3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
The moral questions raised from using drones to assassinate an enemy are many. Similar to the impossible situation presented in Sophie’s Choice, this film explores an impossible situation in which a moral, legal and political choice must be made. Directed by Gavin Hood known for directing Ender’s Game, a film which also uses electronic consoles to destroy an enemy and thus raises multiple moral issues, Eye in the Sky is based on the screenplay by Guy Hibbert.
The ensemble of actors is perfectly cast. Though a joint project of Britain, Kenya and the U.S., it is British Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) who is in charge. But to say that she is in charge does not really describe the situation. When she isolates some top terrorists in a Kenyan house who are preparing to send two young suicide bombers on a mission, she works with the Kenyan army on the ground and the American drone pilot in the sky to stop them. But the use of such equipment to either capture or kill requires the approval of legal, political and military officials. It is the discussion over the morality of their actions that provides the depth of the film.
The morality discussion centers on several classic arguments. Is the evil being planned by the terrorists greater than the evil it will take to kill them before they carry out their mission? Does the amount of force fit the situation and will there be minimal civilian collateral damage? If the civilian is a child, does that change the computations of “acceptable” collateral deaths? Does the consideration of political fallout change the morality of a decision to let the terrorists complete their evil mission rather than take the political backlash of killing a child?
The personal responsibility of each of the characters in the situation is demonstrated when the pilot of the drone, Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) uses a technicality in the rules of engagement to try to avoid causing the death of the child. This reality that every person engaged in the process has personal moral culpability even when the higher ranking military officers tell them they do not is what makes their choices so difficult. This does not change the reality that Watts has paid an ultimate moral price as his soul cries out from what he eventually does.
A classic study of the moral dilemmas of warfare, this film is a good addition to others that portray the struggle we all have with the madness of war. Just because we can kill from drones high above their targets does not mean we should. But to not stop those who are planning to kill others when we have the opportunity to do so does not mean we should not stop them. It is the impossibility of such decisions that defines modern warfare and makes us long for a better answer. Perhaps this film is part of the journey toward reaching better solutions.
- In the study of moral thought developed by such researchers as Lawrence Kohlberg, the protection of the least is described as being more moral than protecting the lives of the many. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- The multilayered process presented in this film shows the many perspectives and many nations involved in modern warfare. Do you believe this new way to wage war will make us safer or more vulnerable? Why do you answer as you do?
- What do you think would be the best answer to the moral dilemma this film presents? Why do you answer as you do?