Holy Smoke

In thinking about the themes our class has discussed thus far, I was reminded of the main plot line of one of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints. The film follows religious twin Irish brothers who are fired from their job after backing one another up in an altercation they did not start. The following morning, they turn themselves into the police for their part in a separate bar fight, which resulted in the death of two Russian mobsters in an act of self-defense. Sick of being oppressed by criminals, and in response to a request from God, they embark on a mission to rid Boston of “wicked men so that the innocent may flourish” (Boondock Saints).  Rather than mercilessly slaughter their victims, however, the two brothers strategically hunt those who are truly evil, say a prayer for them, and place coins over their eyes after their death. The clip below takes place after the brothers bust a secret mob meeting and kill each of the members in attendance. They leave the boss for last, and ceremoniously recite their family prayer before executing him:

My favorite part about the two characters is their moral purity. They do not kill for personal gain or because it gives them satisfaction. They kill to make the city a better place and to, in some ways, do what the police cannot. Throughout the film, they are pursued by a detective who assumes them to be cold-blooded killers. Upon discovering their identity and their mission, he is forced to make a very difficult decision: arrest them or help them. After suffering much pain and grief, the detective ultimately concludes that “the laws of God are higher than those of man” and proceeds to help the brothers (Boondock Saints).   By focusing on the overall consequences of their actions and not only the legal implications, he helps bring down one of the most notorious mob families in Boston.

The Boondock Saints reminded me a lot about our utilitarianism discussions. Is it ever ok for the ends to justify the means? Is breaking the law always wrong? While the two brothers ultimately triumphed over evil, were they in their rights to do so? Personally, I think the detective’s character is supposed to represent the opinion of the audience. As he discovers his own justification for their behavior, I think we are asked to do the same. As the credits roll, an interviewer asks Bostonians whether they think the “Saints,” as they are called, are good or evil.

So…are the Saints good or evil?

Featured Photo: Screenrant

8 thoughts on “Holy Smoke”

  1. Well, what happens if they are wrong about their targets? Vigilante justice tends to end up under-mining safety because more and more people will take up arms against their own “wickeds.” The whole premise of a society of laws becomes impossible, to be a bit Kantian about it.


    1. This is a classic case of “does the end justify the means”? I’m not sure there is a correct answer because some would argue what the brothers are doing is right by ridding Boston of evil, but some would argue what they are doing is wrong, as they are killing people to do so.


  2. I think the issue is that they are eliminating the government from doing their job. If they take it upon themselves to kill the unethical, they are creating an anarchic system. It could end up doing more harm than good.


  3. There have been so many movies centered around this dilemma (Batman, Spider Man) where people take justice into their own hands. They make for great movies and create very interesting ethical discussions. In movies, they are considered good guys and can be argued to be ethical. However, in the real-world, I think that there is no room for people like this. If people like the Boondock Saints were allowed to do this, what would stop others from doing the same? There would be people trying to imitate them and would create chaos.


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