Tuesday, May 24, 2011


(December 1995, U.S.)

In any social situation, there are sensitive subjects that are bound to raise their ugly heads and become hot, if not heated. Religion, politics, global warming, whether or not someone like Lady Gaga should be removed from this world and, I suppose, issues surrounding the death penalty. For the purpose of this blog, subjects like religion, racism and the use of nuclear weapons have been raised by certain film selections and I haven't been shy (yet) about giving my opinions. In the case of Tim Robbin's-directed film, DEAD MAN WALKING, I'll perhaps leave the subject matter alone and stick to the film itself; because in case you haven't noticed yet, I'm not running a blog to voice one's political views (you'll have to look elsewhere for that).

If absolutely nothing else, it's very easy to claim that DEAD MAN WALKING persistently refuses to take sides when addressing both arguments on the death penalty; for or against. From the beginning of the film, when we first meet death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (played dramatically well by Sean Penn), we are exposed to a monster who took part in the savagely brutal rape and murder of two teenagers. But at the same time, we're asked to look beyond the monster on the surface and discover the human being inside. Sure, it's presumably easy for kind-hearted nun Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) to do that, but whether or not we can do it is up to the individual viewer. The film, however, very cleverly doesn't give you the opportunity to stay focussed on one side of the argument for very long. Through a series of momentary flashbacks, we are constantly reminded of the horrific crime that Poncelet committed along side his accomplice. Even at the final moment when Poncelet is escorted to his death and strapped down in a manner resembling Jesus Christ on the crucifix, we just might find ourselves experiencing a momentary feeling of compassion for the man. We might even think to ourselves, "This man doesn't deserve this." But wait - before you get caught up too much in your bleeding-heart liberal attitude of the matter, we're given one final moment of the crime in its entirety, as if the film were actually saying to us, "Wait just a damn minute! Take a good, hard look at what this man did to these kids and don't you ever forget it!" Back and forth, back and forth, the film refuses to take sides, and that's probably the most reasonable position it can take on the matter.

By the way, I support the death penalty.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Matthew Poncelet: "I like rebels. Some blacks is okay. Martin Luther King, he led his people all the way to DC and kicked the white man's butt."
Sister Helen Prejean: "You respect Martin Luther King?"
Matthew: "He put up a fight. He wasn't lazy."
Helen: "What about lazy whites?"
Matthew: "Don't like 'em."
Helen: "So it's lazy people you don't like."
Matthew: "Can we talk about somethin' else?"


  1. You have the back and forth positioning of the film down very accurately. I could only bear to watch this once in the theaters. Of course earlier in the same day I saw Leaving Las Vegas. If anyone was on the brink before that, this was a double feature that would throw you over the edge.

  2. In December 2005, I went to a multiplex to see Spielberg's MUNICH. After that, I walked into another theater to watch SYRIANA. Talk about your deep, almost depressing double feature. Great films, though!