Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Dead Man Walking

A note to all readers before continuing, this is a rated R movie about a very graphic subject.

At school, it isn't very often that you get to watch a movie simply for enjoyment. Mostly you watch biographies or something of that sort. Occasionally though, a teacher goes out of the way to alleviate the senioritis and finds interesting everyday movies that relate to the topic, but also have a plot. Government class is one of those times. We were discussing delinquency and also the death penalty and watched the film Dead Man Walking.

This is an older movie that came out in 1995. It gives a somewhat shocking look into the things that people will do when put under peer pressure. Matthew Poncelet is played by Sean Penn. He's a man who was locked away for murder and rape. His sentence? Death. He and a friend often harrassed couples in "quiet areas". One day it went too far and the young woman was raped and murdered along with her boyfriend. Matthew's friend however was not given the death penalty but rather life in prison. The truly controversial part is that Matthew's friend had a better lawyer and Matthew was given one who had never before tried a murder case. During the entire trial he did not make one objection.

The story focuses on Sister Helen Prejean who is a nun played by Susan Sarandon. (side note for my relatives: she looks just like Aunt Jan with a southern accent) She works in a predominately African American area working with the kids and giving them someplace to go rather than being on the streets. I believe it is also a small time school. One of the members of the community comes to her with a letter from a man soon to be executed, Matthew. He's studied up on law and has come up with a case that could possibly reduce his sentence to life in prison rather than death. He's terrified and is begging for help to find a lawyer that would take his case pro bono; a.k.a. for free. Sister Helen answers his letter and later goes to meet him to try and help him come to terms with what he had a hand in. She doesn't ever condone what he did but she believe's that in his heart he is tormented by it and doesn't believe it was justice for him to be given the death penalty.

Whether he actually had any part in the murder is actually question as well. This was a very moving film. I think that it seriously could make you consider the things you value in life and the question of how just are the decisions that are made in court about these cases. It also delves deeply into the idea of closure and also forgiveness, and whether a person can be angry and hurt and incredibly upset, but can still find it in their heart to forgive. It takes a strong person to do that, especially in the case presented in this movie.

This movie is definitely a tear jerker. (read: I cried my eyes out and my friends called me on it) This movie is rated R for VERY graphic scenes of death and rape, I give it


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