Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone  

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT 

If you haven’t seen this movie and want to see it without knowing the ending, don’t read this until after seeing the movie.

I saw this movie the other night and, while it is a movie that succeeds on many levels, including (most prominently) the superb acting and dialogue, I also found it deeply troubling.  The story is a gripping mystery about a child abduction set in the all-too-gritty South Boston area where the director, Ben Affleck, and his brother and star, Casey Affleck, grew up.  It’s also a place in which you would never want to see a kid be condemned to live if you had a brain in your head.  The only thing worse than imagining a kid being raised in this neghborhood is imagining what might happen to a kid after being kidnapped there.

But that is the situation we find ourselves in.  The main characters, played by Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, are PIs who know the area and are thus reluctantly brought in to help the cops solve the abduction of a cute-as-a-button four year old girl.  Early in the movie, Affleck’s character Patrick Kenzie, promises the mother of the little girl that he will bring the child home, even though he knows the mother is a coke and heroine addict who hangs out with drug dealers and other lowlifes and habitually neglects her daughter.  Why he makes such a ridiculous promise is at best unclear.  What is clear is that, in any civilized part of the country, the little girl would be immediately and permanently removed from the custody of this so-called mother if and when she was ever found.  That this never seems to occur to Patrick Kenzie or anyone else in the movie is a major flaw in the plot.

Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan

The investigation takes the two PIs to the absolute worst of the worst in the neighborhood and more than once you find yourself wondering if it’s even slightly realistic that someone like Monaghan, in particular, would ever walk into any of these places.  But I digress.   The real test of your ability to suspend your disbelief comes later.  Affleck’s character, in pursuit of a suspected child abductor, runs into a house from which an officer has just been shot and where the suspect is hiding.  He finds that the suspect has killed the child, a young boy, and in the face of this awful scene, executes the unarmed criminal by shooting him in the back of the head.  For this act he later feels genuine remorse but gets nothing but praise from the cops.  He is apparently not even reprimanded by anyone, let alone charged with any crime.  He feels he may have committed a sin, but is completely unconcerned about whether it constitutes a crime. 

Oh well, maybe the rules are different in South Boston, right?  You don’t know the half of it.  We later discover that the little girl, who was thought to have been killed by her kidnappers, is actually alive and well and living out in the green countryside with the now-retired police captain who was an accessory to the scheme of kidnapping, murder and theft that resulted in the girl being taken from her mother.  This discovery presents Affleck’s character with a moral choice.  It’s a false choice, because of course in the place we call “reality” this little girl would never in a million years be returned to her coke-whore of a mother, but let’s leave that aside for now.  The choice is: (1) leave the little girl in the country with the police captain and his wife, where she is clearly happy, loved and well-cared-for or (2) tell the cops that their former captain has engaged in a scheme of kidnapping and murder and is now raising the kidnapped child as his own, thus returning the child to her druggy mom and her disgusting bullet-riddled Southey neighborhood. 

Monaghan’s character makes it clear she is wholeheartedly in favor of choice 1, and Affleck’s character is unwaveringly in favor of choice 2.  Which do you choose, and why?

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5 Responses

  1. I thought these moral choices were incredible in this film. and i really didn’t feel like belief had to be suspended. everyone hates paperwork, and social services are frequently incredibly hard to work with, and in a place like South Boston, many of people in those neighborhoods probably should have their children take into custody…but is that better?

    I appreciated Affleck’s choice, although the last scenes when he’s at Helene’s house it is VERY VERY depressing. It’s sad when choices A, B, and C all seem like bad choices. And that’s what Affleck was facing. And he did his best to choose what was right over what was best.

  2. RC: I agree with your second paragraph completely. I like how you say he was trying to choose “what was right over what was best.” That’s it exactly.

    My point is that there are a lot of people, like the Monaghan character in the film, who insist that the first choice is the best one and that the other choice is unconscionable because it returns the child to a despicable situation. I’m interested in finding out how many people there are that would make that choice, or who, when confronted with someone they love insisting on that choice, would make it just to keep peace in their relationship. My guess is that a lot of people would do so.

    As for your first paragraph, I disagree. It’s not a matter of paperwork. Child Protective Service agencies, whether hard to work with or not, routinely remove children from homes all over the country in situations that are not nearly as bad as this one. The fact that no one makes ay effort to even suggest that this might happen in the film is a problem.

    Your question (“Is that better?”) is not one I have addressed because we can’t know for certain. However, it’s hard to imagine a foster care situation that could be worse than this little girl’s present life, unless outright abuse were involved. The point is that the law would require that the neglectful mom be reported and that the child be removed. In other words, it’s what is right, even if it’s not what is best.
    If that were done, as it should have been, it could very well have influenced the choice to be made in the end of the film.

  3. Tag!
    Every member a missionary.

  4. I thought this was a good movie; however, I was puzzled by the moral choices the main character made when he did not pursue the child molester when he encountered him in the house with the drugged out couple. Why didn’t he try to see if the missing boy was in the house before he left? Why would you think a kid would be safe in a house with drug addicts while you take the time to envole your two police buddies? It seems to me that the drug dealer was doing more to investigate during that situation then the main character was. Patrick could have legally shot the drug addict; ran upstairs to confront the child molester and this would have prevented the downward spiral thereafter. Yet, it seemed that Patricks sense of morality only worked to suit his own self righteousness. He felt remorse over killing the child murderer, but did not feel remorse that he did not do anything to protect the child when he had evidence that the child was there. Why was the little girl so much more important than the little boy? I am confused. Did he really think that the girls mom was going to change her ways? Heck, the brother was willing to stage the girls death to keep her away from her mom. Obviously, he felt that his sister would never change. Patrick was not the hero in this movie, that’s for sure.

  5. My feeling about why he gave the girl back to her mother was (1) he made a promise to the mother and (2) he felt that leaving her with the captain would be allowing the captain to get away with murder. He felt morally obligated to tell the truth.

    I’m ok with that in the real world, because in the real world the mother would also have been reported as a crack whore and her daughter would have been taken away from her and placed with (hopefully) a decent family.

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