Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson

Introduction

The morality of an action can be judged from different perspectives. For instance, from a utilitarian perspective, an action can be said to be “good” if it brings happiness to the largest number of people (Cholbi 88). In the Kantian categorical imperative, an act is termed as good or wrong based on adherence to the moral law. This paper analyses the movie, Sleepers, using Kant’s moral philosophy.

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Main body

In the movie, Sleepers, four young friends, Shakes, Tommy, Michael, and John, are abused and molested by guards while serving jail time in a juvenile detention center in Upstate New York. When they finally come out of detention, Shakes opines that they should publicize their torture and probably hold the guards accountable. However, his friends suggest that no one would believe such stories, and thus they decide not to share their harrowing experiences at the detention center. Thirteen years later, Tommy and John kill one of the guards, Nokes, in broad daylight. Michael, who is now an assistant district attorney, requests to be assigned the case in a bid to compromise the prosecution and save his childhood friends. Through the concerted efforts of different people including Father Bobby, who commits perjury, John and Tommy are acquitted. Nokes is discredited and justice for his death is not served. The four childhood friends meet at a bar to celebrate their perceived victory. However, the pertinent question here is whether the actions of the four friends together with other individuals to cover murder and subvert justice are morally good.

The four friends were abused and molested by guards, but they did not get justice for their suffering. However, by killing Nokes to avenge their pain, John and Tommy’s actions are morally wrong. According to the first maxim of the categorical imperative, one’s actions are considered moral if another person would act the same way under similar circumstances (Cholbi 104). Similarly, the third maxim demands people to act in a way that establishes universal law for others under the same circumstances. Therefore, while the four friends were molested and abused, the morally good course of action would have been to report the matter to the authorities for the appropriate measures to be taken against the culprits.

According to moral law, a moral action should be rational, absolute, and universal (Satkunanandan 132). As such, committing murder violates the principles of moral law and the maxims of the categorical imperative as stipulated by Kant. Father Bobby is unwilling to testify in the case, but he decides to commit perjury after learning about the abuse and molestation. It can be argued that his actions are morally good because the victims ultimately avenge their suffering. However, under the first and third maxims of the categorical imperative, such actions are morally wrong because they go against the moral law. When a crime is committed, it should be subjected to the proper channels of justice. However, the four friends resort to retribution instead of pursuing justice through prosecution and conviction. Therefore, such actions are morally wrong.

Conclusion

According to Kant’s maxims on the categorical imperative, actions that violate the moral law are wrong. In this case, Tommy and John commit a crime by killing Nokes. Similarly, Michael, Shakes, and Father Bobby are equally guilty for colluding to subvert justice. While one is bound to sympathize with the four friends for the suffering that they went through at the hands of the guards, their actions are morally wrong because justice for a crime cannot be achieved by breaking the law and committing another offense.

Works Cited

Cholbi, Michael. Understanding Kant’s Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Satkunanandan, Shalini. Extraordinary Responsibility: Politics beyond the Moral Calculus. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Sleepers. Directed by Barry Levinson, performances by Kevin Bacon, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, and Ron Elard, Astoria Films, 1996.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, June 17). Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/kantian-moral-philosophy-in-the-film-sleepers-by-barry-levinson/

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"Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson." StudyCorgi, 17 June 2021, studycorgi.com/kantian-moral-philosophy-in-the-film-sleepers-by-barry-levinson/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson." June 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/kantian-moral-philosophy-in-the-film-sleepers-by-barry-levinson/.


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StudyCorgi. "Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson." June 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/kantian-moral-philosophy-in-the-film-sleepers-by-barry-levinson/.

References

StudyCorgi. 2021. "Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson." June 17, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/kantian-moral-philosophy-in-the-film-sleepers-by-barry-levinson/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Kantian Moral Philosophy in the Film “Sleepers” by Barry Levinson'. 17 June.

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