“No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless he is strictly honest.” (attr. to Joseph Smith by Milo Andrus)
‘Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?’ (Latter-day Saint Temple Recommend Question)
Earlier this year I watched an excellent French film entitled ‘Little White Lies‘ (2010). The opening sequence is a wonderful continuous shot, or so it seems, which follows Ludo (Jean Dujardin, The Artist) through a few cocaine-addled moments in a night-club. This initially dazzling sequence distracts the untrained eye (in this instance, mine) from noticing the subtle edits, learned from Hitchcocks’ ‘The Rope’. The cracks started to appear when I showed my wife the scene later that night.
This sequence is part of a broader and deftly constructed narrative leading to a tragically painful end, which serves as an illuminating precursor for the rest of the film. Guillaume Canet’s movie explores deception between friends; not blatant lies, but white lies, small lies. The type of lie shared among friends.
The story follows a Parisian group after a particular tragedy. As the narrative proceeds a series of deceptions emerge work to simultaneously include and exclude other members of their group. These are not outwardly bad people and their deceptions are quite reasonable. Their lies are primarily concerned with seemingly small or potentially hurtful parts of their lives. It is here that Canet illuminates something profound about our relationships with each other; we deceive with good intentions. And yet, we still deceive. We manage information based on certain assumptions about what others need to know about us.
This management of information reminds me of Erving Goffman’s notion of the Discreditable and the Discredited which he uses to explore stigma in Western society. A discreditable person is someone whose stigmatised situation/condition is not yet publicly known whereas a discredited individual is someone whose stigmatised situation/condition is known. For example, an epileptic might be able to remain discreditable in certain social situations while in others they are legally required to discredited themselves. There are certain types of costs and benefits with becoming discredited as there are with being discreditable. Canet’s characters most often struggle to remain discreditable, they hide what they potentially feel will cost them friendship and affection; and in so doing create a narrative of themselves that becomes unsustainable. When these narratives fracture pain and disillusionment follow.
Canet elegantly weaves together their persistent ‘minor’ deceptions, which seem so natural, with the resulting pain and sadness. Their lies revealed that they were not really as close as they thought and that they were all complicit in the lies they told. Each was to blame for the facade that they had collectively created.
This film, more than anything else, has allowed me think differently about that temple recommend question: ‘Are we honest in our dealings with our fellowmen?’ For me, this question now is not so much about whether we lie about the skills on our CV or about paying our taxes. Although it includes these clear forms of deceit it is not only about this. This question now forces me to think about my relationship with those whom I share deep ties.
Am I honest in my dealings with my fellows? No, I am not. There is no getting around it and my life is poorer for it.
The Temple invites us to order our lives in a particular way. It calls us to arrange our associations based on shared covenant and mutual affection. Thus this almost innocuous question in our temple recommend becomes a call to remove deception from our relationships with those to whom we are supposed to be sealed. It very quickly gets to the heart of what we are doing in these temple ordinances.
The subtle deception of Canet’s opening scene reminds me to be more careful about how I construct my narrative-identity. Whether Joseph Smith said it or not, perhaps there is some truth to the statement, “No one can ever enter the celestial kingdom unless they are strictly honest.”