“All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last.”
Your main fault.
My main fault.
Not knowing, not being able to “want”.
Ye be warned, any that go much further. What lies below is discussion of the movie Gone Baby Gone. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish for the ending to be spoiled for ye, stop reading right now!
The offense that I’m about to admit to is not easy for somebody that is as extremely manly as I am to confess. I have come to realize in the last few months that my greatest fault is that I am too emotional.
I have been reassured that being this way is a “good thing”, but I am not without my doubts.
For example, on two separate occasions this year, I reacted to situations at a very visceral level. I don’t want to go into details about those situations, but one time it took the counsel of very good friends to prevent me from making what would have ultimately been a huge blunder. The second situation caused me to send a profane text message to my eldest sister. Perhaps the first time she has heard me utter such filth. I think you all know how I feel about base language and why I feel that way.
Even more than those situations, I think I can pinpoint my reaction to the movie Gone Baby Gone as when I realized how emotional some of my reactions have become.
Gone Baby Gone is a 2007 movie directed by Ben Affleck. I know that makes it sound awful, but it turns out that as bad as Affleck is as an actor, he is a pretty good director.
I am fairly dreadful at writing up a synopsis of books or movies, so I lifted a synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:
The tough private eye Patrick Kenzie was raised in a poor and dangerous neighborhood of Boston, and works with his partner and girlfriend Angie Gennaro generally tracking missing losers in debt. When the four year-old Amanda McCready is abducted from her apartment, her aunt Beatrice ‘Bea’ McCready calls the police and the press, and the case is highlighted with the spots by the media. Then Bea hires the reluctant Patrick to work in the case because he is not a cop and based on his great knowledge of their neighborhood. Meanwhile Capt. Jack Doyle, who lost his own daughter many years ago and is in charge of the investigation, assigns detectives Remy Bressant and Nick Pole to give the necessary support to Patrick. After interviewing the addicted low life mother of Amanda, Helene McCready, Patrick goes to a bar and discloses that Helene was on the streets with her boyfriend Skinny Ray Likanski dealing and using drugs on the day Amanda disappeared. Along his investigation, Patrick faces smalltime criminals, drug dealers, pedophiles and corruption, facing a moral issue to solve the case.
The first time I watched this movie I was outraged by the ending of the movie. I don’t mind a movie having a sad and/or depressing ending. Some of my favorite movies are Once, The Ox-Bow Incident, Paths of Glory…
But at the end of this movie, one character that I had grown to love makes the wrong decision. A very wrong decision. In fact, the thought never even crossed my mind that he made the right decision. That was until I began discussing this movie with other people. I quickly found out that I am the only person that thinks that Patrick Kenzie makes the wrong decision at the end of the movie.
Well, almost the only person.
But as I reflected on the movie some more, I realized that Patrick actually makes 2 moral decisions. Then after discussing the movie extensively I came to realize that there is actually a third moral decision that other characters in the movie make that I never even considered whether or not they were right or if they were wrong. I instinctively knew what I thought was right, but as it turns out, I am also in the minority on this as well.
As it turns out, the only person to agree with me (that I have found) on these 3 moral dilemmas 100% is Jill. Everybody else seems to disagree with me 100%.
I am going to do some extensive quoting of the movie Gone Baby Gone and it does contain quite a bit of profanity. I apologize if this offends anybody’s delicate sensibilities, but that is the way it has to be.
Gone Baby Gone starts with this line of dialogue. I don’t know if it is particularly relevant to this discussion, but it sets the stage for Patrick’s personal code of morality.
Patrick Kenzie: I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they’d accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the crack and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children: “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”
When Amanda McCready is kidnapped, her aunt and uncle hire Patrick and his girlfriend Angie to augment the investigation. Amanda’s mom Helene is a drug addict and a terrible parent. Imagine all of the Wal-Mart parents you have seen in your life. Now multiply that by 10.
Angie does not want to take the case:
Angie: We have a good life, right?
Patrick: Is that a trick question?
Angie: I don’t wanna find their little kid in a dumpster.
Patrick: Maybe she’s not in a dumpster, babe.
