What’s Up With That Ending?: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is one of those rare movies that truly makes you debate about it’s ending. For most people, it even makes them rage. On the iMDb message boards, there’s over one hundred comments in reply to the simple question “Was he right or wrong?”

Gone Baby Gone features a compelling protagonist, Casey Afleck who plays Patrick, a street-wise private detective. He is hired by the family of a missing girl, Amanda, to help find her. Amanda’s mother, Helene, is a belligerent drug addict and drunk, who doesn’t take very good care of her little girl.

The twist of the film is that Amanda’s uncle conspired with the Captain of the missing children’s unit to take Amanda away from her mother forever. When the uncle’s wife (unknowledgeable of the plan) hired Patrick to investigate the supposed missing girl, they had to stage Amanda’s death. Eventually Patrick discovers Amanda alive and well living with Captain Doyle, played by Morgan Freeman. And that question of the right or wrong decision is put to the test.

Throughout the film, Patrick struggles with what is considered right and wrong mostly because of his Catholic beliefs. He experiences Catholic guilt for murdering a pedophile. His conversation with Detective Bressant illustrates the overall themes of the film, and ultimately the ending.

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Patrick: My priest says shame is god telling you what you did was wrong.

Detective: Fuck him.

Patrick: Murder’s a sin.

Detective: Depends on who you do it to. Would you do it again? Clip Corwin Earle?

Patrick: No.

Detective: Does that make you right?

Patrick: I don’t know.

Detective: It doesn’t make it wrong, though, does it?

After all, this man was raping and killing children. Didn’t he deserve to be killed? This conversation also voices the concerns of the audience, not just about the situation of murder, but whether Patrick should let Amanda stay with the Captain or go back to her mother.

The root of the decision Patrick must make is what makes a good or bad mother. Motherhood, and parenting in general, is complicated. So many parents or mothers are judgmental of how others are raising their children. There’s battles of breast feeding vs. not breast feeding, iPads for kids or completely ban them, or the ultimate, working mom vs. stay at home mom. All these battles come with reasons why if you choose one side that makes you a bad parent.

Mothers, not fathers, are ultimately the ones with whom society judges. Motherhood is supposed to be instinctual, the one thing that women are made for. Therefore we are all supposed to live up to these highly unrealistic expectations of what makes a ‘good mother’. These expectations are often quite unfounded and highly unreachable.

But these type of mommy wars certainly don’t apply to Helene. At least those mothers are doing something that’s debated upon. Amy Ryan plays Helene Oscar-nominated performance, and what we see of her shows that Helene does not even care demonstrate any type of parenting skills to even debate about.

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Amanda’s uncle, who conceived this plan to take Amanda away, tells a story of how she left her three-year old locked in a hot car for hours, leaving her literally roasting. We see in flashbacks that Helene would rather leave her kid alone in the house while she goes on drug runs. And in one of the first scenes after her daughter has been kidnapped we see her not as a typical grieving and worried mom, but just sitting on the couch watching Jerry Springer. So, yes, Helene seems to be what most would consider unequivocally a bad mother. She seems not to miss her child when she’s gone, and cares little for her child when she’s there.

For the twist, when Patrick discovers Amanda with the Captain, the film departs from the book. In the book, Patrick had called the police beforehand and after seeing Amanda was happy, he could do nothing about it. The film changes it by having Patrick make the decision himself right then and there, we see him grapple with it and the audience does as well. His girlfriend believes he should keep mum and let her stay, but Patrick believes that would be the wrong thing. He finds himself at a crossroads. Patrick and Captain Doyle also discuss their sides of the issue, leaving the audience to continue to wrestle with the decision.

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Patrick: I’m calling state police in five minutes. They’ll be here in ten.

