In 2007, Ben Affleck made his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, a crime mystery/drama starring his brother Casey as a detective named Patrick Kenzie, and Michelle Monaghan playing his girlfriend Angie Gennaro, both hired to find Amanda McCready, a 4 yr. old girl kidnapped in the Boston area. Other major players in the film are Amanda’s mother Helene McCready (Amy Ryan), Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), Officers Remy Bressant and Nick Poole (Ed Harris and John Ashton), and aunt and uncle Bea and Lionel McCready (Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver). The movie plays on many familiar themes with inner-city crime dramas: Distrust of the police, corruption behind the badge, the pervasive drug-culture and family betrayal. Where this movie sets itself apart however is in the true meaning behind many of the actions taken by a handful of the characters.
*****SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen this movie, but wish to, STOP HERE! We will be discussing details regarding the end of the film, which may ruin the impact of the dilemma if you know it beforehand. You have been warned!
Helene McCready is, by any standards, a poor excuse for a mother. Nightly trips to the local tavern, a cocaine addiction entrapping her with dangerous people, and a laissez-faire attitude in the upbringing and basic care of her daughter in favor of her selfish lifestyle. Three days after Amanda is kidnapped, her aunt and uncle hire private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to assist. Through the course of the investigation Patrick’s curiosity is peaked by certain events and revelations that make him think things aren’t right with the police investigating this kidnapping. One thing leads to another and by the end of the film you have Kenzie confronting the now retired Captain Jack Doyle. The kidnapping was a farce, it was arranged so that Amanda could live with Capt. Doyle and his wife and have a better life away from the drugs, alcohol and abuse of her mother’s household. Therein lies our dilemma.
Gene and Derek will be taking opposing sides on this dilemma, although they may not necessarily reflect their actual views on this issue. In the film, detective Kenzie decides to call the cops on Captain Doyle and out him as the kidnapper, thus sending Amanda back to her mother. Gene will take the position that Kenzie made the right call to return Amanda back to her mother.
We live in a land governed by laws. These laws are setup to the best of our ability so that justice is blind, it does not discriminate and it does not make predetermined preferential judgments. It is much like God in that respect (except for the whole perfection thing). God does not uphold one person over another (Acts 10:34) and so we should strive to do the same, especially in the administration of our laws. We cannot take the law into our own hands or else we violate this core principle and place ourselves and our judgments above the law. When Lionel McCready decided to take it upon himself to “save” his niece Amanda from the upbringing he thought she was in for, this is exactly what he was doing.
Consider for a moment any number of alternatives at his disposal. Lionel tells a story of how Helen left Amanda in a hot car for two hours while she got high with some guys. He described her as feeling as if she had just come out of the oven. I’m sorry, but why was she still allowed in the custody of her mother after that incident? Where was the call to social services? Secondly, Lionel appeared perfectly capable to act as a father to Amanda, and in fact was already doing so. Why no appeal for some kind of joint-custody, citing Helene’s perpetual drunkenness and drug addictions? Instead Lionel chose to betray his sister, lie to his wife, and arrange Amanda to be taken to a safer home. In so doing he set in motion a course of events that would lead to the death of two young men as well as two police officers, who were in on the plot. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Lionel’s theft, which he reasoned to himself to be a noble thing, led to murder, lies to cover up lies, and more broken homes than the one he was trying to repair.
Detective Patrick Kenzie is hired by Bea and (ironically) Lionel McCready to find Amanda using his inner-city connections. Kenzie is seeking out justice, he strives to save this girl whom he believes was kidnapped, and is hoping against hope to return her home safely. In this movie he embodies the qualities described in Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” Imagine the impact a detective like that could make had he been exerting that effort on legitimate crimes rather than on a sham masquerading as a noble act.
When Kenzie finally comes to the end of the trail of evidence and confronts Capt. Doyle for kidnapping Amanda, there is only one thing he can do. Justice demanded the actions he chose in the film. To do otherwise would be to lie to himself, lie to Amanda’s family, and pervert justice to suit what others considered “better”. He had no right, nor did anyone else aside from Amanda’s mother, to decide what the best upbringing for her might be. Captain Doyle tries to guilt Kenzie into siding with him, telling him that if Amanda goes back to her mother and that environment that eventually “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.” To which Kenzie perfectly replies, “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.”
