Calendar Girls

Hard to recommend. This is another movie that has some wonderful character moments, great lines, real humanity to it, even some fine subthemes about compassion and character, but suffers the problem of pragmatic morality, a spiritually heinous deception. It’s a true story about some elderly women in the Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire, England, who take their clothes off in order to raise funds for a hospital in memory of a husband who dies of cancer. Simple as that, the whole story plays extremely well on the irony of women who are otherwise past their prime, and past relevancy in the modern world. But this story brings out their beauty, character and value as each one struggles with overcoming this stigma. According to the deceased man, “the Women of Yorkshire are like the flowers of Yorkshire. Their last stages are more beautiful than their first. — And then they go to seed.” It’s a compelling tale that focuses on two women who struggle with their friendship, newfound fame and truly helping people vs. personal glory. All good themes. What happens is that the women make the calendar, a monthly display of the mature women in their gardens and kitchens in the nude, (not naked!), to raise money to actually do some good, which the organization has a reputation for, but little experience in. The calendar is “tastefully” done without showing privates, and the scenes are also humorous without exploiting. What happens is that it becomes a surprise megahit, going all the way to Hollywood, that ultimately raises half a million pounds for cancer research. So the central premise of this movie is that it is okay to violate public norms of decency if it is for a good cause. In other words, the ends justifies the means. Pragmatic morality. The brilliance of drama is that through humor and universal identification with lovable characters, the average person will see this and figure, “yeah, hey, it wasn’t skanky, and they did it for good, so what the hey?” And that is the diabolical brilliance of pragmatic morality. It addresses the moral tension of two opposing values by pulling the heartstrings in order to divert attention from one of the values. The real evil of pragmatic morality is not understood until one takes it to the logical conclusion: If the ends justify the means, then it is okay to kill poor people to get rid of poverty. “Outrageous!” would be the response of most people. “Why that doesn’t justify killing people!” Ah, but if the ends justify the means, then it does. The second you start putting moral obligation onto the means and judging it, you have just admitted that both means AND ends should be morally judged, so one does not justify the other. And if you apply morality to some means and not to others, then you are being arbitrary or prejudicial, which is the deathknell of your ethic. The bottom line is that both ends and means are accountable to morality, and therefore, one cannot justify public nudity because “it accomplishes some good.” Public nudity is right or wrong whether or not it accomplishes good.