Captain: Thought you would’ve done that by now. You know why you haven’t? Because you think this might be an irreparable mistake. Because deep inside you, you know it doesn’t matter what the rules say. When the lights go out, and you ask yourself “is she better off here or better off there”, you know the answer. And you always will. You… you could do a right thing here. A good thing. Men live their whole lives without getting this chance. You walk away from it, you may not regret it when you get home. You may not regret it for a year, but when you get to where I am, I promise you, you will. I’ll be dead, you’ll be old. But she… she’ll be dragging around a couple of tattered, damaged children of her own, and you’ll be the one who has to tell them you’re sorry.

Patrick: You know what? Maybe that’ll happen. And if it does, I’ll tell them I’m sorry and I’ll live with it. But what’s never gonna happen and what I’m not gonna do is have to apologize to a grown woman who comes to me and says: “I was kidnapped when I was a little girl, and my aunt hired you to find me. And you did, you found me with some strange family. But you broke your promise and you left me there. Why? Why didn’t you bring me home? Because all the snacks and the outfits and the family trips don’t matter. They stole me. It wasn’t my family and you knew about it and you knew better and you did nothing”. And maybe that grown woman will forgive me, but I’ll never forgive myself.

Captain: I did what I did for the sake of the child. All right. For me, too. But now, I’m asking you for the sake of the child. I’m begging you. You think about it.

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This is no easy decision. It’s something that would effect the outcome of Amanda’s life forever. Like the murder of the pedophile, does the taking away of Amanda matter if you look at who they’re doing it to? Doesn’t Helene deserve it?

Patrick mentions money, saying that all the material objects and comfort they provided is not what makes a good parent. This is true, there are probably many rich parents who spend superfluous amounts on their children but aren’t really there for them. But Patrick fails to see, or chooses to overlook the fact that the Captain and his wife would love her. They would provide beautiful memories and happiness for her, rich or poor didn’t matter.

What could Helene offer? She’s neglectful, cares more about men and drugs then her daughter. Leaves her all alone in the house, or in hot cars.

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And motherhood is not what is the only issue here, it is also the law. Religion requires you to abide by rules, clearly defining what is good vs. what is bad. The laws of our country acts that, too. The laws and rules tell us what is right and wrong, it is set there and we should not question it.

But Patrick knows, just as the rules of Catholicism tells him murder is bad, that the law distinguishes that this what the Captain has done is kidnapping. The laws and rules know what is right and what is wrong. We should not follow our hearts.

Gone Baby Gone asks the question: What do we do when morality opposes the law? Patrick believes it was wrong for Captain Doyle to kidnap the child, whether or not her mother was unfit. The Captain believes believed it would be wrong to leave the child in the care of a poor mother, regardless of how the justice system would see it.

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Patrick calls the police, and Amanda is returned to her mother. Captain Doyle and the Uncle are sent to jail. In a gut-punching of an ending scene we are left to see the remnants of Patrick’s decision.

Patrick stops by Helene’s house, where she is getting ready for a date. The guy saw Helene on some TV appearances, so she is clearly benefitting from her daughter’s abduction. Amanda is sitting on the couch, watching T.V. Patrick offers to babysit and sits on the couch by her. He notices her doll, which had been on display on news channels as the last thing she was carrying. He asks “Is that Mirabelle” Amanda replies, “Annabelle” leading us to believe that Helene didn’t pay attention enough to even know the name of her daughter’s favorite doll.

Gone Baby Gone tells us that what rules and laws consider the ‘right’ thing to do is not always what you should do. When laws and morality mix, there is not always one clearly defined right or wrong.

The film asks the audience, what would you have done? (Personally, if I were in Patrick’s shoes I would’ve let the Captain keep her.) Do you think he was right or wrong? Was there no such thing as right and wrong in this situation?

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26 thoughts on “What’s Up With That Ending?: Gone Baby Gone

  1. The Captain took an oath to protect and serve in the name of the law. When he kidnapped that girl, he broke his oath to the people: he placed himself and what he saw as right before the interests of the majority he was sworn to protect. Enter the slippery slope: if every cop operated on this type of “moral compass,” then how could they be trusted to do their jobs? How could they be trusted at all? If every cop operated according to personal conviction, then what good would the law be? Furthermore, the Captain’s kidnapping of the child (if allowed) sets a dangerous precedent, that precedent being “if an individual decides a child has an unfit family, that child can be taken without due process.” The problem here is this: who decides what the definition of an “unfit family” is? If individual people (like the Captain) are deciding, then that “definition” could range all the way from “families of coke addicts” to “families of Catholics.” Perhaps the Captain has something against the way Buddhists raise their kids: is he justified to kidnap said kids because of a personal conviction?

