Any movie worth it’s salt has a good conflict that it’s built around. Maybe that conflict is pretty superficial more times than not, but sometimes it exposes the characters to a moral dilemma. The way each dilemma is handled on-screen says a lot about the director of the film and the actors in taking that role, but if we were to put ourselves in those situations we can learn a lot about what’s important to us and where our priorities are in life. Some of these dilemmas are probably a little more fantastic than what we would face or what we could actually do in the real world, but you get the idea. Here are some of what we think are the best, or at least the most interesting moral dilemmas in the movies.
Interested in a more detailed analysis of moral dilemmas in the movies? Check out our monthly feature page, Moral Dilemma Dialogue.
Derek – “Gone Baby Gone”
A little girl goes missing, and her aunt hires two private detectives (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan), who are also in a romantic relationship, to find her. What they finally uncover is a moral dilemma of epic proportions. Though some might successfully argue that morality today is up for grabs, there is huge consensus that children should still be protected. So what’s the dilemma? A retiring cop (Morgan Freeman) has taken the sweet child so that he and his wife can raise her in a nice, stable, and loving home. Her biological mother, who she had been living with, is a drug addict living in a bad neighborhood and keeping very sketchy company. So do you break the law and take a daughter away from her real mother? Does this create a slippery slope? When two moral imperatives collide, you get a movie like this that even makes the viewers embark in a conversation of “what would you do?” Watch this movie with some friends, it will lead to some great conversation. **Read our official moral dilemma dialogue on this movie here!
Tres – “Mulan”
Is it ever ok to lie? Can you be a true friend and deceive everyone you know? The men of China are required to join the king’s army to fight the Hun and defend their country. Mulan’s father, a retired military great, was never blessed with a male child and he must go to battle. Because of his feeble state, Mulan steals… yes STEALS… her fathers armor and joins the army telling all that she meets that she’s a man. Was it the right thing to do? “thou shall not lie”…”thou shall not steal”. Deception is throughout this movie… Yet, she is the heroine for her country and the pride of her father.
Eric – “Easy A”
While Olive has become the poster child of immorality at her high school she is facing the moral dilemma of doing what she sees as a “good deed”, helping boys fit in socially among their peers, while she suffers the outcome of her having a bad reputation. This also leads her discover that her guidance counselor is cheating on her husband, who happens to be Olive’s favorite teacher. She is forced to the face the moral dilemma of telling him or not.
Gene – “Shawshank Redemption”
“Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'”. Perhaps better termed a motivational quote than a moral dilemma, but hear me out. Andy Duphrane knows he’s innocent of the chargers of murder against him, yet he’s been serving his sentence for years. He can either let this injustice prevail, or set out for where the truth takes him. Consider for yourself: What if one day God’s Word were declared “hate speech” and deemed illegal, and those caught with Bibles would serve jail time. Would you have the courage to pursue the truth, or forsake God’s word for the commandments of men?
Elliott – “Saving Private Ryan”
After taking out a German encampment, one of the enemy soldiers is still alive. One of the squad member wants to kill him, while another is argue for keeping him alive, since he surrendered. They argue for awhile, but eventually Captain Miller decides to let him go. Miller orders him to turn himself into the next allied camp. What makes this interesting, is that later on in the movie, they run into this same soldier, who hadn’t turned himself in and now kills a member of their squad. Moral Dilemma…. instead of showing him mercy, should they have put a bullet in his head, when they had the chance?!?
John – “3:10 to Yuma”
Take the money and run? Or deliver the goods? Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling farmer trying to make a living despite having a string of bad luck. This luck is worsened when a local businessman sends his guys out to the Evans farm to burn down one of the barns. Evans is presented with a way to earn some money by way of escorting a criminal, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), to Contention to board the train headed for Yuma. Wade offers to pay Evans more money than the Feds are paying him in exchange for his freedom. Evans sticks to his morals and delivers Wade to Contention. In the end, was it the right choice? Or should Evans accepted the offer for more money?
Care to add to this list?