I watched the film, "Unthinkable," (extended version) starring Samuel L. Jackson, on Saturday night. The experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It is a trojan horse of a film. It is advertised as a thriller, and it is, one with a very simple, linear plot line. A man sends a video to the law enforcement agencies of the USA in which he states that he has hidden a nuclear bomb in three, unspecified cities in the the United States. They are set to go off, simultaneously, on a certain date in the near future. The man is arrested (he actually gives himself up) and is taken to a secure, secret facility to be interrogated. It is definitely the man who made the video and there are extremely good reasons not to doubt the truth of his claim. The rest of the film shows the torture of the man by the security forces to try and get him to tell them where he has hidden the bombs. This torture starts with so called "acceptable methods" but rapidly becomes more and more "unthinkable." But the plot is simply a vehicle used by the film makers to pose the age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?" A question the film does not answer.

The genius of this film is that, by using the thriller format, it forces the audience to react to it in the same way that they are used to reacting to thrillers. A psychologically normal person becomes involved in a thriller, they want the good guy to win (usually) and they want the "damsel in distress" to be rescued by the good guy. In "Unthinkable" the "damsel in distress" is the millions of people who are going to die if the bombs go off. A normal person does not want those people to die and the thriller format cleverly encourages the audience to identify themselves with the security forces trying to save the people in danger. By the end of the film you will know if you would do the unthinkable, keep to the Geneva convention or remain confused and wanting to run away from the ethical dilemma.

I now know that I would personally rip a terrorist to pieces, bit by bit, with my bare hands to save those people. Jesus wouldn't, but I would. In fact, I would probably do it to save just my wife, or other loved ones.

I am ambivalent about what this says about me. But I am very pleased to have been put into a position where I had to face up to who I am. Honesty is extremely important to me. On this blog I do not hide who I am behind trite, Christian platitudes. I preach Christ's commandments but always admit my failures to follow them.

Of course, it is extremely unlikely that I will ever be in a position exactly similar to the one in this movie. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever be in a position where I am faced with the choice of torturing somebody or not for any reason. But I have to ask myself the question "Do the ends justify the means?" many times each and every day of my life. Knowing how I would react in an extreme situation will now help me to be honest when I am talking with others about more mundane situations, real and hypothetical,  which pose the same question. For example, Mimi posted a discussion starter on her blog, WOUNDED BIRD, yesterday in which she asked the question, "Should closeted LGTB hypocrites who bash others of like sexual orientations be outed? Would you out a basher if you were certain the LGTB person was a hypocrite?" I know what the pat Christian response to this question is but it would be dishonest of me to recommend it when I know what I really think, having watched this film.

There was one thing that disappointed me in the ensuing conversation on the thread to Mimi's post and that was the complete unwillingness of anybody to move beyond the safety of the pat Christian response to ask why we regard the privacy of an individual and that person's wellbeing to be a higher moral imperative than our desire to free the captive. Sometimes, I fear, we use Christian platitude to avoid asking ourselves difficult questions and remove our guilty feelings about not doing something when perhaps what is really necessary is that we do something, maybe even at times, the unthinkable.



  1. But, are those statements Christian “platitudes” ? Or are they Gospel –like, ‘but I say to you, love your enemies.’

    There is also the image of Jesus turning over the tables and freakin’ kicking ass in the Temple.

    Perhaps the difference is one of vocation and circumstance? –not platitudes?

  2. Huh. Never heard of this movie. Of course, I was busy moving (#$%&#%!!) in 2010, but still…

  3. I have spent my life avoiding thrillers (and even tear jerkers) because I don’t want my emotions manipulated by fiction. Life gives me plenty of emotions.

    That said, I find myself constantly struggling with ends and means — is it possible to be a Christian and political consultant? I never know. I do try to work for people and causes I can believe in, but that doesn’t entirely solve the problem.

  4. HI MP – we watched this move a while back and it sparked endless debates of “what if”, very unsettling on many levels.
    Love you

  5. I can think of no reason why a Christian can’t be a political consultant. We could do with more of them. But I doubt that I could trust myself to be one. Hopefully you are a better person than me, janinsanfran (which wouldn’t be that difficult).

  6. Is there anything from your “endless debates” that you would like to share with us, Gail. I’ve been trying, in various places, to get people to engage with this question. I thought that by being honest about my own discoveries about myself it might give others the courage to talk about it. But it seems that it is either a taboo subject or everybody I know are inhuman in their ability to turn the other cheek like Jesus.

  7. there are extremely good reasons not to doubt the truth of his claim. The rest of the film shows the torture of the man by the security forces to try and get him to tell them where he has hidden the bombs. This torture starts with so called “acceptable methods” but rapidly becomes more and more “unthinkable.”

    Um, I think I been there/done that for ~7 (guilty) years: it was called “24”. I don’t think I need to go there again.

    This is the problem w/ these plotlines:

    “there are extremely good reasons not to doubt the truth of his claim”

    Real Life isn’t like this. In RL, you never know if you’ve got the right person, or even if you do, they’re just telling you what you want to hear.

    In short, these plotlines manipulate you into thinking “well, there’s no alternative except torture”.

    That’s not what ACTUAL interrogators tell us. They say you work WITH the interrogatee, to get their cooperation. They always want something.

  8. 1. i actually knew one of these interrogators, this person would beg to differ with JCF. yes, the first recourse is as JCF states. but it will quickly devolve if necessary.

    2. the american theologian and ethicist stanley hauerwas was once heard to say, I’m not a pacifist because I’m a gentle person. I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son-ofa-bitch.

  9. As to why even scriptural quotations can be platitudes, in my view they are so when we say them, but know we are incapable of doing them, or have not examined ourselves to be honest about the fact that when it comes down to it, we’d want to kill the ***********. If I say “Jesus says to love your enemy”, full stop, that just may be a platitude. If I say, “Jesus says to love your enemy, and I say, I can’t do that, sorry, Jesus”, that just may not be a platitude. OCICBW…

  10. I think a platitude is also something we use that can’t be challenged (because it is the righteous answer) but which we employ to stop a discussion so that we don’t have to think about it. Quoting scripture in respect of gay people is an example of this. By just saying “It says so in the Bible” you don’t have to think about what the good news (which he never really spelled out) of Jesus actually is. In a group of people the recitation of platitudes stop arguments and make members of the group more compliant to the leader’s wishes.

  11. Hi again – For us, it was a divide. I knew that i could not, would not EVER torture another person, and Skipp, well, he absolutely could and would if it meant saving his family. I was actually nauseous by the tactics Sam Jackson worked up to to get the information – it made me ill. The actions were really “Unthinkable”.

    gae <3

    • hear ya – but hang on a sec- what you mention above is quite different than the “Unthinkable” movie – I could not be the torturer – God this is why I dislike this forum to communicate as so much is lost – any who – if one of my friends or family were being hurt by someone and I was there I would fight to save them -, by any means necessary. kinda like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens –
      Gae <3

    • I think you could and would torture someone to save your family, Gail. I doubt that I’ve ever met a woman who wouldn’t. But, don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody.

  12. “It’s never really spelled out” (the “Good News”) which is pretty much the problem right there, isn’t it?