In the opening scenes of Housekeeping (1987), an insane young woman abandons her two daughters and commits suicide. So the girls live with their grandmother, who dies a few years later. The setting is 1950s Idaho. One sister, Lucille, wants to be “normal” – find work, have a boyfriend, and live like the rest of the society. She wants to “keep house.” The other sister, Ruthie, is content to read books, listen to music, or do whatever else she wants. Then the girls’ aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti) arrives. Like her sister and homebody niece, she is content to do nothing except ride the rails, steal boats, and collect tin cans. At the end, Lucille moves to town. Threatened with a lawsuit, however, Ruthie and her aunt burn most of their personal property and leave. They do not want to “keep house.”
So who is the “normal” sister? Lucille, an able-bodied young woman, tries to find her place in society. She considers laziness and abandonment insane. For people who can work, not doing so is sloth and cowardice. Leaving the duty of family in order to be “free” is also a type of insanity, which feminism has disastrously pushed on Western society. Yet Lucille’s desire to live like everyone else is conformity. She refuses to break social mores in order to find herself. Ruthie and Sylvie, however, courageously refuse to conform. Unlike the girls’ mother, their destiny does not end in disaster. The film’s conclusion contains the possibility of a bright future, even though these women refuse to keep house.
Sadly, this cinematic future is unrealistic. Few people who refuse to conform, whether through housekeeping or climbing the ladder of success, find happiness. The reason is simple. Capitalistic society values people only if they do something. They insist that identity come from work. We must work to provide for our families and contribute to society, but only if we are capable adults. Yet people who do not or cannot work are often abused, imprisoned, or exterminated – the homeless, vagrants, the handicapped, senior citizens, children, the unborn, etc. Our culture tells them that they are useless and should be removed from society, or from this earth. These people are not allowed simply to exist.
Our identity should be rooted not in what we do but in who we are. Basing identity on action is exhausting. Basing it on existence lets us rest. In the spiritual realm, only when we find that place of rest do we discover the divine power needed to work for God’s kingdom. The energy in centrifugal force is at the center, which is still. We cannot perform for God. The miracle is that he does not want us to. Instead, we learn to rest in Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit inside us goes to work.
This film portrays two social extremes, but there is a better way. We should conform to Jesus Christ, not the world (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18). But we must also perform the earthly duties that God has given us, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So let us make “be still my soul” the cry of our hearts (Psalm 46:10). When we learn to rest, God works.