Many of the dangers we face aren’t from occasional acts of selfish immorality which are even more reprehensible when the priviledged and powerful committ them. The real dangers come from those whose marxist socialist lifestyle and beliefs are inherently immoral. Not having the moral integrity to understand that forced redistribution of wealth is the crime of oppression and theft, not to mention the deliberate violation of individual sovereignty and freedom. But when your moral compass is established by self righteous arrogance and liberal greed it is arbitrary and nothing sacred is really safe.

  • Rick007

    Once again the “liberal” press shows itself to be Democratic Fascist. They blindly cling to the Catholic interpretation of adultery, which not only prohibits polygamy but even calls childrens bastards when a man fathers a child with a single woman. The Bible makes no such accusation unless the woman is married or is a first cousin or closer relative. The so-called liberals are in fact extreme fascist conservatives when it comes to children conceived by Biblically legal but Catholic-prohibited unions. If Arnold wants to put this behind him, he must not only leave the Catholic Church, but he must legally challenge the Catholic-Anglican stronghold on the legal definition of marriage and legitimacy. He needs to do this not just for himself, but so that all of his children will be considered legitimate.

  • JDO

    Celebrities don’t live in reality, and many (if not most) politicians don’t either. I’d probably throw professional athletes into the mix (though, really, the most famous can also be called “celebrities”). They quite often get little more than a slap on the wrist when they break the law. The LAW. Is it really a shock to find that they quite often do not have the same sense of shame that most of us do?

  • Roger Ward

    I distinguish between politicians and entertainers. Entertainers owe us nothing (except maybe, some entertainment.) Politicians, on the other hand, owe us everything. At their request, we have entrusted them with those things which are most important to us: our money, our futures, our success as a people, our lives (in the event of war,) the quality of our lives (in peacetime,) the care of the weak and impoverished, and so on.

    Politicians should operate from a moral imperative as they have sought a mandate from the people. Unfortunately, politicians have blurred the line between the reprehensible behavior or many entertainers and their own. There will be no downside to the careers of Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian or Arnold (entertainers, all) but there should be a negative consequence for the politicians who have abused our trust (including but not limited to Barney Frank, Eliot Spitzer, Nancy Pelosi and yes, Obama.

  • TomSr

    I am not going to cast any stones.

  • Ronda Feuerstack

    I have not seen the movie, yet. The character, Felix Bush owned his shadow
    The grace of affliction occurs when the facade is uncovered. The grace of being “busted” is the opportunity to become authentic by owning our shadow side & begin walking in truth & repentance (not a popular word) . A seared conscience can keep us in denial for the rest of our lives impeding the grace of redemption. The “law of the least likely” is manifested in the way God chooses the sinful, broken & lost & has a party for them to celebrate the return “home”. I am eager to see how grace for Felix happens.

  • Ron

    I don’t think we are on the precipice or have lost our moral sense of direction. In the past, indescretions were not reported. We have now learned that Franklin Roosevelt might have had an affair while in offiece, President Eisenhower might have had an affair while a General, and that President Kennedy had numerous affairs. They just were not reported. I am not interested in the lives of celebreties. My guess would be that they previously had just as many indesretions but, like politicians, it just wasn’t reported. I have no idea if any of them felt remorse or contrition, that is between themselves and God. On the other hand I see a lot of moral behavior. It just isn’t reported because it is not news. Go to any church on Sunday. I am always amazed at the quality of people I see in church. I also see it in the volunteer work that is being done. The problem is that leading a moral, responsible life is not newsworthy.