Movies are not meant to simply benefit their makers. Products of cinematography are, first of all, carriers of some ideas; they intend to convey peculiar messages, and the good ones always make a watcher contemplate, even for a moment. In other terms, movies present some ethical issues to the audience. Great examples of films referring to ethical issues are satirical comedy-drama The Truman Show (1998) and the Academy Award winning drama The Cider House Rules (1999). Both of them were shot in the USA (by directors from Australia and Sweden, respectively); it means they depict the same culture, although it is worth mentioning that the events described belong to different periods of history.
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Actual references to reality may be found in the second film only (legislature of the times, WWII, etc.); The Truman Show is closer to our days with the whole concept of the reality shows. This cinematographic modality also defines the type of related ethical problems. For example, the peculiarities of prewar-time birth control regime are already in the past, while privacy and mass media issues are as topical as 14 years ago. The Truman Show is simultaneously a piece of artificial reality and an allegory for all of us living in a world where the concept of privacy really starts sounding like a joke. This joke finds its extreme reflection in the movie, where every minute of 30-year-old life of Truman Burbank, running in a fully designed world within a huge film studio, is broadcasted to the national television, sprinkled with commercials and product placing. Total unawareness of the man of such popularity contributes to a serious moral issue arisen in the screenplay. No wonder that the whole world comprehension of Truman is ruptured when he realizes his life was just a show with fake casting-approved personages. His quitting is definitely a right choice, for it liberates him, his audience and even his producers. Probably, most important question is what causes this lack of ethics.
The makers of The Truman Show reflected a modern person in modern media, deprived of individuality. Right for freedom and privacy is secured by Constitution. Such a cruel view on a person’s life as an entertainment project bringing huge benefit does not do any good to society. The filmmakers (the actual ones, not the personages, which, of course, are devoid of any sense of morality) try to reveal the wrongness of such an approach to human life when it is bought and put on display. Existential value of the movie cannot be underestimated: the message intended is that there is no point in such living. That is why Burbank decides to break free and flee from the show-world. The movie tries to convey that human life is a sacred treasure, not a means for entertainment.
The second film, which is more successful (probably due to the fact that the screenplay is based on a famous book), overlaps with this topic. The sanctity of human life is the major argument of Homer Wells, the protagonist of The Cider House Rules who has been trained by a medical expert and has all the necessary skills for performing abortions but makes a conscious refusal to use his knowledge. It is a private story unfolding against the background of a more serious phenomenon – official ban for abortions in the United States. In conclusion Homer is forced to step from his principles because of the urgency of situation: he realizes that incest pregnancy is the case he needs to take action in. It is a revelation for the young man, it changes his attitude towards the problem and defines his future. Finally all the reasons Dr. Larch, his teacher and mentor, had for justification of his noble deal of performing professional abortions for every woman who needed such a service (despite all the circumstances) reached his mind. Homer realizes that not every baby born into this world is joy to the mother. Besides, the destiny of an unwanted child is very unlikely to turn out happy. Wells decides to leave the choice to mothers and become a willing and caring helper in whatever they make up their minds to. It is not playing God (which was at first one of the emotional arguments of the man against abortions), but serving God and performing the sacred oath of a physician.
The name of the movie itself implies some reference to morality reflected in obedience to rules. The topic of rules is a reoccurring element of the narration. It should be noted that the screenplay of the movie was adapted by the writer of the original book, which definitely allows including him in the group of filmmakers. His intention was to show this dilemma situation and the inner struggle of the personage trying to solve it; while displaying it, John Irving does not want to take sides. The writer resorts to autobiographical information for the sake of credibility of the story (his grandfather was an obstetrician), but the answer is left for the reader to choose. The author’s message is to give all the objective and subjective facts and describe the preconditions of the moral choice of the protagonist and the choice itself. However, Homer’s decision to return to his own orphanage as an obstetrician and the only professional abortionist in the area is welcomed and deemed as a right one by all the other personages.
Moral and ethical issues are controversial in any case. The task of creative people is to show them, to emphasize the fact that nothing can be white and blameless at all times. On the other hand, ethical choice can never be assessed, only arguments for and against can be given. The Truman Show reveals unethical behavior, and The Cider House Rules – on the contrary, the ethical one. Issues are different, but the topics are either burning or having the potential to become such, which makes them worth mentioning and discussing. In the end, the choice always rests on the audience.