Can a person be certain of what she does without afterthought? Can life be lived without doubt? Can lines be crossed, blurred, erased? Answers to these questions are the essence of the profound, thoughtful film Gone Baby, Gone. Life is not made out of straight lines.A little girl is stolen from her mother. All of Boston, indeed the nation, is tuned in. Casey Affleck brilliantly stars as the missing person’s private citizen-detective who undertakes a behind-the-scenes investigation that ultimately brings the truth to light. Every turn leads to more confounding, severe, and indecent information. Uncovering putrid layers of human depravity, result in what one would consider the obvious conclusion. But the end is far from over, leading right back to the beginning.
Morgan Freeman plays a police officer all too familiar with child kidnapping. Freeman’s presence not only adds weight to the role but the topic itself. Ed Harris is the lead detective on the case, himself a warrior against the long war of pedophilia. Key to the movie’s theme is the conversation outside a hospital, as Harris’ and Affleck’s characters interact with the situation in which they find themselves. Affleck’s character, confronted by a horrific discovery, is asked whether he would respond in the same way he did, had he the opportunity to do it over again. The two draw lines in the sand as they express the central question of the film, “what would you do?”
[Spoiler alert] The whole movie pivots on that point—“What would you do given the same set of circumstances?” Would you “off” the bad guy because of the awfulness of his crime, “turning a blind eye” to the apparent goodness of the lead officer in spiriting away the young child to a “better life”? Or would you give the pedophile “due process” in the justice system, bringing the child back to her mother knowing full well the mother is a self-centered bitch whose concern for her child resonates only in adult self-interest and “15 minutes of fame”?
This film continues to haunt me. It causes me to question the staked out claims of “liberals” and “conservatives.” On the left, the normal emphasis is on the “good of the child,” “doing what is right at the moment.” On the right, voices cry for “justice,” “law,” and “doing what is always right.” The power of the movie is that the lines are crossed: justice/mercy, right/wrong, law/love are given their due course, and are then left hanging in the air. Herein is the dilemma. Standard revenge yarns use the colors of black and white on cardboard characters. In Gone Baby, Gone writer/director Ben Affleck does to an audience what other movies do not: he gives us a palate and brush asking us to paint.
Solomon, perhaps the wisest man who ever lived by anyone’s estimation, recorded this sentiment, “What is twisted cannot be straightened” (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13-14). If there is a word that describes uncertainty and doubt about the vagaries of decisions in this life it is ambiguity. Gone Baby, Gone is its synonym.
Rated R for pervasive language, disturbing situations involving children, and violence.
Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College, has been writing movie reviews since the 90’s.