The Gone Baby Gone movie represents one of those pieces of art which leave the audience with contradictory opinions about the ending. While the whole film is full of dramatic moments, its final part is the most powerful as it brings about the crucial question: should the character’s decision be governed by law or morality? The movie makes the viewers consider what is right and what is wrong.
Patrick’s decision can be scrutinized under the principles of deontology and Kantian ethics. Deontology is often explained by the importance of moral rules for making decisions (Greene 360). In Kant’s deontological philosophy, the priority is given to duties rather than outcomes (Thomas 3). Additionally, deontology is often valued in accordance with Christian ethics, considering that what God proclaimed “right” is right in spite of the outcomes (Maness 113).
However, justifying deontology is a complicated matter (Slote 260). Moral judgment is comprised of more than merely calculating the consequences of the actions – it also requires the evaluation of the person’s motive, the character of the situation, and whether the person exploits other people as an instrument to reach his/her goals (May 745). Therefore, Patrick’s decision to take Amanda back to her mother is dictated by his responsibility as a law-abiding citizen. He says that Captain Doyle was not governed by purely moral decisions as he had a motif for himself as well. Thus, Captain’s actions did not fully correspond to deontological ethics.
Patrick’s resolution is not dictated by the principles of deontology. He cares much more about the outcomes of the action than about his moral duty. Patrick worries about the legislative procedures: the girl was kidnapped, and Captain planned to fake her death. As a citizen, Patrick is doing a right thing – he returns the girl to her mother. However, if to take into consideration the environment at Amanda’s home, Patrick has not done her any good. Her mother has never cared about the girl and did not seem too worried when Amanda disappeared. To defend his actions, Captain mentions a situation when Helene left her daughter in a closed car under the blazing sun. Apart from this instance, there have been many more facts of Helene’s neglecting the child. Still, Patrick considers it right to take Amanda back to her mother.
In my opinion, Patrick has made a wrong choice. I think he realizes it himself in the final scene when the girl corrects the doll’s name: he understands that when giving information for the police, Helene did not even remember her daughter’s favorite toy’s name. He has satisfied the law and the system, but what about the little girl’s future? She would have definitely been better off with Captain’s family. Even though Doyle’s conduct was not regulated by purely altruistic decisions, his plan was certainly beneficial for Amanda. She would have a caring family and would have grown in a positive environment. By deciding to satisfy the law, Patrick has deprived the girl of a better future.
Gone Baby Gone evokes a wide range of feelings and thoughts. While Captain Doyle cares more about the morality of the situation, Patrick makes a decision in favor of the legislative settlement of the question. Many viewers, including me, consider his resolution wrong.
Gone Baby Gone. Directed by Ben Affleck, performances by Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and Amy Ryan, The Ladd Company, 2007.
Greene, Joshua D. “The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul.” Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings, edited by Thomas Nadelhoffer, Eddy Nahmias, and Shaun Nichols, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 359-364.
Maness, Michael Glenn. Would You Lie to Save a Life. Love Will Find a Way Home: A Theology on the Ethics of Love. Author House, 2007.
May, Joshua. “Moral Judgment and Deontology: Empirical Developments.” Philosophy Compass, vol. 9, no. 11, 2014, pp. 745-755.
Slote, Michael. “The Problem We All Have with Deontology.” Perfecting Virtue: New Essays in Kantian Ethics and Virtue Ethics, edited by Lawrence Jost and Julian Wuerth, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 260-270.
Thomas, A. Jean. “Deontology, Consequentialism and Moral Realism.” Minerva – An Open Access Journal of Philosophy, vol. 19, 2015, pp. 1-24.