Angie: I don’t wanna find a little kid after they’ve been abused for three days.
Patrick: Hon, nobody does.
Patrick and Angie meet up with the police that are assigned to keep them in the loop and find out that the only lead the cops have is a pedophile that has dropped off the police radar.
Detective Remy Bressant: Corwin Earle. Serial molester, recently work-release. Went AWOL around the time Amanda disappeared.
Detective Poole: Known associates – Leon Trett and his handsome wife, Roberta. The Tretts were released six and eight months ago, respectively. They have drug habits. We don’t know where they are, but we think Corwin’s with them. Jailhouse snitch claims that Corwin confided in him and told him when he got out, he was gonna move in with his family. Apparently, the three of them have some kind of Addams Family deal going on.
Bressant: Corwin’s plan is to keep a kid in the house to have sex with.
Patrick: Well, that sounds promising.
Bressant: Not for Amanda, it doesn’t.
Through Patrick and Amanda’s investigation they learn that Helene wasn’t at her neighbor’s house on the night that Amanda was kidnapped. She was down at the Fillmore (think Wilson’s Tap if you are from Boone or Deano’s if you are from Ames) doing drugs. They also learn that Helene and her boyfriend robbed a local drug dealer named Cheese. With the blessing of Bressant and Poole, Patrick and Angie approach Cheese in an attempt to broker at trade: the stolen money for Amanda.
Cheese denies he has Amanda and turns down the offer.
Cheese: You got my money, you leave that shit in the mailbox on your ass way out, you feel me? Some mother fuckers let fool rob on them. I don’t play scrimmage. But I don’t fuck with no kids. And if that girl only hope is you, well, I pray for her, because she’s gone, baby. Gone.
Later Cheese calls in and brokers a deal with Bressant. But the deal is intercepted by Captain Jack Doyle. He does not want to go through with the deal, but feels obligated to, since to welch on the deal would put Amanda’s life in danger.
Jack Doyle: Do you have any children, Miss Gennaro?
Angie: No, sir.
Doyle: My only child was murdered. She was twelve. Did you hear about it? What you probably didn’t hear, and what I hope you never have to deal with, Miss Gennaro, is what that feels like. What I have to deal with. Knowing that my little girl likely died crying out for me to come and save her. And I never did. My little girl died afraid and alone in a shallow ditch bank by the side of the road, not ten minutes from my house. I know what it feels like to lose a child. Now damn it, you force my hand and then you question the way I handle it.
Bressant: No one’s questioning you, sir.
Doyle: I honor my child with this division. So that no parent has to go through what I’ve known. This child. That all I care about. I’m gonna bring her home.
The deal doesn’t go as planned. Amanda ends up falling to her death. Captain Doyle is forced to resign. Patrick and Angie are forced to live with the guilt of not being able to save Amanda.
Life starts to normalize when another kid goes missing. This time, nobody comes looking to hire Patrick and Amanda. But after a few days, Patrick is approached by his friend (a local drug dealer) who has found Corwin Earle.
Patrick contacts Bressant and Doyle. They approach the house where Corwin Earle is living. Shots come from the house and Doyle is killed. Patrick goes inside the house and finds the body of the kidnapped child. He was raped to death.
Patrick shoots Corwin Earle in the back of the head while he pleads for his life. Afterwards, Patrick is treated like a hero by Angie and Bressant.
Angie: They told me what happened. I’m proud of you. That man killed a child. He had no right to live.
Patrick: You’re proud of me?
Angie: Of course I am. You did what you had to do.
Patrick: They say how old the boy was?
Patrick: Second grade.
Bressant: Should be proud of yourself. Most guys would’ve stayed outside.
Patrick: I don’t know.
Bressant: What don’t you know?
Patrick: My priest says shame is God telling you what you did was wrong.
Bressant: Fuck him.
Patrick: Murder’s a sin.
Bressant: Depends on who you do it to.
