Ethos Education

Mission Impossible Fallout: How do we decide what is right and wrong?

Leave a comment

Learning Objectives 

  • Consider the purpose and value of morality.
  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon what makes some decisions very difficult to make.
  • Analyse a film clip, identifying the reasoning that led one character to an unexpected moral decision.
  • Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of six different approaches to making moral decisions.
  • Analyse a Christian perspective on making moral decisions, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from the film Mission Impossible: Fallout, so that the characters demonstrate the student’s understanding of different approaches to moral decision-making.

Supporting Values Education:
The value of individual liberty recognises the right of all people to make their own decisions about right and wrong. It is based on a belief that humans are capable of applying reason and intelligence when making moral decisions. This lesson encourages students to understand different perspectives on right and wrong and to understand the basis of a Christian perspective on morality.

Ask the students to think about the hardest decision they have ever had to make. If possible, get some of the students to tell the class about those decisions, and to say what made the decision difficult. Draw out the fact that sometimes decisions are hard because we know what we should do, but don’t want to do it, whereas other times we cannot even tell what is the right thing. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about different perspectives on making moral decisions.

Show the clip from Mission Impossible: Fallout (Paramount, 2018, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that this clip shows someone who is faced with an intensely difficult decision and moral dilemma. The clip is from very early in the film. Explain that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are waiting to meet with a criminal who is selling three stolen plutonium cores, which could be used to make nuclear bombs. Their mission is to recover the cores at any cost, in order to prevent them falling into terrorist hands. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the dilemma that Ethan faces towards the end of the clip and consider how he decided what to do.

  • Start time:       0.04.49 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.10.21
  • Clip length:     5 minutes and 32 seconds

The clip starts with Ethan, Benjy (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) standing in a deserted underground carpark. The first line is Benjy saying, ‘He’s late. He’s never late’. It ends with Ethan saying, ‘It’s gone’.

Ask the students how they think someone would go about making a decision like Ethan’s – choosing between the life of his friend and team-mate Luther, or the risk of millions of people across the world being killed by an act of nuclear terrorism made possible by the plutonium cores falling into the wrong hands. Do the students think that Ethan made the right choice? What do they mean by right and wrong in this context? What defines ‘right’ in making a decision like this one? Ask the students to put themselves in Ethan’s position: what factors might they take into account in making a decision like his?

Explain that when we think about right and wrong, our conclusions will often depend upon how we are defining right and wrong. Give out copies of the What Should I Do? worksheet and explain that the sheet summarises six different philosophical models of determining the right or wrong course of action when faced with a moral decision. Talk through the worksheet with the class, making sure that they understand the key factors of each approach to morality. Here are the six approaches:

‘I will do what is right for me’.
Right and wrong is decided by working out what will give me the most good things and the least bad things.

‘I will do whatever gives the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’.
Right and wrong is decided by calculating what will give the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

‘I will do whatever comes naturally’.
Right and wrong is decided by working out what is natural for us as human beings; if it is natural it is right; if it is unnatural it is wrong.

Cultural Relativism
‘I will do what everyone else around me is doing’.
Right and wrong is decided by looking at the way that others in my culture are behaving and fitting in with it. This will be different for different cultures and at different times.

‘I will do what my emotions tell me to do’.
Right and wrong is decided by following our emotions; whatever our feelings tell us is the right thing to do.

‘I will do what God tells me to do’.
Right and wrong is decided by finding out what our creator tells us we should do.

Ask the students which of these worldviews Ethan could be argued as showing signs of. After a brief discussion of this, to ensure that they are grasping the key points of each of the world views, ask the students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of the six approaches, either working together as a whole class, or discussing in small groups and reporting back to the rest of the class.

Explain that Christianity is one example of Theism (it is worth pointing out that not all theists are Christians). Ask the students how they think a Christian would go about discovering what God wants them to do in any given situation. Draw out that the main source of authority for many Christians is the Bible – particularly the life and teaching of Jesus. Other Christians also regard the past pattern of Christian tradition (i.e. the historical practice of the Christian church), reason and personal experience as important sources of authority.

Ask the students to look up the following Bible passages and to write a short statement for each, suggesting what relevance the passage has to the issue of how Christians might make moral decisions.

  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • Mark 12:28-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Take feedback from the students and encourage them to discuss the validity and value of using this basis for determining right from wrong.

Introduce a second clip from Mission Impossible: Fallout. Explain that this scene comes shortly after the loss of the plutonium cores, but after Ethan and his team have obtained valuable information about the person who stole them. Ask the students to consider whether they agree or disagree with what Ethan’s boss has to say about the decision Ethan made in the previous scene.

  • Start time:       0.16.29 (beginning of chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.18.09
  • Clip length:      1 minute and 40 seconds

The clip starts with Hunt’s boss, Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) waiting on the runway at an air base in Germany, and Ethan’s car pulling up. The first line is Ethan saying, ‘Sir’. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Huntley says about Ethan’s moral framework. If you prefer not to show a second clip, here is the relevant part of the dialogue:

‘You had a terrible choice to make in Berlin – recover the plutonium or save your team. You chose your team and now the world is at risk. Some flaw, deep in your core being simply won’t allow you to choose between one life and millions. You see that as a sign of weakness; to me that’s your greatest strength.’

Ask the students if they agree or disagree with Huntley: is Ethan’s inability to prioritise millions of lives over the one life that’s right in front of him a strength or a weakness?

If you have time, you could show a very short extract from the first film clip again, pausing the clip at 0.09.17 where Ethan is faced with his dilemma. Remind the students that Ethan had very little time to make a decision (remember Luther’s captor only gave him a count of three), and that he subsequently explained to Luther that, ‘I didn’t know what else to do’). Ask the students to imagine that life came with a pause button. Ask them to write a continuation of the scene where Ethan has paused the action and is able to discuss with Benjy and Luther while everybody else is frozen (although you might want to point out that all they can do is to discuss their options – they can’t take advantage of their adversaries being frozen to make good their escape!) The discussion between Ethan and his two colleagues should represent at least three different moral frameworks as represented on the worksheet, and at least one of the spies should offer a line of argument that draws on a Christian perspective on making moral decisions.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s