Ethical Theories Within the Film “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
Ethical Theories Within the Film “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
In the final scene of the movie Crimes and Misdemeanors, I believe the fictional philosopher Louse Levy’s message was very similar to philosophy Jean-Paul Sartre and his theory on existentialism. One of Sartre’s quotes, “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” Levy is trying to convey that we are in control of our choices and we choose our own happiness. In the final scene of the film Levy states, “We’re all faced throughout our lives with making conscience moral decisions. Some are on a grander scale than others, but we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices.” So when Levy’s character states, “most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and find joy from simple things”, this is based on our choices. We decide to be happy or sad. Because we as human beings have the ability to think rationally or ill-rationally, our minds have the capacity to feel emotions, to dream up, or cognitively entertain, a mind-based reality of happiness.
One of the survival tactics as human beings is our ability to strive for happiness; and once a level of happiness is achieved there is always a need for more; it is a never ending pursuit of happiness. Our happiness should also be achieved without pain. Ever though we strive for this happiness there is no methodical way to obtain happiness or does the sense of happiness always become achieved. I believe this viewpoint is heavily reflected throughout the movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors. I think all the characters in the movie are striving and hoping for happiness but I think the only character who truly achieves the ultimate happiness would be Rabbi Ben. The role of GOD in establishing ethical values and whether the world would be valueless if GOD didn’t exist is displayed throughout this movie. Rabbi Ben (Sam Waterston) leads a moral life throughout the film and he ends up blind, but he can dance with his daughter with a clear conscience.
The irony about this character is he fails to see in the real world yet he has strong spiritual vision. His detachment from mundane concerns, and emphasize on what is real and meaningful – a life devoted to GOD. The ideas that only by blinding oneself to reality can one live a meaningful life devoted to GOD. The symbolism of blindness seems to have a connection to a blind universe indifferent to any sense of justice. In fact all of the religious characters in Crimes and Misdemeanors suffer from impaired vision and are portrayed wearing glasses.
This may represent their inability to see the true nature of reality and the understanding of true happiness. I feel all of the characters in this film reflect the viewpoint of hope and the desire to achieve happiness without pain; it is just the choices, consequences or motive of their actions that is misguided. We make consequentialist decisions regarding our actions to separate the morally right from wrong which leads us to our ultimate goal of happiness. But what determines if an action is moral right or wrong? Stuart Mill’ theory on, “The Principle of Utility”, views the consequences that arise from the action to determine the moral worth of an action; the best decisions result in good consequences for the largest number of people. He also believes that happiness equal pleasure; the actions are morally right to the extent that they produce lots of pleasure. Other theorists like Immanuel Kant, who takes a deontology approach on the intention or motive of the action. He believes that our actions are morally right only if we can apply them universally.
I feel the character Lester (Alan Alda), displays the theories of Jean Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche. He’s a successful television producer with a pompous attitude. His character takes charge of his own destiny. He knows what he wants and goes after it. His Will to Power is great and sets no limitations on what he can achieve throughout this film. There are a few characters in Crimes and Misdemeanor who strive for the hope of happiness but fall short. The main character, Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) this character is a successful ophthalmologist who achieves short-term happiness in a two year affair with a woman named Dolores (Anjelicia Huston). When Dolores threatens tell his wife of there affair his moral structure is threaten he feels as if his entire universe becomes meaningless. But, by the end of the film Judah make peace with himself and finds that he commits a crime and gets away with it. He is only implicated to his own moral consciousness. In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man. FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, Human, All-too-Human
The second character that falls short of achieving happiness would be Clifford Stern (Wood Allen); this character is a small-time film maker hired by his brother-in-law Lester to produce a documentary about his life and work. Clifford dislikes Lester as well as his marriage to Lester’s sister Wendy (Joann Gleason). While filming this documentary Cliff falls in love with Lester’s associate producer, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). However Cliff’s efforts to woo Halley fail and in the end Wendy chooses to be with Lester. This gives proof that good doesn’t always prosper over evil. The comment by Halley after learning about Levy’s death she says, “No matter how elaborate a philosophical system you work out, in the end it’s got to be incomplete.” I believe it is the selfish needs, constant change, as well as the desires of human beings that allow people to choose right from wrong and good from bad.
It is all about wants over needs. I believe Halley didn’t initially want Lester it was his constant appeal to the things that she needed which gave her pleasure that won her over. Not the roses because she was allergic, but the caviar and his influence and power. I believe that the universe is in fact indifferent. However, if there is no GOD, there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is “the bare valueless fact of existence” (Jean-Paul Sartre). This is probably what Rabbi Ben meant during the film when he said, “Without the law, it’s all darkness, and, “You Judah see the world as harsh and empty of value and pitiless.” Rabbi Ben states, how he couldn’t not exist without moral structure-with real meaning-with forgiveness and some kind of higher power. Also during the climax of the film Judah concludes that “GOD is a luxury that he can’t afford” and arranges for Dolores-mistress (Angelica Houston) to be murdered. Afterwards, in a state of despair he visits his childhood home and recreates in his mind a Passover Seder from his youth. Judah’s atheist Aunt May (Anna Berger) and religious father Sol, is an exploration of the relationship between morality and GOD and the problem of morality in a godless universe.
Aunt May takes the position of the atheist and moral relativist in the ensuring debate as she envisions a cruel and godless world with no objectives standards of good and evil and no moral purposes behind human reality. Aunt May believes individuals justify their actions as they wish: “For those who want morality there’s morality. Nothings handed down in stone.” Aunt May argues that in a world where everything is permissible, there is nothing to stop an individual from committing murder other than their own conscience. “And I say, if he can do it, and get away with it, and chooses not be bothered by the ethics, then he’s home free.” We live in a universe where our moral ethics between right and wrong are greatly unbalanced. A world where the good suffer, the bad prosper and no greater power will ever rectify this which is a sad consequence. It is really hard to establish a basic moral or ethical system for human beings because we are so indifferent of each other. We have for example the Bible or the Koran, but, like Aunt May state in the film, “For those who want morality there’s morality.”
[Also in the final scene of the film Judah draws Cliff into a supposedly hypothetical discussion that draws upon his morals. Judah says that with time, any crisis will pass; but Cliff morosely claims instead that one is forever fated to bear ones burdens for “crimes and misdemeanors”] Wikipedia. We battle daily for justice. All we can do as human beings is to hope for happiness try to utilize our own moral ideas and meaningful values to again hopeful influence our lives and to reflect upon future generations.
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“The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture.” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. http://phil.uregina.ca/vancha/Litch-chp6.pdf