Bressant: I planted evidence on a guy once, back in ’95. We were paying $100 an eight ball to snitches. We got a call from our pal Ray Likanski. He couldn’t find enough guys to rat out. Anyway, he tells us there’s a guy pumping up in an apartment up in Columbia Point. We go in, me and Nicky. Fifteen years ago., when Nicky went in, it was no joke. So it’s a… it’s a stash house, right? The old lady’s beat to shit, the husband’s mean, cracked out, trying to give us trouble, Nicky lays him down. We’re doing an inventory, but it looks like we messed up because there’s no dope in the house, and I go in the back room. Now, this place was a shithole, mind you? Rats, roaches, all over the place. But the kid’s room, in the back, was spotless. No, I mean, he swept it, mopped it; it was immaculate. The little boy’s sitting on the bed, holding onto his playstation for dear life. There’s no expression on his face, tears streaming down. He wants to tell me he just learned his multiplication tables.
Bressant: I mean, the father’s got him in this crack den, subsisting on twinkies and ass-whippings, and this little boy just wants someone to tell him that he’s doing a good job. You’re worried what’s Catholic? I mean, kids forgive. Kids don’t judge. Kids turn the other cheek. What do they get for it? So I went back out there and put an ounce of heroin on the living room floor and sent the father for a ride, seven to life.
Patrick: That was the right thing?
Bressant: Fucking A! You gotta take a side. You molest a child, you beat a child, you’re not on my side. If you see me coming, you better run, because I am gonna lay you the fuck down! Easy.
Patrick: Don’t feel easy.
As Patrick reflects on these events he figures out that it was actually Bressant and Amanda’s uncle that kidnapped her. This leads to a shootout where Bressant is killed.
Patrick and Angie visit Captain Doyle and discover that Amanda didn’t actually fall to her death. It was an elaborate ruse to fake her death and that she was now living with Doyle and his wife.
Patrick has to make a decision. To turn in Doyle and return Amanda to her wretched mother where her chances of having a successful life are practically zero. Or let her remain kidnapped where she will be loved, pampered and spoiled.
Despite the pleadings of Doyle and Angie, Patrick decides to turn Doyle in and return Amanda to her mother.
Patrick: I’m calling state police in five minutes. They’ll be here in ten.
Doyle: Thought you would’ve done that by now. You know why you haven’t? Because you think this might be an irreparable mistake. Because deep inside you, you know that it doesn’t matter what the rules say. When the lights go out, and you ask yourself “is she better off here or better off there”, you know the answer. And you always will. You… you could do a right thing here. A good thing. Men live their whole lives without getting this chance. You walk away from it, you may not regret it when you get home. You may not regret it for a year, but when you get to where I am, I promise you, you will. I’ll be dead, you’ll be old. But she… she’ll be dragging around a couple of tattered, damaged children of her own, and you’ll be the one who has to tell them you’re sorry.
Patrick: You know what? Maybe that’ll happen. And if it does, I’ll tell them I’m sorry and I’ll live with it. But what’s never gonna happen and what I’m not gonna do is have to apologize to a grown woman who comes to me and says: “I was kidnapped when I was a little girl, and my aunt hired you to find me. And you did, you found me with some strange family. But you broke your promise and you left me there. Why? Why didn’t you bring me home? Because all the snacks and the outfits and the family trips don’t matter. They stole me. It wasn’t my family and you knew about it and you knew better and you did nothing”. And maybe that grown woman will forgive me, but I’ll never forgive myself.
Doyle: I did what I did for the sake of the child. All right. For me, too. But now, I’m asking you for the sake of the child. I’m begging you. You think about it.
Patrick pays a heavy price for turning in Doyle. Angie leaves him. In the end of the movie it seems like he puts himself in a guardian angel position over Amanda. Watching over her to see that she will be okay.
There are 3 moral issues in this movie as I see it. The first one I thought about when this movie was over was whether or not Patrick did the right thing.
One of the weekends that Jill was back from Minnesota, we went over to Jen and Derrick’s to watch a movie on their Blu-ray player. Derrick’s dad gave Jen and Derrick a Blu-ray player when they moved into their new house in January. I believe this movie watching night was the Saturday following Thanksgiving. It has been 11 months and they still had not watched a movie on their Blu-ray player. This is quite the tragedy in my mind.
