Intro to ethics through film
September 29, 2008 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm creating a basic study guide for the topic of Ethics in Film. I have a basic list compiled. What are films that address a particular moral issue that you feel should be on this list? (Recommendations for a basic text as companion guide would also be appreciated.)

I'm shooting for two films per topic. Feel free to suggest different films or topics.

Intro. to ethics - Serpico, 12 Angry Men

Abortion - Citizen Ruth, Juno

Whistle blowing - The Insider, Quiz Show

Death Penalty - The Life of David Gale, Dead Man Walking

Race - Malibu's Most Wanted, Crash

Journalism - Good Night and Good Luck, Network

Once compiled, I plan to create some study questions (after watching all the films) and post it online (and to Projects).
posted by strangeleftydoublethink to Education (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Whistle blowing - Silkwood

Race - To Kill A Mockingbird
posted by Cyrie at 10:16 AM on September 29, 2008

Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront is a good example of ethics in film that mirrored real life situations (Kazan was a 'friendly' witness during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations).

It would partner well with Good Night and Good Luck, which you have under Journalism.
posted by amicamentis at 10:20 AM on September 29, 2008

Okay, what you're doing here is less a study of "Ethics in Film" than "Issues in Film." More "What is the right thing to do in this particular situation?" than "Why should I do the right thing?" or, even more fundamentally, "What do we mean by 'the right thing' anyways?"

I recommend Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. Companion reading should be Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
posted by valkyryn at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2008

Journalism - Ace in the Hole

Race - In the Heat of the Night
posted by cazoo at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2008

I would also add "Glory" to the "race" segment, as well as "Birth of a Nation" and "Do The Right Thing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:29 AM on September 29, 2008

Abortion - Lake of Fire
Race - Fear Eats the Soul
Death Penalty - M, Death by Hanging, The Thin Blue Line
Whistle blowing - The Bad Sleep Well
posted by beerbajay at 10:31 AM on September 29, 2008

Another category that you may look into is War, with many ethical components to focus on. Sergeant York would be a good choice, along with many, many others.
posted by amicamentis at 10:34 AM on September 29, 2008

For abortion, I'd drop Juno and use Palindromes instead.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:35 AM on September 29, 2008

If you're willing to take "whistle blowing" to mean the exposure of a crime by someone with inside knowledge I'd say The Celebration. Note that it has absolutely nothing to do with corporations.

Wiretapping / Privacy - The Conversation and The Lives of Other People
posted by Manhasset at 10:38 AM on September 29, 2008

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a terrific suggestion for Race. Actually, all of beerbajay's sugestions are excellent.

I never thought of Juno as an abortion flick just a teen pregnancy flick.

For War, I'd suggest Paths of Glory.
posted by Manhasset at 10:40 AM on September 29, 2008

For ethics: Miller's Crossing.
posted by *burp* at 10:48 AM on September 29, 2008

Race - Gentlemen's agreement.

And shouldn't Serpico be whistle blowing as well?
posted by cjets at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2008

Race: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
posted by trip and a half at 10:52 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers so far. Serpico is definitely a whistle-blower film as well. I added Juno primarily because it was seen by some as anti-abortion. Some of these I haven't seen so I'll be adding them to my Netflix queue.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:58 AM on September 29, 2008

If you want to evaluate ethical categories (utilitarianism vs. deontology), Crimson Tide is excellent. In case you haven't seen it, it's two people in charge pitted against each other regarding whether to launch nuclear weapons from a submarine that may or may not have been actually authorized from higher up (the ambiguity creates the drama). The top in command (Gene Hackman) wants to play by the letter of the law, and the second in command (Denzel Washington) calls it into question, based on the possible consequences of them being wrong about the authorization. The crew then splits into two factions, depending on who people side with.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:59 AM on September 29, 2008

I added Juno primarily because it was seen by some as anti-abortion

People may disagree, but I think Juno was being more descriptive (telling one particular story), rather than being prescriptive concerning abortion. Although Juno decided to keep the baby, I'm not sure her anti-abortion acquaintance outside of the clinic was intended to be cast in a flattering light. It's as if she came to her own conclusion in spite of her somewhat quirky, and perhaps off-putting, friend.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:06 AM on September 29, 2008

abortion: 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days

Juno's a fun movie, but it doesn't really deal with abortion in any substantive way. Cody herself has said that she specifically did not want to make a film about abortion, and would prefer that people not read it as such.
posted by dizziest at 11:06 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

However, I'd think that the movie can still be used to tell one half of the story, in a topical discussion. But it's not intended to be a pro-choice apologetic, I don't think.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2008

Some films that raise interesting ethical questions include:

Gattaca - genetic discrimination

Shake Hands with the Devil - genocide

An Inconvenient Truth - climate change

Fog of War - ethics in warfare

Lady Chatterly's Lover - class issues / sexual ethics

Wall-E - environmental ethics

The Lives of Others - civil rights, ethics of living in a police state

Dr. Strangelove - nuclear war

American History X - race

Shindler's List - genocide

All the President's Men - journalism, whistleblowing

Silkwood - whistleblowing

A Clockwork Orange - crime, violence, prisons

Monty Python's Meaning of Life - reproductive ethics, ethics in war, education, medical ethics.
posted by sindark at 11:12 AM on September 29, 2008

I'd replace Juno with Vera Drake.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

for abortion...
4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days.

film about a girl trying to procure an abortion in Romania right before the fall of the USSR. really powerful, and at times painful to watch (not graphic, just suspenseful). i watched it, and then watched it again and told everyone i knew to watch it, too.

for race....
to kill a mockingbird.

no brainer, really.
posted by slograffiti at 1:20 PM on September 29, 2008

Power/Corruption - "Citizen Kane" 1941

Media/Ethics - "Medium Cool" 1969

War/Ethics/Identity - "Lawrence of Arabia" 1962

War/Ethics/Identity - "Casablanca" 1943
posted by glasskey at 1:28 PM on September 29, 2008

Second Millers Crossing: "I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character. I'm talkin' about -- hell. Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word -- I'm talkin' about ethics."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2008

Corporate Ethics: The Constant Gardener
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:31 PM on September 29, 2008

Twelve Angry Men - epistemic/civic responsibility

(Don't use Juno for abortion. The question about abortion is whether it should be legal/permitted, not whether it should be mandatory. It seems like you want a film that shows the down side of its being legal, and/or the down side of its being illegal. Juno doesn't do either.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:23 AM on September 30, 2008

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