    We arrive again at the slippery slope of substituting personal conviction in the place of law: it might appear, on a microcosmic scale, to be the right course of action. However, this would only be the case in a philosophical “state of nature,” where law does not exist: under a social contract (the agreed upon law, which the Captain was sworn to uphold), the ability to act above the law in favor of personal conviction is fundamentally incompatible with the interests of the majority (the majority being those who create and uphold said social contract in the interest of protecting their safety and freedom). From this perspective, the Captain’s decision to kidnap the child is little more than self-interested treason against the the principles of organized society, regardless of whether or not the child would have been better off with him: if the Captain’s philosophy were applied on a macro-cosmic scale, society would necessarily descend back into a chaotic state of nature, due to the incompatibility outlined above.

    Thus, Patrick’s character was 100% justified in doing what he did: he recognized that the interests of a few do not outweigh the interests of the many, and he acted according to those principles by turning the Captain in. He upheld the agreed-upon law, seeing it as more important than the uncertain up-bringing of a single child. In this light, the film becomes an interesting dialogue on the compromise and sacrifice that is inherit in social contracts: whereas the individual in the state of nature serves simultaneously as the judicial, legislative and executive branches of his or her “laws” (as the Captain and other officers in the film did), the individual under the social contract must give up these rights in order to better secure his or her freedom from the uncertainty and chaos extant in the absence of a social contract.

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    • Sophomoric thought process. Sometimes you just have to cut that idealistic thought process, say “F*** it”, and do what you know to be right in the moment. This is not about “what if everybody did this”, this is about YOU, just you, and what you chose to do in that moment. Laws are not the ultimate word, and what everybody else “does” is irrelevant. Those lofty high minded ideals just destroyed that girls life.

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      • Let us say then, hypothetically and for argument’s sake, that I happen to strongly disagree with abortion. Let us then say that I bomb an abortion clinic, because at that moment, it is “what [I] know to be right,” based on my belief system. By your logic, this type of action would not only be normal, but also in a way commendable: after all, you make it quite clear that “laws are not the ultimate word,” and that “this is about YOU, just you.” Thus, by bombing that clinic I have (according to you) broken no ethical conventions; instead, I have acted in accordance with my own moral compass, a behavior you defend as moral.

        I disagree entirely with your premise, which is, ironically, even more “lofty” and “high minded” than mine. The only place in which your model of acceptable social behavior could exist without bringing about societal chaos would be a hypothetical utopia in which each and every citizen operated in accordance with a “general will.” But have we not seen such idealists as Rousseau and Marx, who espoused such theories, disproven time and time again? In the end, it comes down to the fact that humans are, by nature, a species diverse both physically and mentally, and are therefore incapable of coming to a common conclusion on the nature of moral action in each and every given scenario. Thus, we agree upon a common law, and in the process consciously give up the authority to take matters into our own hands (as Patrick did at the end of the film).

        In other words, we cannot assume that each and every citizen can singularly define the nature of ethical behavior, and then act according to this definition in a manner conducive to the general good of society, for such an assumption would require us to hold that each and every citizen is independently capable of coming to an identical definition of said behavior (not to mention acting in an identical capacity in respect to the definition) in the first place (an impossibility). Thus, this matter is not, as you say, all “about YOU, just you” and what “you” believe to be right: instead, it is about compromise, the finding of that agreed-upon middle ground known as law, by which our modern societies are able to function, regardless of whether the life of a single girl is ruined or not.

