Anthony Hopkins winning an upset Oscar this year reminded me of the action film he made with (yecchh) Alec Baldwin 25 years ago. I would have written about it then, but 1) I didn’t see it then, being driven to my sock drawer at the thought of paying for any movie with Baldwin in it, and 2) it was a long time before Ethics Alarms.
The film explores survival situation ethics, a topic that “The Walking Dead” has thoroughly beaten to walking death in the last decade, with the assistance of some sharp David Mamet dialogue. Hopkins, a wealthy, cocky and obnoxiously competent businessman, survives a small plane crash that dumps him and two other men in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. One of them, the younger Baldwin, is secretly having an affair with Hopkins’ super-model trophy wife, whom they left back at the hunting lodge.
Hopkins’ encyclopedic knowledge of everything and Eagle Scout-level survival skills keep his wilderness ignorant companions alive and hopeful until a rampaging Kodiak bear eats the man who isn’t Baldwin (thus showing good taste). Then the remaining two become the hunted. Eventually, after many scares and narrow escapes, Hopkins and Baldwin solve their hungry bear problem and find an abandoned cabin conveniently stocked with food, guns, and a canoe. Baldwin, confident that he no longer requires Hopkins’ expertise to survive long enough to be rescued, takes a functioning rifle, loads it, admits that he’s having the affair with Hopkins’ wife, and marches Hopkins outside to shoot him. But Fate takes a hand: Baldwin falls into a pit before he can shoot and is rendered helpless, with a broken leg and other life-threatening injuries.
Even though Baldwin tried to kill him, even though Hopkins’ chances of surviving will be vastly reduced by having to care for Baldwin, even though if he does get Baldwin back to the lodge, Baldwin will take his wife, even though this is Alec Baldwin, Hopkins nonetheless gets him out of the pit and into the canoe, where they are spotted by a rescue helicopter. (Baldwin dies. Good.)
Your Ethics Movie Ethics Quiz:
Would it have been unethical for Hopkins to leave Baldwin to die in the pit?
Confession: If I were Hopkins’ character, I would have left Baldwin’s character in the pit even if he were played by Tom Cruise.
And this: an act that is sufficiently stupid overcomes its technically ethical components and is rendered unethical. Hopkins rescued Baldwin not to rescue Baldwin, but a moral grandstanding: he wanted to show Baldwin’s character how much better he was to make the dying man feel as worthless as possible before kicking off.