Keira Knightley on Adultery

Keira Knightley’s new movie Last Night is a morality tale about two kinds of infidelity (warning: spoilers ahead). I haven’t seen the film, but in a recent interview, Knightley mused about the moral dimensions of the story … and, not to pick on her or anything, she got it wrong.

In the plot, happily married couple Joanna (Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) are going strong, until they spend one night apart and face two different temptations. His temptation is an attractive co-worker (Eva Mendes) and he falls, physically. Hers is a former lover (Guillaume Canet). She resists physical intimacy, but emotionally betrays her husband as she and Mr. Ex passionately count the ways they love each other still.

In something called Flaunt magazine, Knightley mused out loud about the moral distinction the movie makes.

First, Knightley states the question. “Joanna spends the night in the arms of a man who loves her, and who she loves,” she says. “He [bleep]s somebody else. What is worse? We had constant arguments about who was guilty and what was the worst action. Somebody said a great line: ‘He tests the marriage, and she breaks it.’ I don’t know if I agree with that or not, but I can certainly understand it at the same time.”

Then, she explores the issue. “I vacillate between the two sides. I’ve got no idea. I rather enjoy not having an idea. I went in absolutely thinking that hers was worse,” she said. “Somewhere in the middle I thought, ‘Well, bloody hell, she doesn’t [bleep] him. What’s the problem? They have a nice night, they have a bit of a kiss, she doesn’t really do anything.’ And then I went back to thinking hers was worse. I think it depends on where you are in your life, and that will always change.”

Her answer is helpful in that it captures conventional Hollywood wisdom. Without peering into Knightley’s soul, we can identify two key myths about love in what she says.

Myth 1: Body and soul are two different things.
It is certainly true that Joanna did a very devastating thing to her marriage by linking her heart to another. But Michael took a shortcut to the same place by linking everything else.
The Puritans were wrong. Our bodies aren’t the unfortunate temporary casings of our souls. The human person is a single soul-and-body being. Michael said the same thing with his one-night stand as Joanna said with her late-night chat: “I will give myself to another.” But Joanna said something additional and important by not consummating her infidelity.

Myth 2: Love is something you feel, not something you do.

Hollywood has made a kind of idol out of romantic love, obsessing about “falling in love” and worrying about when “love has ended.” But that limits love to eros — the ecstatic, emotional love. In the real world, that love has to deepen into agape, self-giving love, in order to last.

Joanna and Michael’s married love deepened ― it went from the emotions to the will. They committed their lives to each other, moved in with each other, shared everything they own and all of their time and all of their plans. But Joanna and Mr. Ex’s love is just an exciting feeling and a fun memory.

The Huffington Post piece compared the movie’s story to her personal life, in which she and her very own Mr. Ex have amicably split. Maybe that best shows the extent to which poor Keira doesn’t get it. True love doesn’t split amicably.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and editor of its speech digest, The Gregorian.

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13 thoughts on “Keira Knightley on Adultery

  1. DavidB says:

    The idea that you cannot love anyone you break up with(/divorce) seems fairly limiting. Presumably if you actually care about someone else’s wellbeing, you can successfully continue to do that even if you (or they) come to the conclusion that you cannot live with them (in the simple and extreme example – an abusive (physically or otherwise) spouse).

  2. Bob LeMay says:

    Regarding Myth #2: The best expression I know of this is in the song “Something That We Do” by Clint Black.

  3. Matt B says:

    This is a “devil’s dilemma,” and even discussion of it plays into satan’s hand. But how interesting is it to talk about “modesty” and “chastity?” Yet these are the inseparable adjuncts to fidelity. I wonder how Keira would look on the banner if we could see, not the outward flesh, but the inner state of her soul? Would we be so really interested in hearing her expatiate on her work of depravity? We’d probably turn away in horror and disgust.

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