Astrology: Film: ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ (2013)

Given that the protagonist of Lee Daniels’ The Butler does the bidding of others for a living, the theme of service – tied to Neptunian self-abnegation and passivity – is the heart of this movie.

The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a based-on-a-true-story fictional character who served as a butler in the administrations of seven presidents, makes his way from the Georgia cotton fields to domestic service and, in 1957, to the high-end Hotel Excelsior, in Washington, D.C. Gaines has already mastered the technique of having two faces – his real one and the other one shown to white patrons. After getting a job as butler at the White House, he’s told to stay away from political viewpoints: “You hear nothing, you see nothing – you only serve.”

Given the era during which Gaines’ story takes place, the movie is as much a summary of our nation’s embrace of and opposition to the civil rights movement as it is an entertainment. And it’s these sections of Lee Daniels’ The Butler – where such issues are front and center and where the “servant” archetype is most vividly addressed – that are the most rewarding.

Astrologically, service is tied to Virgo, the mythological virgin: Vesta, the Roman name of the Greek goddess Hestia, whose hearth was believed to be the center of the earth and whose fires, naturally, needed to be kept burning. Cooking and cleaning were part of the keeper-of-the-flame arrangement, too.

The movie’s most extraordinary segment involves a series of cross-cuts. One location is the all-white lunch counter of F. W. Woolworth where, in 1960, several black students – Gaines’ college-student son (David Oyelowo) among them – respectfully ask to be served and are subsequently attacked. The other site is the White House, where the butlers prepare a massive dining table, and eventually stand, in a row, to wait for those guests who will be served to appear. It’s a painful and protracted piece of film – on serving and either being or not being served – which suggests the long duration of historical black servitude itself.

As Gaines’ wife Gloria, Oprah Winfrey is often riveting, as she drinks to blur the reality that her husband’s priority is not to tending his own family but the needs of presidents. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz add comic relief as the smart-mouthed career-butlers with whom Gaines becomes friends. And Whitaker’s Gaines, through whose eyes we learn about the past, is himself eclipsed by the phenomenon of service and how a society can devalue this sacred calling.

Astrology Film Review: ♆ (Neptune)

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