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    • My first feeling of Patrick’s decision was rage! How could you take that child and put her back in danger. Now that is coming from a mother ONLY seeing what is best for that little girl. after reading your take I agree with everything you said. When other’s only care about how Amanda could be effected by Patrick’s decision you see how everyone could be effected by Patrick’s decision. That makes you a very strong person that does not let there emotions make your decision. If I found myself having to choose it would be a emotional decision. It is not a right choice for the reason’s you talked about. That is why god made men stronger and women softer. There is a reason the bible outlines the duties of men and women. Let me stop before I go way off the topic. You have a great view of what is right for the well being of everyone. Nobody ever says someone has a great view. They are only thinking of what they are going to reply with to get there point across. I like to know what kind of job you have? You have great writing skills and your education level shows in your dialog.

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      • Thank you so much! I am currently studying my Masters degree in Cinema Studies. I’m hoping to get a job as a theatre teacher when I graduate. I also freelance for other websites. Thank you so much for your comments! 🙂

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      • Let me start off by saying I did not see the movie, but I read the book so I am unaware of any differences between the two. However, in the book Amanda’s mother left her sleeping on a beach for many many hours, which left Amanda with 3rd degree burns. Then to sooth her pain, instead of taking her to the doctor. Helen poured beer on her skin…A clear indication of abuse and neglect. I personally come from a very abusive home. I was sexually and emotionally abused from the time I was 4-15. I remember being 8 years old when I first found out about “social services”. I used to pray to God someone would take me away, that someone would love me. But that never happened, at 15 I ran away from home… I am not saying the actions of such cop are “right” for society. but they are no doubt a very good thing for Amanda. I now have two daughters, and a loving husband. But I struggle with allowing love into my heart, with feelings of inadequacy, and happiness. When one never feels loved as a child, it can lead to very deep emotional scaring, I wouldnt wish that on anyone. I would look the other way for the betterment of a child. I could never be, in any way responsible for the harm (emotional or physical) of a child.

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  2. Here’s the thing that seems to be missed in the way the movie ended. Yes he made a decision that could be debated wrong or right from either side of the question. But from the different opinions I’ve read they all missed one salient fact.

    Patrick didn’t just make a very difficult decision, he took responsibility for all, and I mean every little bit of the fallout from that decision. Why does he go to visit afterwards? Why does he offer to babysit when he sees the mother backsliding? Because he knows that while his answer to the question of what should happen to Amanda was right for him, it also makes him responsible for Amanda because of the aftermath of his actions.

    And to me that’s the real message of the movie. We’re all presented hard decisions, more or less, in our lives. And the biggest problem with these hard decisions is that we really don’t know what will ultimately occur because of what we decide. So we do the best we can with incomplete information. But once that decision is made we are responsible for what comes because we were an instrument in setting things down that particular path and need to live up to that responsibility.

    Right or wrong Patrick decided that Amanda should be with her mother. But in the final scene Patrick is there for Amanda just like her uncle before him was. I like to feel that he will be there for her for the rest of her life, and if need be will see her removed from her mother’s care.

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  3. This ending has been haunting me since i last watched it.. then i was searching for some explanation, either my thoughts about the film’s ending was right or not, because if it’s wrong then i would probably feel better… But then i found out that everybody was thinking the same too.. I agree with Gezzer, i would like to think that Patrick would stay with her although he has not any relation to her, a scene like that would destroy the film, but … it’s so heartbreaking not to think about it..

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  4. I just watched it.
    He screwed up. When asked if he’d do it again (after killing that pedo) he said NO. And I think that was supposed to be present in the ending scene. As in yes, you did do it again (make a bad decision). And he realizes it as he sits with her on the couch.

    If not. I still say he made the wrong decision. Maybe not the right decision technically. But the wrong one.

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  5. Patrick is a danger to society because he is an egotist. He is hiding behind words like legal, moral, duty-bound and contract, and fails to understand that he decreased the sum total of happiness in poor Amanda’s life. He is not “there for Amanda”, he is there because he feels guilty for her and it is too late.

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    • I’m sorry, but you’re making an awful lot of assumptions there and it wouldn’t be too surprising if your opinion is “coloured” by personal experience to a certain extent.

