Ethical Dilemmas

Throughout Au Revoir, Les Enfants, Julien faces many difficult ethical decisions which force him to choose between easy and right and, though just a young boy, he often chooses the morally right option. However, because of his background and the time period, there is often a very thin line between what he is told and what he feels is right, a fact which leads to challenging decisions.

Julien's first choice comes when Jean arrives as the new student at the school. Right away, the other boys begin to mock him for his differences and simply for being new. This intensifies later on when Jean hides his true religion by saying he is Protestant. Even though this is a lesser evil than being Jewish, the Roman Catholics still discriminate against him. At this point, Julien must decide between the easy option of following all his friends and excluding Jean or befriending him and sticking up for him. Though Julien wavers and seems ambivalent towards Jean, after their game in the woods and because of the secret they share, they become good friends.

There is a period of time before Julien becomes friends with Jean when he knows Jean's identity. During this time, Julien faces a choice of whether to reveal Jean's secret to the other boys, the teachers, or even the patrolling Germans. Though it would seem out of character for Julien to tell an adult, he keeps the secret even from his friends and fellow students showing his loyalty to Jean even before they seem to truly be friends.

At one point in the movie, Julien's actions demonstrate that his ethical decisions are affected by his young age and the influences of others. Because of his brother's poor example, Julien makes the bad decision to trade food with Joseph against Father John's wishes. When Joseph is found out he is fired while the boys (including Julien and Francois) are only slightly punished because of their parents' connections and money. This event leads to Joseph's bitterness and betrayal and leaves Julien with a certain amount of guilt. In this situation, Julien fails to make the morally right ethical decision not only because he disobeys in the first place, but also because he does not stand up for Joseph when he is dismissed or even truly apologize.

When Julien discovers Joseph's involvement in the Nazi capture of the Jews, he confronts him and their ensuing conversation reveals much about Julien's opinion of right and wrong. Though saying little, Julien clearly expresses his disgust with Joseph's desire for money and power over doing the right thing. Julien is only a young boy, but through this encounter we come to realize that he views the actions of the Holocaust and of war with horror.

Near the conclusion of the film, Julien makes a decision that, though not really an ethical choice, plauges his conscience for the rest of the movie and the guilt probably continued until after the war. When the Nazis enter the classroom looking for Jean, Julien looks back at him, an action which gives his friend away. Before he is taken away, Jean tries to reassure Julien, insisting that "they would have gotten [him] anyway", but Julien's terrible guilt is still apparent. This one mistake, though not done for morally wrong reasons, haunts Julien for the rest of the movie.