The Butler

It has taken me some time to get in a theater to see The Butler because I decided to read Will Haygood’s book first. In retrospect that may not have been a good plan for putting the film in a positive position. If you don’t read all of these comments, my suggestion is that you get the book and forget the movie, but do one or the other.  Perhaps my imagination is simply more lively that Lee Daniels; but after two weeks with the book, the time in the theater would have been better spent taking a nap.

I expected more. Perhaps it was because the timed release of the film coincided with the events in this nation 50 years ago: the March on Washington, Selma, and a bombing at a Baptist Church in Birmingham that still can bring tears to my eyes. Fifty years ago I was a very impressionable young, idealistic, hope-filled seminary student. Now all that’s left is the hope. This film did not impress me nearly as much as it disappointed me because I somehow expected the characters to come to life on the screen. Well, they came to life alright, but they were more like characters presented by impressionists on late-night TV. I lived through the Nixon Presidency. It was not funny, but I giggled at the presence of Richard Nixon on the big screen. I lived through the presidency of Lyndon Johnson with great internal struggles over his leadership with civil rights issues and his leadership with a war in Vietnam. All of that internal conflict came back as he appeared on the screen, and then it collapsed in silliness over a scene in a bathroom.

All of that aside, I must allow that this film will be a very different experience for people of different ages. Thankfully there were no young families with children in the theater. There were only 17 adults. For those who did not live through the three decades of this film’s action, it might be a good idea to see it. While Oprah, Jane Fonda, and Robin Williams might be a draw for some, Forest Whitaker (Cecil) is what this is all about.  The effects of a war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement  upon his family is the story, and it is real. It had an affect on my family and every family I knew at the time. For that reason alone, I think it is a story to be told and a time to remember, not just for the sake of history, but for the sake of the challenges we still face with peace and human rights. The consequences for families who do not and cannot live in denial are unfolded in this film; and even more so in the book that inspired it. For that reason alone, it ought to be seen or better read. Either way, this is no documentary simply presenting for information some events of the past. This is a look at what was promised in the Gospel of Luke: 13, 49-53

Father Tom Boyer