      In the context of the film Patrick right or wrong made a decision, pure and simple. We as viewers have the luxury of dissecting it and analyzing it to death. Then adding our own narrative to the overall story. In the film just as it is in the real world there is no way of knowing whether Patrick decreased Amanda’s “sum total of happiness” except in hindsight. And at that point it’s too late to retract any decision made.

      For all you know the judge (?) could of been a secret pedophile. Or she might of lived a privileged life and then died in a stupid auto accident during a teenage drinking episode. Or alternatively after a shaky early childhood could of (with or without Patricks help) worked hard to become a doctor/lawyer/teacher and go on to live a fulfilling life filled with joy and contentment.

      As for the question of Patrick feeling guilty? Yes I’d say he most likely does, because if he didn’t what would motivate him to be there for Amanda? Ask yourself a question. Has everything you’ve ever done been the correct action? Has everything you’ve done resulted in the optimum result? If you answered yes to either question or both you’re either a saint or highly self delusional. On the other hand if you more realistically answered no, how motivating was quilt for you to correct your mistakes?

      In the end it’s not just the decisions we make that are important, it’s what we do in response to the fallout from those decisions. So was Patrick’s decision right? In the context of the moment it’s highly debatable. But again as I said (much) earlier that isn’t the important point. It’s the fact he’s willing to do whatever it takes to “be there” (I’m assuming) for Amanda because his decision affected her life that’s important.

      It’s real easy to judge others as being imperfect. It’s much harder to embrace our collective imperfections and try to help each other overcome them.

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  6. Just saw it. I could have walked away and left her where she was loved. Did the job for nearly 30 years and sometimes doing nothing…does more good.

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    • And sometimes… it doesn’t. The problem is hindsight is 20/20, but we only have the luxury of hindsight once the decision is made and everything has run it’s course. I’m sure in that 30 years there were decisions and situations that you wished you’d done differently. If not you’re a very unique individual, and the first infallible one I’ve ever encountered. But the main thing is you did a job that very few of us could do, and have to accept the outcomes that weren’t as ideal as you would of liked because in the end you are fallible and just did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time.

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  7. I would’ve killed the pedophile, let Ed Harris live, let Morgan freeman raise the little girl, busted the real mother for possession, and married my girlfriend!

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  8. Damn good movie. Ben goes back to his roots in Boston. I might have grown up in California but lived in New England long enough to know life is a bit different there and I loved it. Harsh but real dialogue and characters true to their surroundings make this a powerful movie. The damn ending just pisses me off but I have to give props to the writers and the Affleck brothers for hitting one out of the yod. It is nearly impossible to agree or disagree with Patrick’s choice due to all of shit that is pulled by the police. However, had Patrick not killed a man execution style then making a decision that costs lives and puts good people behind bars while leaving the child with a mother that is never going to change her element “Arsenic” made my choice easy. He made the wrong decision. Yeah, people died in kidnapping the girl. People that would have died anyway unless they chose a different path. Also, as someone who was brought up by a lousy mother, not nearly as bad as Amanda’s, I would have thanked anyone that got me out of that toxic environment as a child. It screwed me up for life. So, fuck you Patrick’s character. You were wrong and you caused a hell of a lot of damage for doing what you believed was “the right thing”.

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    • And you’re projecting…
      I mean it’s alright, I grew up in a completely dysfunctional family and I’m scared for life too. It’s more common than many people think. But here’s the thing, you know what you know in hindsight which is always 20/20. When you make a decision, any decision you don’t have the luxury of knowing the outcome. So you feel he made the wrong one, others feel he didn’t, and I feel that it could be debated which one was correct because he didn’t know the outcome when he made it.
      IMHO that’s not the message of the movie anyway. It’s to make the decisions you make and then be prepared to stand by them and deal with any fallout from said decision. For example have you ever experienced foster care? Because even with not knowing your story, there’s a very real possibility that if someone had removed you from your mother’s care, foster care would of been a nightmare in comparison. It often is, let me tell you. If the person who did the removing was there to make sure everything turned out alright it would make all the difference. And that’s the thing, don’t decide and then disengage. Decide and then remain involved to ensure that the best possible outcome from your decision is the result.