We live in a land governed by laws. God granted us the power to govern ourselves and to set up laws to administer justice upon those who would do evil (Romans 13:1-7). Who can argue that the environment Amanda’s mother was raising her in was a good one? Nobody wants to see a child raised in those surroundings. But kidnapping her does not solve the problem. All it does is place individuals and what they deem to be “right” above the law. And that is not a slope we want to start sliding down.
Derek will take the position that removing Amanda from that poisonous environment was the right thing to do.
Imagine you’re in Nazi Germany and you have knowledge of where some Jews are hiding. What do you tell the authorities? And for all the Patriotic Americans out there: were our founding fathers wrong in not submitting to the Crown anymore? The point is this: some issues require doing something which may be entitled the “greater good.” There are unavoidable issues in life where two ethical convictions will come into conflict.
The main proof-text used for how we are to react to the government is Romans 13:1-7. Paul tells us, rightly, to submit to the government, because governments are instituted by God. Therefore, whoever rebels against the government also rebels against God. Well that seems straight forward enough, right? Well, not so much. We know that some things a government might force a Christian to do would be against their faith; indeed, some even lost their life to government authorities refusing to recant their Christian faith. They refused to offer sacrifice or pay a fee to the temples. Also, the Book of Acts records several times when certain Apostles were imprisoned. In the face of their unjust treatment (and to further the spread of the Gospel, of course), the Lord saw fit to break them out of jail, which would have most definitely been against the law (regardless of the validity of the charges that put them in there).
We can sense a universal and timeless aspect to what Paul is saying. But also, he was urging Christians to pray just to be left alone by the government authorities and surrounding pagans (and some non-Christian Jews) who were not fans of their faith (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Also, Paul is probably not referring here to extreme cases of injustice or matters of life and death. He was probably referring to Christians who thought that, in their new freedom as Christians and under the law of Christ, they didn’t owe certain things to their government. Paul corrects them by instructing them to still give taxes, revenue, respect, and honor to governing authorities (Rom. 13:6-7).
Sometimes one must weigh what is more important: submitting to the government (as God wishes), or acting justly and protecting the vulnerable (as God also wishes). Pharaoh’s authority was thwarted when he would not allow God’s people to worship. God made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (no horse’s head – just some plagues). In that type of government, it was totally kosher (no pun intended) for Pharaoh to not allow someone to worship a foreign god. Then again, God is within His right to resist a government. In Jericho, Rahab lied to servants of the king about the spies Joshua had sent. This was viewed favorably by the author, and as a result Rahab and her family were the only ones spared when the Israelites conquered that location. God was bringing judgment upon that land for the wrongdoings and lack of justice, and used someone’s sinful lie to the government to achieve His good purposes.
In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus walks into the Synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees watched closely to see if he would heal the man, since it was a Sabbath, and all work was prohibited on the Sabbath. Now, this was not the teaching of the actual Mosaic Law that he rejected, but of the law created around that, which were scribal interpretations. Regardless of that fact, the law was very much understood and expected to be followed, according to religious authorities. Note: many do take the passages about submitting to “governing authorities” to not just be referring to an official government, but any type of governing authority.
Overall, the Bible is significantly more interested in doing justice, protecting the vulnerable, and rescuing the oppressed than submitting to the government (based on the number of repeated exhortations). So then, if these two things were in conflict, which do you think would be more important?
Based on the witness of the whole of Scripture, Detective Kenzie (Casey Affleck) may have been justified if he had turned a blind eye to Jack Doyle’s (Morgan Freeman) raising of Helene McCready’s child. In real life, of course, perhaps there would be a few more avenues to go down. But the movie portrays this as the last option. There is no win-win situation here. Due to the nature of a moral dilemma, either decision would be simultaneously good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and sinful. The child’s life, however, is too important, and has already been neglected enough with no sign of change.
There you have it. There are many other notable things to mention in this film but we want to hear from you on this dilemma. What would you do if you were in detective Kenzie’s shoes? Does Amanda belong with her rightful mother? If we see a child in a dangerous environment, despite it being with her actual mother or father, do we have a duty to intervene outside of, and indeed against the law? We don’t call this the moral dilemma dialogue for no reason, let’s hear what you have to say!