I watched the film, "Unthinkable," (extended version) starring Samuel L. Jackson, on Saturday night. The experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.
It is a trojan horse of a film. It is advertised as a thriller, and it is, one with a very simple, linear plot line. A man sends a video to the law enforcement agencies of the USA in which he states that he has hidden a nuclear bomb in three, unspecified cities in the the United States. They are set to go off, simultaneously, on a certain date in the near future. The man is arrested (he actually gives himself up) and is taken to a secure, secret facility to be interrogated. It is definitely the man who made the video and there are extremely good reasons not to doubt the truth of his claim. The rest of the film shows the torture of the man by the security forces to try and get him to tell them where he has hidden the bombs. This torture starts with so called "acceptable methods" but rapidly becomes more and more "unthinkable." But the plot is simply a vehicle used by the film makers to pose the age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?" A question the film does not answer.
The genius of this film is that, by using the thriller format, it forces the audience to react to it in the same way that they are used to reacting to thrillers. A psychologically normal person becomes involved in a thriller, they want the good guy to win (usually) and they want the "damsel in distress" to be rescued by the good guy. In "Unthinkable" the "damsel in distress" is the millions of people who are going to die if the bombs go off. A normal person does not want those people to die and the thriller format cleverly encourages the audience to identify themselves with the security forces trying to save the people in danger. By the end of the film you will know if you would do the unthinkable, keep to the Geneva convention or remain confused and wanting to run away from the ethical dilemma.
I now know that I would personally rip a terrorist to pieces, bit by bit, with my bare hands to save those people. Jesus wouldn't, but I would. In fact, I would probably do it to save just my wife, or other loved ones.
I am ambivalent about what this says about me. But I am very pleased to have been put into a position where I had to face up to who I am. Honesty is extremely important to me. On this blog I do not hide who I am behind trite, Christian platitudes. I preach Christ's commandments but always admit my failures to follow them.
Of course, it is extremely unlikely that I will ever be in a position exactly similar to the one in this movie. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever be in a position where I am faced with the choice of torturing somebody or not for any reason. But I have to ask myself the question "Do the ends justify the means?" many times each and every day of my life. Knowing how I would react in an extreme situation will now help me to be honest when I am talking with others about more mundane situations, real and hypothetical, which pose the same question. For example, Mimi posted a discussion starter on her blog, WOUNDED BIRD, yesterday in which she asked the question, "Should closeted LGTB hypocrites who bash others of like sexual orientations be outed? Would you out a basher if you were certain the LGTB person was a hypocrite?" I know what the pat Christian response to this question is but it would be dishonest of me to recommend it when I know what I really think, having watched this film.
There was one thing that disappointed me in the ensuing conversation on the thread to Mimi's post and that was the complete unwillingness of anybody to move beyond the safety of the pat Christian response to ask why we regard the privacy of an individual and that person's wellbeing to be a higher moral imperative than our desire to free the captive. Sometimes, I fear, we use Christian platitude to avoid asking ourselves difficult questions and remove our guilty feelings about not doing something when perhaps what is really necessary is that we do something, maybe even at times, the unthinkable.