The Math of Choices: Little Ones Add Up


In the fine gangster film Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law, we see a substantial number of people killed.  Jude Law kills several in his role as the sociopathic killer who likes to take pictures of dead bodies---some of which he has himself killed.  Paul Newman’s son is just plain evil and seems to think the killing is funny and does what he can to ensure that people die.  Hanks, who plays Newman’s adopted son and his favorite, kills because that is what his job is and he does it very well.  He kills around nine or ten before the movie ends---I won’t tell you who he does kill as I don’t want to ruin the movie for you if you have not already seen it.


But, what is very important to understand, this is NOT a movie about gangsters and killing.  Well….yes, it is about that…certainly.  But it is really a story about fathers and sons---about the relationship between Newman and Hanks, between Hanks and his own sons.


And since it is about relationships, it is about family.


And since it is about family, it is about choices.


Can a skilled murderer like Hanks make the right moral choices when it comes to family?  And which family will he favor, his gangster family with its loyalty requirements or his wife-and-sons family? 


Choices!  Choices in the face of horror!  Choices that define character.


In the Bruce Willis movie Tears of the Sun we again see a hardened killer, an elite leader of Navy Seals on a mission in Africa, faced with choices and when the horror is close to overwhelming we see how that influences the choices he makes.


Both of these movies are examining how a person faced with extreme circumstances evaluates his life and makes decisions they would otherwise have avoided making.  Both of these movies ask us to wonder if a person like this can make good choices after spending most of their lives killing others for a living.


You, fortunately or unfortunately, are not likely to face such horrific events as those faced in these movies by the Hanks and Willis characters.  But, I hope you will use the messages of these films to examine your own life choices.


Most of us tend to make small choices, not large big-screen choices.  However, those small choices add up.  They are in front of you all the time, day by day.  Cumulatively they are just as powerful and important as any of the choices made by the characters in these two films.  You are involved with small choices that add up incrementally to being huge cumulative choices of a horrific nature.  What is so frightening to me is that you tend to be making the wrong choice! 


The small choices you are making---what clothes to buy, what food to eat, what car to drive, what house to own---have powerful effects on others worldwide.  (Yes, I know that these are not SMALL choices to you; however, they are small when compared to the choices made by the characters in these two movies.)  Your “small” life choices that you make determine whether evil will flourish in the world.  Your  “small” life choices determine which “gang” you ally yourself with and how you are choosing the “gang” over the family of man.  You see, your choices are more often than not ones that help sustain evil in the world.  No, I am not accusing you of being evil.  Yes, I am saying that your small acts help sustain evil. 


I consider it evil for you to live well when others are starving and choose to do nothing about it.  I consider it evil for you to buy a car and avoid public transportation or car-pooling when that decision means that our country is more likely to invade another country to protect our access to petroleum.  Yes, I believe that you are making small choices that cumulatively add up to huge problems, problems even greater than any depicted in these two movies.


So, you can deny my math or accept it.  The choice is yours.