I was given the power of selecting the movie on this evening. I chose Gone Baby Gone. Jill chose Full Metal Jacket as a backup.
We might have ended up watching both movies, but the first part of the evening was devoted to watching the Iowa State-Northwestern debacle. Thankfully that is far behind us now.
After watching the movie, I posed the following question to Derrick, Jen and Jill: Did Patrick do the right thing at the end of the movie?
Derrick and Jen thought that Patrick had done the right thing.
Jill agreed with me. Patrick had done the wrong thing.
Then I asked them if Patrick had done the right thing when he executed the pedophile.
Derrick and Jen thought he had done the wrong thing.
Jill agreed with me that he had done the right thing.
However, this is how I think that I am too emotional. Philosophically, I want to be opposed to the death penalty. I want to think that all life is precious. I want to think that I am evolved to a point where I don’t believe in vigilante justice. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Ox-Bow Incident. A movie that is about a posse that lynches 3 innocent men.
The movie ends with a member of the posse reading a letter that one of the innocent men has written to his wife. Writing the letter is one of the last things he gets to do before he his hung. That scene is one of the most beautiful movie scenes I have ever seen. The letter reads like this:
My dear Wife, Mr. Davies will tell you what’s happening here tonight. He’s a good man and has done everything he can for me. I suppose there are some other good men here, too, only they don’t seem to realize what they’re doing. They’re the ones I feel sorry for. ‘Cause it’ll be over for me in a little while, but they’ll have to go on remembering for the rest of their lives. A man just naturally can’t take the law into his own hands and hang people without hurtin’ everybody in the world, ’cause then he’s just not breaking one law but all laws. Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It’s everything people ever have found out about justice and what’s right and wrong. It’s the very conscience of humanity. There can’t be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody’s conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that have ever lived? I guess that’s all I’ve got to say except kiss the babies for me and God bless you. Your husband, Donald.
I love the line, “if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience?”
Philosophically I want to think. “Just bring him in Patrick. Let the justice system handle him.”
But do I really think, “Shoot him Patrick”? You’re damn right I do! That is clearly an emotional response that I can’t override with my powerful intellect.
It was during this discussion that Jen said something that really stuck with me. In fact, it completely blindsided me. I am paraphrasing, but she said:
“Morgan Freeman’s character (Doyle) didn’t have much compassion for Amanda’s mother. He knew the pain of losing a child and he was willing to put somebody else through it.”
It was a Saturday night when she said that. I thought about that for a long time. Of all the characters in the movie, I have the most in common with Doyle, but this is something that had never once even dawned on me. It never occurred to me that somebody might think that what the kidnapper’s had done was wrong. How can giving a child a chance at a decent life be wrong?
I told Jen and Derrick that I had one more Gone Baby Gone question for them.
On that Monday I talked to Jill and asked her if she thought that what the kidnappers had done was wrong.
She agreed with me that what the kidnappers had done was dumb and not the best way to handle the situation, but it was still right.
That Wednesday was Iowa State’s embarrassing performance against UNI. I already had tickets for the game, so Jen took my season ticket and sat with Derrick. At halftime I went over to talk to them. Jen asked me what was my 1 more Gone Baby Gone question.
I asked them if they thought that the kidnappers had done the wrong thing.
They said that they did think the kidnappers had done the wrong thing. Just because somebody doesn’t deserve to be a parent, doesn’t give somebody else the right to take their children.
I can see their point intellectually. I understand the reason for the rule of law, even though I don’t think people should follow laws that are contrary to their moral code, but I disagree.
I look around and see people who shouldn’t be parents and my base emotional response is why not take their kids from them and give them to people who deserve to be parents. People who would actually love the kids and raise them to be proper adults.
Then I think about Derrick’s keen insight. He pointed out that the whole movie can be boiled down to one scene involving Patrick and Bressant:
Bressant: Would you do it again? Clip Corwin Earle?
Bressant: Does that make you right?
Patrick: I don’t know.
Bressant: It doesn’t make it wrong though.
I think on my emotional responses to outside stimuli and I tell myself again: “It is a good thing”. My emotional response to that is, “Maybe it is.”