A sociologist by the name of Lawrence Kohlberg gained fame for his theory of morality. According to Kohlberg, there are six stages of moral development that each person goes through in his or her lifetime. Each stage represents a different level of morality, demonstrated by the individual’s ability to reason difficult situations with increasing intelligence and mature thought processes. To illustrate his point, Kohlberg often referred to the “Heinz Dilemma”. The dilemma sets up a fictitious story about a man whose wife is diagnosed with a terminal illness, but cannot afford her pricy medicine. The question asked, then, is what the man should do and why. Should he rob the pharmacy, because it isn’t fair that he can’t afford the treatment? Should he try to raise the money through the use of charity, and rely on the kindness of strangers? Or, should he give up, and face the inevitable, because life isn’t just? The answers described by the participants involved determine their level of moral development, based on the complexity of their explanations.
The new black comedy, Cheap Thrills, plays out a perfect demonstration of the Heinz Dilemma. If you were caught between a rock and hard place, how far would you go to pull yourself out of the stressful situation? This film dares to explore the darkest depths of this scenario, and ventures farther than anyone could have anticipated. Craig’s content life with his loving wife and infant daughter is harshly interrupted when he receives an eviction notice on his apartment door. He has to pay $4500 by the end of the week, or he and his family will be thrown out on the streets. As if his situation couldn’t be more desperate, his boss at the garage informs him that he is no longer employed, due to the need to cut back on salaries in the bad economy. Shortly after receiving this upsetting news, Craig visits the local pub, where he runs into his old high school buddy, Vince, for the first time in about five years. While they are catching up, they’re invited to participate in the celebration of a stranger’s birthday party. The friendly couple, named Violet and Colin, find amusement in challenging Craig and Vince to various dares, and paying hefty rewards to the victor of each competition. Together, the group embarks on a long night of drugs, betrayal, and wicked deeds.
The dares start out small and simple, like trying to win at darts, then gradually become increasingly malevolent, forcing Craig and Vince to test the limits of their friendship, and their moral compass. Craig sees a simple fix to his daunting financial burdens, and Vince sees an easily attainable get-rich-quick scheme. But will their participation determine their moral standing? How far is too far when the opportunity arises for easy money? And, do the ends really justify the means? Cheap Thrills bravely tackles all of these intricate questions with creativity, laughs, and extreme brutality. Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are a manically magical pair, as the childhood friends who briefly put aside their differences, just to have them exploited by the end of the night. The emotional roller coaster that the duo undergoes is both thrilling and terrifying to watch. Sara Paxton and David Koechner are equally exciting as the couple that gets their rocks off by witnessing others engage in ludicrous, vicious competition. Watching the crew work together proves to be one of the most enjoyable experiences in film in recent memory.
Every once in a while, a film comes along that makes the audience wonder what he or she would do in the same situation. How far would we go to protect our assets, and how much are we willing to give up to achieve economic stability? The answer is probably more than we’re willing to admit. Lucky for us, we get to sit back and watch someone else explore these questions, and the result is a raunchy, original, joyfully absurd ride. Each dare is more outlandish than the last, even going as far as to defecate in the neighbor’s house for $800, waking up the daughter of the house in the process. It was a bit odd how the family never showed up to confront the gang about their tarnished home, but the film was still believable as a whole. Altogether, the Heinz Dilemma was executed in a painfully accurate manner, showing the world just how far one man will go to sustain the durability of what he holds dear. The question of whether or not he is morally justified in his actions, is for the audience to decide.