I thought honesty and truth were synonymous
November 29, 2009 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I re-watched Scorsese's movie The Departed recently, and one line struck as me as particularly interesting: "Honesty is not synonymous with truth." How do you interpret this line?

The line is spoken by the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) treating Leonard DiCaprio's character.

I'd be curious to hear from people who have an opinion, whether it can be tied to the movie or not.

posted by dfriedman to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't seen this film so I could be way off. But my interpretation is that truth is subjective. So while you may be honest, what you are saying as the truth may not indeed be the truth. For example, I may have heard a rumor that Mr. Smith is a horrible man. Then I may tell you, in all honesty, that I heard Mr. Smith is a horrible man. However, maybe this rumor was started by a jealous ex wife and not be the truth at all.
posted by GlowWyrm at 5:58 PM on November 29, 2009

Very simply, she meant that even if he wasn't lying, he was wrong.
posted by randomstriker at 6:02 PM on November 29, 2009

Never seen the film, but I read it as -you can be honest, without giving the whole truth-


Husband: Have you slept with anyone while we've been married?
Wife: Yes.
Husband: Thanks for being *honest*

Wife, thinking to herself: At least I didn't have to tell him that I've been carrying on an affair with three different men for the past five years.
posted by greta simone at 6:02 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

See this post two down. OP might dislike new man in friend's life and think he's not good enough (that's honesty), but he might be just what the friend needs (that's truth).
posted by b33j at 6:03 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would interpret it, from the context of the film as well as its wider meaning, to be about degrees of something. 'Truth' might vary with perspective, but as far as the film's concerned, the constant need for deception on all sides results in 'truth' being almost a religious ideal; desirable, necessary even, but never fully attainable.

***** HERE BE SPOILERS (if you've never seen The Departed) *****

DiCaprio's character opens up to both his superiors (I can't remember any of the character's names, oddly, so I'll just go with actors) — and initially Mark Wahlberg slates him for the 'different accents' he had to employ as a child. Obviously, one, maybe even both of the personas he adopted as a child and when undercover weren't the 'truth', but out of a sense of loyalty and duty he feels compelled to immerse himself in both lives for the sake of all involved (first his family, then the case).

Just reread this, and… well, it's not really answering the question. Still, hopefully someone finds it interesting!
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:19 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The definition of honesty is "fairness and straightforwardness of conduct" while the definition of truth is "being in accord with a particular fact or reality, being in accord with the body of real things, events, actuality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard."

DiCaprio's character attempts to be fair and straightforward in his conduct while undercover (except for the fact of being undercover, but that's for the greater good) but nothing about his situation is in accord with reality or fidelity to his original self or personal standard of conduct. DiCaprio's world is all upside down and inside out. The psychiatrist is trying to get him to open up and tell her what's going on, so she's trying to get him to understand that it will help him to get back in sync with the truth by telling her everything.
posted by amethysts at 7:29 PM on November 29, 2009

Since your question digs at the very root of the plot of a double-agent deep-cover mole film, it's not really going to get answered unless someone's actually seen the movie.

Judging from the percentage of people clicking through who haven't, I'll say "spoiler" even though it's an Oscar-winning three-year-old remake of a seven-year-old film.

Spoily spoily spoiler.

You've got a bad guy pretending to be a good guy, and a good guy pretending to be a bad guy, and they're both doing it all day, every day, for years, having to deceive everyone except for their contact, who may or may not be legit and/or alive through the whole movie.

One mole is the psychiatrist's patient, and one is her lover. At the same time, they're both hunting for one another, and orbiting a brilliant and evil mob boss whose grip is declining with his advancing decrepitude and the weak spots in his multiply-infiltrated power structure. Coupled with the corrupt police department, we have a good and evil yin-yang against a background so spotted you can't really tell them apart except for the hats. And they're wearing each other's.

So. Mr. DiCaprio. Are you a black dog with white spots, or a white dog with black spots? And if you can remember that, please tell us if that makes you more or less true to your real allegiance, since it's half-good and half-evil anyway.

Yeah, so I think "honesty" means internal consistency -- truth as filtered through the consciousness, and "truth" as an attempt at the objective, in this context.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I once had my front fender badly creased by a car that signaled a left turn but suddenly turned right as I was passing it on the shoulder. The young driver got out of the car and told me in no uncertain terms that she had signaled her turn. Then her mother got out of the car and similarly admonished me. They both honestly thought she had signaled right. Fortunately for me, she left the signal on, so I had only to point that out to resolve the situation. They were quite embarrassed. Now if the turn signal had been turned off in the process, there would have been no way for me to establish the truth, and I would have been liable. The driver and her mother would not have been telling the truth, but they would not have been lying. Honesty is subjective; truth is objective.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:29 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Honesty is purity of heart, truth is purity of expression.
posted by rokusan at 11:48 PM on November 29, 2009

weapons-grade pandemonium: "Honesty is subjective; truth is objective."

I'd second that. I think there is a lot of confusion with regard to the use of the word "truth" - one example that comes to mind is the use of "truth serum" or a "truth drug" in fiction. This is usually described as a substance that "makes someone tell the truth", when in reality all it does is keep them from consciously lying; it keeps them honest.
The difference becomes clear when we have a situation where the truth differs from the perception: in the movie F/X, for example, a murder is simulated to allow an important witness to start a new life. Everyone watching that scene happen would honestly tell that they saw a man being killed, even if that wasn't true.
Another example are magician's tricks: when doing the three-cups-and-a-ball routine observers would be honest if they said that the magician put the ball under the left cup, so it must be there; the truth might be completely different.
Honesty is limited and filtered by the knowledge and perception of the observer, truth is generally considered to be absolute.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:33 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honesty is your interpretation of the truth, but that interpretation may be incorrect. You may honestly believe that the world is flat, but it fact / truth it is round.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:07 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all these answers. Some great insights here.
posted by dfriedman at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2009

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