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The Major Moral Dilemma in Boomerang (1947) Essay

The Major Moral Dilemma in the Film

Boomerang (1947) has been seen as a significant work by a talented director Elia Kazan. Though the film has rarely been regarded as a masterpiece in terms of cinematography, it can be seen as a very significant artwork addressing really important moral dilemmas.

It goes without saying that the major dilemma of the film is the one State’s Attorney Henry Harvey, the protagonist of the film, has to face. Harvey has to decide whether he should put a man behind the bars to satisfy people’s aspirations, or whether he should seek for truth even if this can contradict desires of many. In fact, this dilemma has been considered by many philosophers.

Kant and Hume suggested their own perspectives on the issue. The two perspectives differ significantly and it is rather hard to say which one best addresses the issue. Interestingly, the case revealed in the film shows limitations to the two perspectives which seem to be rather narrow to fit real life settings.

Humean Perspective

David Hume had a specific view on ethical issues. The philosopher claimed that people’s actions were motivated by emotions and reason. At that, according to Hume emotions play the exclusive role in people’s decision making. Hume argued that reason often had to step aside, as emotions tended to overweighed (Saurette 45). It is possible to consider Hume’s major perspectives on ethical issues in terms of the film.

Harvey, as well as all officials of the town, finds himself under a great pressure as one of the most deserving people of the town is murdered. When police find a suspect, the entire town feel relief. Citizens of the town do not care much about facts as they are overwhelmed by emotions (rage, dissatisfaction, sorrow, etc.) Politicians and even police officials also seem to pursue their personal agendas.

Besides, they are also guided by emotions rather than reason. As far as Harvey is concerned, the man starts his work on the affair and he yields to the atmosphere which reigns in the town. It is very important to remember about the tense atmosphere while considering Harvey’s choices and decisions.

However, soon the attorney has to address the moral dilemma, basing on his own ethical views rather than following certain trends. Thus, Harvey understands that the suspect is innocent and the attorney has to make a particular decision. The man decides to prove the innocence of the man. It can be rather difficult to understand what does make the man make the decision. According to Humean perspective, Harvey is guided by his emotions. In fact, this assumption is rather plausible.

The man feels his responsibility and he cannot allow that an innocent man could be found guilty. It is doubtful that Harvey uses his rationality only. The man’s emotions play a very important role in his decision making. First, he cannot remain neutral as the entire town is overwhelmed by emotions. Secondly, when Harvey finds facts that prove the suspect’s innocence, the attorney decides to fulfill his duty.

However, it is impossible to claim that his decision is based on common sense and reasoning only. His desire to fulfill his duty can also be explained by the fact that he wishes to do the right thing which will make him feel satisfied. Basically, Harvey’s decision can be explained by his desire to clear his conscience. Admittedly, such notion as “conscience” cannot be regarded as a ‘product’ of pure reason. This notion rather pertains to the sphere of emotions.

Kantian Perspective

However, there is another view point on ethical issues. Thus, according to Kant people should recognize “practical reason in the form of the moral law” (Saurette 44). Kantian perspective on morality is confined to the assumption that people should act in accordance with universal laws. Kant’s universal laws are based on the principle of the universal good. In other words, Kant argues that there are two ways to conduct.

People can pursue their own needs or they can do “the right” thing to establish the proper order in the world. Kant argued that it is inappropriate to assume that people’s decisions have anything to do with emotions as people only rely on rationality to make any decisions. More so, Kant stresses that people should use the universal laws while making decisions.

Kant criticizes Hume’s assumptions concerning ethical conduct. Kant argues that Hume “understands morality as conditionally grounded and thus subject to frequent revisions if those conditions change” (Saurette 44). However, Kant stresses imperative nature of morality. He claims that moral laws cannot be influenced by any circumstances.

As far as Harvey is concerned, it is possible to claim that the man follows the universal laws as he makes what is right. Basically, Harvey follows Kantian principles. The attorney does not try to pursue his own interests but he knows that people cannot be charged with the crime they have not committed.

According to Kant Harvey comes to his decision while reasoning. He considers all possible outcomes of his decision and decides to conduct rightfully. Seemingly, Harvey’s decision is not affected by any external or internal factors (like emotions, conventions, etc.).


On balance, the case highlighted in the film Boomerang can be analyzed in terms of two perspectives. Thus, when analyzing the case in terms of Humean perspective, it is possible to assume that Harvey solves his dilemma relying on emotions rather than on reason.

Thus, Harvey is guided by his emotions when making his decision. However, if to take into account Kantian perspective it is possible to find another explanation. Harvey’s decision can be seen as an example of the rightful conduct. Thus, Harvey relies on facts and his moral principles. Basically, Kantian imperative approach can be regarded as plausible as well.

However, it is also possible to claim that Harvey’s case shows that the two perspectives are rather narrow and cannot be fully applicable. It is possible to assume that the two perspectives are two extremes which remain purely theoretical. At the same time, the two perspectives can be applicable to real life settings when combined.

Admittedly, Harvey makes the right decision and follows universal rules. However, it is impossible to ignore emotions and conventions that played a significant role in the process of his decision making. Thus, the attorney does the right thing because he knows it is right and because he feels he cannot do the wrong thing as it will make him miserable. Therefore, the moral dilemma revealed in the film suggests that the two perspectives combined can help to understand people’s actions.

Works Cited

Saurette, Paul. The Kantian Imperative: Humiliation, Common Sense, Politics, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Major Moral Dilemma in Boomerang (1947)." November 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-major-moral-dilemma-in-boomerang-1947/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Major Moral Dilemma in Boomerang (1947)'. 19 November.

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