The Beach Bum: 10 Tricky Philosophical Questions It Raises

8. Should We Consider The Law A Moral Code?

The Beach Bum Matthew McConaughey
Vice Studios

The Beach Bum takes place in a bizarre alternate universe in which the law is little more than a suggestion. At one point, Moondog pushes a wheelbarrow full of pot down the middle of an open street while onlookers applaud his presence. He smokes weed in public constantly. His friend Captain Wack has had his boat license revoked five times, yet it never seems to stick. Rules and regulations exist, but repercussions for defying them are more of a myth than a certainty.

Even when the law does catch up with Moondog, he leaves rehab early and continues to engage in criminal behaviors. His friends tell him that the police are on his tail, but he manages to evade capture simply by wearing a dress. Moondog doesn't even change his name, publicly accepting a Pulitzer for his highly celebrated memoir. He continues to don women's attire, but the disguise alone doesn't explain his successful evasion of the fuzz. In no world does a bearded Matthew McConaughey make for a convincing woman.

Simply put, The Beach Bum's cast of caricatures don't value the law. Moreover, there are real-world ethical theories to question if they should.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development, we reach our highest stage of moral evolution when we learn to choose between our own values and those assigned by social contracts. When Moondog and Lingerie load a plane with weed to transport, they stand in violation of several major regulations. Does that make their actions immoral if they truly believe their product will make people happier? Or are they simply, as Kohlberg might say, a little post-conventional?


Kieran enjoys overanalyzing and arguing about pop culture, believing that heated debates can (and should) be had in good fun. He currently lives in Fort Worth, TX, where he spends his time chatting with strangers on the bus and forcing them to look at pictures of his dog.