Would you agree to spend 3 to 6 years in a Malaysian prison to save your friend’s life, who has been serving his sentence there? He will be hanged if you don’t.
You want to say yes. You should say yes. It’s partially your fault that he’s there. But here’s another problem: He’s losing his sanity. He is horribly treated.
But if he’s that far gone, the same thing could happen to you. Is it worth it?
Don’t write me off as inhumane, or insensitive. I’m merely being honest while conveying the opinions of the friends who are in this dilemma.
Return to Paradise Story:
MAJOR CONFLICT 1: Sacrifice 3-6 years of your life to save your friend’s
3 friends, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony (David Conrad) vacation in Malaysia and have a great time, not without the help of some weed. Later Tony and Sheriff return home while Lewis stays for a bit longer.
A couple of years later, Sheriff and Tony are contacted by Beth (Anne Heche), Lewis’ lawyer, and given some tragic news: Lewis has been locked up in prison there, having been caught with enough weed to be considered drug trafficking. He was sentenced to be hanged; having to serve the sentence for all three of them. There’s, however, a deal on the table:
If Beth can return to Malaysia with Lewis or Sheriff, her client will live, and eventually gain his freedom. The other will serve 6 years in the same prison.
If Beth returns with both of them, each will serve 3 years and will have saved their friends’ life.
And while they want to do the noble thing, leaving a semi-comfortable life for a bleak future they know is already destroying Lewis – a future they might very well not survive keeps them question their decision, sense of morality and friendship.
Granted, the first conflict is what attracted me to watch Return to Paradise. I stayed to see how the dilemma would pan out. I also liked being conflicted within myself, asking myself what I would do. Sure, you can try to dismiss the idea by rightly thinking you’d smart enough not to smoke weed in a foreign country where it is illegal and the punishment is severe.
But what if you did? Or you didn’t do anything illegal, but your friend got wrongly convicted. What if the deal remained the same? What would you do then? Still, it’s your sanity, your life at stake. But then again…could you live with yourself if you let your friend be killed?
Supporting Conflict: Can you leave your life, future and fiancée behind?
Now it is unfair to think that just because Sheriff is single and drives a limo for a living with no further career aspirations, it should be easier for him to do the right thing.
But on the other hand, you have Tony’s fiancée (Vera Farmiga), who has no fault or whatsoever to be in this situation. She doesn’t want her fiancé to leave, his life or her. And while she often comes off bitchy, you can hardly blame her. She hasn’t even met Lewis. It’s easier for her to be selfish.
But then again, what makes her future marriage more valuable than Lewis’ life? What makes Tony’s life more valuable than Lewis’? In hindsight, getting over your guy should be relatively easier than not preventing a person’s death.
MAJOR Conflict 2: Getting involved with one of the guys she has to get to prison
If there is anything that could make the situation even more complicated, and the first conflict even stronger, is falling for Sheriff. And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view,) Sheriff falls for her too.
Doing the right thing seems even more important. He wants to prove to others that he’s a bigger person than they believe. He wants her to believe that he is not some shallow, aimless guy. He also needs to believe, for himself, that saving his friend is more important than him going through his life without a purpose.
From this point on, I’ll be showering you with spoilers, so you might want to see the movie first. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and its power on me doesn’t subside.
Major Conflict 3: Beth’s relationship with Lewis
Seeing Lewis’, and the prison’s conditions are enough to cause Tony to have second thoughts. But the turning point comes when Beth lets it slip that Lewis is not just her client. He’s her younger brother.
Both Tony and Sheriff set out to leave, but Sheriff decides to stay.
Beth is relieved that Sheriff stayed, but is shocked when the Malaysian court breaks the deal due to the story a hungry reporter published-Lewis is to be hanged, and the sentence of Sheriff is to be decided.
Now Beth has to fight for Sheriff, who stayed for her. Because of her. They stay together, but we don’t see whether she was ever able to gain his freedom…
Return to Paradise isn’t without its flaws. It could have taken a bit longer to develop the relationship between Sheriff and Beth.
But overall, it is one of my favorite stories to portray morality, friendship, love, guilt and the struggle to do the right thing (no matter how difficult that might be.)
It also contains highly powerful conflicts that keep you questioning your own capacity to do what’s right and your tendency to do what won’t make you suffer.
Would you go back to save your friend? Could you really trust a government to hold to their end without any written agreement? Hell, could you trust them with a written agreement? Would you risk it in the name of friendship and love?
I’d like to think that I’d, but things are never as simple as deciding your hypothetical fate in front of a movie.