Friday, February 27, 2009

Can You Answer This Ethical Dilemma?

I watched the film The Mosquito Coast last night. It starred a really young and attractive Harrison Ford. The plot briefly put is the story of Allie Fox, a brilliant inventor, who takes his family to the jungles of Equador because he believes America is failing and is about to destroy itself in a nuclear war.

He builds a very successful settlement in the jungle with the help of the natives. He invents a huge machine that makes ice. He believes ice is the basis of civilization because it cools, acts as an anti-inflammatory, fever reducer, and makes life generally more pleasant.

When 3 white men with rifles come upon the settlement and refuse to leave, Fox, in order to get rid of them, gives them a place to sleep inside the ice machine and fires up the machine while they are sleeping. His plan is to freeze them to death but the men wake up, begin firing their rifles, thus causing the machine to explode. The 3 men are of course killed and Fox and his family barely get away with their lives.

The ethical dilemma that occurred to me was

Is Fox guilty of murder?

The film never considers this question, neither the Mother or the children react to the death of the men. While it is the case that the men refused to leave the settlement, ate of Fox's food, and eyed Fox's wife whenever she was nearby, they never did anything against anyone in the camp.

So what do you think? Did Fox commit murder? Are the Mother and children accessories? They didn't know until the very last minute that the Father was going to fire up the ice machine.

I'd love to get your reactions in the comments.



Terry said...

I think that the man weren't even thinking of using their rifles.
They must of got claustrophobia in that freezer, besides being cold.
I think I would of.
They used those rifles to make there own getaway.
I think that Mr. Fox is guilty of premeditated murder because he was planning that those guys freeze to death.
Fox is just lucky that he and his family got away.
He should be charged with three counts of first degree murder and also should be charged with negligent behavior that could have caused harm to his own family.
The mother and kids are not accessories because like you said they didn't know that it was Fox's intent.
Besides Mom Fox had made them a good meal and the children were surely glad to have such exciting visitors.
The only thing that the Mom could be charged with is, if after the fact, she doesn't report it but keeps it hidden.
Then she should be charged with obstructing justice and also harboring a fugitive.
The kids would have no blame at all because they are underage!
Now what do YOU think Mary T?
The punishment for Mr. Fox?
Death penalty!!
Pop HIM into a freezer and see how HE likes it!
The punishment for Mrs. Fox?
Well give her about ten years of probation so that she can raise her kids in a right way!
The Children's Aide must visit her too, to make sure she is doing a proper job!

Hope this isn't a stupid answer Mary T......Love Judge Terry

EG CameraGirl said...

That's a tough question, Mary. I'd say he is a murderer because he intended to cause the death of three people.

But how a court would treat it I'm not sure.

maryt/theteach said...

Thanks Terry and EG for you extensive comments. Can I wait a little to see what some others might say? And then I'll give you what I think... :)

Queen-Size funny bone said...

I think he felt that these men were a threat to him, his family and the community they stumbled upon. He didn't plan on murdering ahead of time. It was a reaction to the men and what he thought was going to happen because of their presence. Manslaughter maybe.

Jeni said...

I have to go to my "law library" -the one that resides in my pea brain and is filled legal stuff from watching way too much Law and Order. But, if this were a plot from L&O, I'm betting Jack McCoy would charge Fox with first degree murder, three counts too.
The defense would probably be that Fox was acting in self-defense as he perceived these men as being dangerous and going to usurp his little fiefdom and then do unspeakable acts on his wife and children. Considering Jack McCoy's propensity for charging anyone else who contributes to an offense -even in a very minor way -I'm sure the wife would be charged with concealing a crime or something along those lines.
Technically, I think it is murder but I'm a tad more liberal than McCoy is at times and I would lean towards maybe justifiable homicide or something like that.

Patti said...

I'll be short and sweet: Fox should be charged with premeditated murder.

Why else would he put them in the freezer? To not kill them?

This is why I prefer comedies. :-D

♥ Kathy said...

I think he was guilty of murder. He intended to kill the men even though they died in a different way than he thought, he still is the reason they died. I understand that he felt justified in his reasons but it's still murder. I don't think the family is guilty though if they didn't know until he actually began to act. Did they try to stop him? I've never seen the movie but in my mind that would make a difference; if they stood by and allowed it to happen or tried to stop it.

Jan said...

I think he showed intent. The specific act of murder, the accident of the exploding ice machine, was unintentional, but the murder was premeditated and he was guilty of 1st degree murder.

Travis Cody said...

I believe the question is, does fear of a possible threat against one's own personal safety or the safety of one's community and family justify a pre-emptive strike against the source of the perceived threat.

My answer to that question has to be no.

The clear intent in the movie was to do murder to remove the perceived threat. I think that the ethical course of action was to defend the community against the threat, and react to violence rather than initiate violence.

Fox is guilty of pre-meditated murder.

David@Montreal said...

Might I suggest we have to distinguish between intent and action. Mr. Fox INTENDED to cause their death, but acting on that intent was interrupted by the three men.
Ironically they caused their own death by instinctively reacting violently before really investigating the situation.
I would suggest at most Fox could successfully be charged with neglect causing death, on three counts; but then writing from Montreal, that would be a Canadian opinion and informed by practice here.

Lenoirre said...

I think that if it's in self-defense, then it's not murder. He was thinking of protecting his family. Anyone who has a family would understand and relate to that. Unless the court would think that it was malicious, calculated, and ruthless...then he is not guilyt of murder.

Jackie said...

I watched this movie years ago and found it very complex; yet very interesting also.

I think the answer lies solely with the character Fox.

He uprooted his family to escape the everyday rush of society. But, he himself turned around and began creating exactly what he had left behind.

Had he truly intended to live freely then he would not have let his ego run amok as it did.

He only thought he was seeking to escape. In reality he was seeking his own world to rule.

Thus in doing so he brought along many of the very things he initially sought to leave behind forever.

The guilt lies within Fox's ego and his inability to recognize that fact.

This was my interpretation and conclusion.

Good question Teach!

Terry said...

Dear Teach
I think that Shinade has such a great answer.
As I read her comment, it made me think of the book, "Animal Farm", which was a required book that we took in Grade 12 Literature.
I remember how the animals, lead by a pig,[I think], decided to overthrow the people, and live in complete harmony among themselves, with all together changed rules..
Well when they had their own world , it didn't take long before the pigs became as cruel, if not crueler than the men before them, treating their fellow animal citizens as mud under their feet.

Gee, I never did see your movie Teach but I really can imagine that I did!

Love Terry

Kaylia Metcalfe said...

Yep: premeditated murder.

We learned the hard way that preemptive killing is wrong.

In order to argue self defense there has to be a clear and present danger... like right this very second.

Now, sometimes that is annoying when it comes to things like domestic violence, but in this case it makes perfect sense.

He had other options, but he chose to plan and kill these men.

Just my two cents.