Ethics in Cinema

I thought I’d post a lil’ bit of writing I did for my ethics in education class, where we were supposed to analyze a movie and how ethics plays a role in it. Freedom Writers? Boring. Crash? Puhlease. Twilight of the Golds? Yaaawnfest. Instead I turned to the ultimate movie and study in ethics, Caddyshack.

Many comedies derive their humour by posing exaggerated ethical dilemmas. The interplay between competing belief systems is used to set up the conflict between an antagonist and protagonist, and this interplay is repeated many times in the movie Caddyshack. Caddyshack takes this concept a bit further by having several characters all in competition with the antaganoist, Judge Smails, a man who doesn’t appear to have any ethical system at all. Such absurdity is part of Caddyshack’s charm and humour.

Danny Noonan is one of the main characters in Caddyshack, and the movie is loosely centered around his desire to enter university and needing a scholarship to do so. Danny follows the ideals of Aristotle, whereby he tries to follow a set of virtue ethics while maintaining his own personal development. He demonstrates this on several occasions where he turns away from personal desires in order to follow a path that doesn’t necessarily give him immediate or obvious benefit (his affair with Lacey Underall being the obvious exception). Another main character is Al Czervik, a second protagonist that in many ways is the opposite of Danny. Al is decidedly utilitarian, whereby despite his sometimes ignorant and obnoxious behavior, his actions tend to promote happiness in both himself and others around him. Al is unafraid to break club rules in an effort to progress his personal agenda. However, he is also astute enough to realize that his actions are generally appreciated by those around him.

The struggle between ethic systems comes to a head near the end of the movie. On a personal level, Danny is presented with a dilemma and a choice to make. He can sink a putt to win a tournament, which is the action that a deontologist would take. On the other hand, he can purposely miss the putt which would have immediate benefits to himself. Furthermore, by missing the putt it is possible that the greatest amount of happiness would be achieved. Perhaps a utilitarian would actually miss the putt on purpose. Danny chooses to sink the putt, an action that is congruent with his virtue ethics.

I searched for many ways in which I could bring Carl Spackler, Bill Murray’s character, into this analysis. However, I reflected upon the idea that a person needs to use knowledge in order to be ethical, as ethics requires rational thought. It therefore makes sense that Carl is difficult to relate to ethics, as he is a completely irrational character. He is not devoid of a belief system though, as there are suggestions that he is a follower of Buddhism. Carl is happy with his lot in life, undoubtedly due to the fact that the Dalai Lama granted Carl “total consciousness.” As Carl says in the movie, this is a gift “which is nice.”

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