“And shepherds we shall be.
For Thee, my Lord, for Thee.
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand.
That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command.
And we shall flow a river forth to Thee.
And teeming with souls shall it ever be.
In Nomine Patris, Et Fili, Et Spiritus Sancti.”
~ The MacManus Family Prayer, Boondock Saints
Each individual must, at various points in their lives, decide what is morally right and morally wrong for themselves. We can be taught lessons by our parents, by our church, by friends and other family, but in the end it all comes down to us, acting as individuals, deciding what we believe to be right or wrong. Philosophy debates such issues endlessly under the title of “ethics”, questioning whether there is a universal idea of right and wrong that all humanity should be beholden to or whether such concepts should be adaptable to our individual experiences and situations.
The Boondock Saints, a film released in 1999, explores some of this moral gray area to a singular end. It tells the story of two brothers, Conner and Murphy MacManus, played by Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus, ordinary men who, after a traumatic event forces them to kill some Russian mobsters in self-defense, believe that they have been called by God to punish the wicked and evil men of this world and send them on to face his judgment. Their exploits are investigated by FBI Agent Paul Smecker, played by Willem Defoe, who soon finds himself in the midst of a moral conflict of his own, when he starts to believe that the work the MacManus brothers are doing is necessary in a world which continually grants criminals loopholes to avoid justice.
This film is a cult classic for many reasons: it’s well written and well acted; it’s hilarious, dramatic, and packed full of great action sequences and music. But what keeps this film being talked about today and recommended for viewing again and again is its pointed examination and challenging of conventional ideas of ethical behavior. At times it seems pretty obvious that the film is coming down in favor of vigilante justice; of taking the punishment of evil into your own hands, rather than trusting the legal system or other public institutions to do it for you. But the sequence at the very end of the film, while the credits are rolling, actively encourages a discussion from the audience on whether or not the acts the film just presented are justifiable or not, just as the television reports ask the people on the streets.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainment’s sake. A book or film that offers nothing more than a good yarn and fun times is nothing to be sneezed at – many of my favorite films and novels do just that. But if you’re looking for something that will make your creative work (whatever the form of it may be) make a bit more of an impact on your audience, consider dealing with some of the unanswerable questions that life and the universe present us with. Don’t answer the questions if you can help it; even if you think you know what the answer is, it’s more interesting for both you and the audience if you leave things open-ended. Trust them to make up their own mind and hopefully, if your piece is very well done, the decision they come to will change with each viewing of your work, just as it does for me and The Boondock Saints.
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