A few weeks ago, I watched a film called An Ideal Husband, directed by Oliver Parker, which is based on an Oscar Wilde play – it was very funny with lots of facetiousness and puns. The film, which is set in the nineteenth century shows a woman with very high ideals and a husband who did something shady to change his station in life before he met her. That shady happening is about to surface; his wife doesn’t know about it. He is given an ultimatum by a blackmailer: use his power in parliament to push voting in a particular way or the misdemeanour will be exposed and he’ll be socially and politically ruined. There are lots of twists and turns, with mounting tension: the audience is privy to more information than the characters have – we get to know each character’s intentions and when a character misinterprets another character’s intentions it feels uncomfortable. One of the themes is about lies. The main protagonist, played by Cate Blanchett, has a high ideal for truth telling, until she admits she told a lie. There is immense relief in her admittance: she can’t live up to the ideal she’s tried to rigidly live by. She also recognises that she’d put her husband on a pedestal and he couldn’t live up to her image of him.
I connected with the film’s message about the pain caused by rigid ideals. I had associated lying with ‘bad’ and truth with ‘good’ but it’s not as black and white as that. I think most people, if not everyone, lies. Some people lie with phrases that are shorthand for something else; some people lie to protect others from painful truths; there must be myriad reasons for lying. It doesn’t make lying ‘bad’, a childish view; it is more complicated than that.