In other words, he is the perfect target for the phone-loving, gun-wielding conscience that Stu thought he killed off years ago.
Phone Booth is, to put it mildly, my kind of movie. Some time back, while doing a bit of self-examination, I asked myself what I would love to do. “Write,” myself replied. “And movies would be Really Cool.” “And why do you want to do this?” I then asked. Myself thought for a few minutes, gathering thoughts. “Because I want to hold up a mirror to society and show it how messed up it is.”
This is exactly what Phone Booth manages to do, and with style at that. Stu Shepard is the quintessential everyman in today’s capitalist society, and The Caller is the conscience that has been ignored for far, far too long. And he will not be ignored …
The Caller is the voice that our society is in desperate need of. It’s more than just a plot device that we never see his face (save for a brief moment at the end) and that his function in the film is that of a calm yet insistent voice in Stu’s ear. He is a part of us all, if we only take the time (or are made) to listen.
So what of Stu? As already stated, he is just the sort of highlife scum building the foundation for today’s new world. He cares nothing for his fellow man and is absorbed only in himself and his desires. He is, in effect, becoming a sociopath. This is a powerful commentary on today’s world, and one that is not altogether inaccurate. What we see in the movie is Stu’s return to humanity, through an act that many would perceive as inhuman. Stu is, despite himself, saved by the movie’s end. He has confessed in the most public way possible, and purged himself of most of the major sins: Pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger and greed (one could even argue sloth, on a spiritual level). He has confessed and been forgiven. The Caller has saved Stu’s very soul.
Not that The Caller is an angel, far from it. We see him kill two innocent people in the course of the movie, which adds an entirely new dimension to the file’s dynamic. The movie forces us to ask the question: Are any of us truly innocent? The pimp was ready to beat Stu’s head in with a bat for using a public phone. The obvious implications about his chosen profession aside, this should hardly be considered an acceptable way to resolve conflict. (It is worth noting that this prolonged and rather heated exchange between Stu and the pimp went undisturbed, despite occurring on a busy street corner in broad daylight. This fact is as much a poignant comment on our times as anything else.) The pizza man is perhaps a questionable death. He showed no particular faults, save perhaps gluttony (as commented on by Stu). However his death serves to further question morality – that of The Caller.
What right does The Caller have to become judge, jury and executioner? Who is to say that his ideals are truly best? Is he not taking on the role of an angry god, thus committing one of the very sins that he is crusading against?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and that is perhaps the greatest achievement of the movie. Everything is grey, the lines are blurred (this view of the world is accentuated by the jerky camera world and the dark, grainy filters through which we watch these events unfold). The audience is left to think about what they have witnessed. Who is the true hero? Who is the villain? Are humans even simple enough to be categorized so easily?
This is at the core of the movie’s true message: THINK before you ACT. Voluntarily. Before someone makes you.