Gone Baby Gone is a thriller directed and written by Ben Affleck, starring Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, John Ashton, and Amy Ryan. It is based on the book of the same name written by Dennis Lehane in 1998. The film tells the story of two private detectives joining a police investigation of an abduction of a little girl Amanda. The entire movie is based on various moral choices Patrick Kenzie – one of the detectives makes throughout his investigation.
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For instance, he decides to pull the trigger on the pedophile Corwin instead of arresting him. However, the most challenging choice Patrick makes is to call the authorities on Doyle, a police chief who turned out to be responsible for kidnapping the girl. Gone Baby Gone does a fantastic job in intriguing its viewers and lets them decide whether Patrick had a moral right to bring the girl back to her mother and possibly take her chances for having happy childhood away. In this paper, I intend to discuss Patrick’s moral position through the lens of deontology and, thus, prove that Patrick was right in getting Amanda back to her mother.
Gone Baby Gone is a unique film, which lets its viewers interpret Patrick’s actions based on their perceptions of deontological morality. Deontology is an ethical theory, which involves decision making and those engaged in it have to make choices based on their moral obligations to other people (Neta, 2016). For instance, deontological ethics posits that people have moral duties to nonhuman living beings, thus improving their views on animal rights (Sayce, 2019).
This theory is praised by many scholars as they argue that it results in the development of moral behavior and identity (Xu & Ma, 2016). Deontology, however, is also a subject of criticism as some argue that it is morally problematic as it motivates people to make choices according to their own beliefs, ignoring the moral rights of others. Activists who protest against abortions and euthanasia are perfect examples of drawbacks in Deontology (Franz, 2021).
Affleck’s character does not get punished or rewarded for returning Amanda to her mother and calling the police on Doyle. He only experiences a small shadow of a doubt at the very end of the movie, when he realizes that Helene does not even know the name of her daughter’s favorite doll. Patrick’s deontological stands can be explicitly seen in the two choices he makes in this movie. The first is the scene where the detective shoots dead a pedophile who molested and murdered a boy instead of arresting him. Patrick believed that he had the moral high ground as returning Earle back to the prison could have resulted in him repeating these actions once he gets released.
The second is the final decision Kenzie made in the film. This is the key indicator that Patrick used deontology to make this choice. The detective recognized Helene’s right to get her daughter back and decided to keep his promise, regardless of the outcome for other people involved in the story.
Personally, I believe that despite using a rather questionable ethics theory, Patrick’s decision was right. By looking at the background of the crucial characters of Gone Baby Gone, it can be easily said that Helene was far from becoming a “Mother of the Year” award recipient. She was a drug mule for the local kingpin Cheese and ended up in a relationship with Ray, who was her colleague. Furthermore, Helene stole 130,000$ from her boss, which Doyle used as an excuse to stage the kidnapping of Amanda, which he admits in the final scene. After seeing the picture for the first time, many viewers often consider these facts sufficient to blame Patrick for making a morally wrong decision.
Many see Doyle as a savior who rescued Amanda from living in a dangerous environment full of abuse and neglect. The real reason behind this act of salvation, however, was Doyle’s own selfishness. His daughter died many years ago, and all he wanted was another chance to become a parent. Patrick was able to recognize Doyle’s attempt to replace his daughter with Amanda and thus carried out a morally correct choice of completing the case. Therefore, I believe that the detective made the right decision in delivering the girl back to her mother.
Overall, Gone Baby Gone is not just a detective movie. It raises serious ethical questions and tests the moral standards of its viewers. Many people, like myself, develop their own conclusions after watching it. The thriller does an outstanding job in integrating deontological philosophy into its storyline. This is shown in the moral difficulty of the final choice Patrick Kenzie had to make. The detective decided to remain loyal to his word, which is the key principle of the deontological approach to ethics. Although in the last scene the detective realizes that he might have ruined Amanda’s future, Patrick’s decision to keep his promise indicates that the choice he made was right from a moral point of view.
Franz, D. J. (2021). Is Applied Ethics Morally Problematic? Journal of Academic Ethics, pp. 1-16. Web.
Neta, R. (2016). Access Internalism and the Guidence Deontological Conception of Justification. American Philosophical Quarterly, 53(2), pp. 155-167. Web.
Sayce, M. (2019). Can “Conservation Hunting” Be Ethically Justified? Journal of Animal Ethics, 9(2), pp. 170-176. Web.
Xu, Z., & Ma, H. (2016). How Can a Deontological Decision Lead to Moral Behavior? The Moderating Role of Moral Identity. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(3), pp. 537-549. Web.