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  9. This is actually a no-Brainer. The right decision would’ve been to leave her with Morgan Freeman’s character. From a utilitarian point of view, it clearly would’ve been the decision that was best for the girl and her future. And that’s all that should matter.

    Instead he returned the kid to his horrific, abusive, negligent mother out of a misguided need to “do the right thing.” He reminds me of the sort of person who would sit at a broken red light for 30 minutes straight, even if he could see miles in each direction and see that no one was coming. Or let’s say his friend was dying in the parking lot and he ran into the store to get some life saving material but forgot his wallet- he’s the type of person that wouldn’t simply steal the items to save his life. He’d just let him die in the parking lot because “stealing is wrong.” This is the type of shallow thinker Affleck’s character is.

    There’s a certain type of irrational person that can’t really think for themselves and determine right from wrong in any given situation, so they always appeal to authority, or the law. The Milgram experiment is instructive here. Some people think legality and morality are perfectly aligned, which is a psychopathic position to take. It’s transparently obvious that this isn’t the case, and laws are often unethical.

    It’s painfully obvious that he made the wrong choice by sending the girl back with her mother, and guaranteeing that she has a worse childhood and life. This shouldn’t even be a debate, it’s too obvious. Anyone who thinks he did the right thing doesn’t just have an interesting difference of opinion- they’re objectively wrong in this case

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    • And if the story ended with the mother doing a 180 and being the quintessential perfect mother, your opinion would be that he did the right thing right? We have the luxury of hindsight here that he didn’t have, so of course everyone will say he should’ve left her with the judge. But as I’ve said previously, we also have no idea what her life with the judge would be going forward, or her life with her mother.

      It’s not the decision that matters. It’s what he does in the aftermath of his decision that matters. If he left her with the judge and never checked in to make sure everything was okay, he’d be just as guilty as he would be if he did the same with the mother. We ALL make decisions that in hindsight might be wrong, it’s human nature. It’s what we do with the results of that decision that matters.

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      • Actually ut wasnt a hindsight it was what was going to happen. Uncle said she neglected child in car for 2 hours and mother always hung put with druggies. So by being a mr goodie goodie he ruined this kids life.

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      • Before the child disappeared of course. But hey people don’t change or deserve the right to change right? Plus that isn’t my point.
        My point has been and will always be that he made a decision for whatever reasons he did. His decision can be debated back and forth and I’m not even saying he was right or wrong because it was a decision made with the information he had at the time.
        It’s easy to watch a story and say to yourself “Oh I would have done that instead.” Why? Because we know the outcome of the decision. In real life we don’t, so we do the best we can with incomplete information.
        The main point of the story is that no matter what you decide you have to live with the fallout of that decision. If needed you have to be there to pick up the pieces. That we can’t make life altering decisions for other people and then just walk away. Why is this concept so hard to understand for some of you?

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  10. I really don’t think there is anything such as morality or catholic beliefs in Patrick’s decision.
    He was just like some other guy in college who had crush on his senior, Cassey. Otherwise, why would he discuss about their college life repeatedly, even though Cassey did not know him in college.
    He did it because of his promise to crying Cassey, who was grieving Ryan’s death more than loss of her daughter. He was just not smart enough to understand that. Also, he might have wanted to impress Cassey desperately, because he did not care about anyone else while making the decision.

    He was ready to leave his wife and sabotage the future of a young girl. He ignored her happiness when everyone else could see it and they explained it to him in I guess convincing enough manner. But, he just remembered his promise to Cassey and how desperately he wanted to impress her.
    *Another jerk from college!

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  11. I both read the book and saw the movie. The movie differs somewhat from the movie in that the ending contains an “add on”. In the book, there isn’t the confusing scene with Morgan Freeman, nor the incident where he asks Amanda what the name of her doll is

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