Free Essays - Dead Man Walking

Free Essays - Dead Man Walking

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Dead Man Walking


      The motion picture Dead Man Walking provided a non-fiction insight into

the world of crime, justice, and capital punishment.  The film cast several

characters from different backgrounds and opinion sets in direct conflict with

one another.  Several small topics and one major topic, capital punishment, were

explored over the duration of the movie.  While the opinions and reactions of

people to Dead Man Walking may vary, the one constant is that people will have

a reaction.


      Sister Helen Preje, the Catholic nun, appeared to be a genuinely

concerned person who took a real interest in the condemned prisoner.  She came

from a strong background but chose to "give back" to others.  Sister Helen

explained her need to "give back" during the film and appeared to be completely

serious about her commitment to helping others. Sister Helen did not wear her

habit during the course of the film.  Many people have a stereotypical vision of

Catholic nuns: the habit, seemingly out-of-touch thoughts and ideals, and older

and/or without any vitality.  Sister Helen showed what being a Catholic and a

Catholic nun is truly about.  She accepted a call for help from a complete

stranger. Instead of turning away or giving up, she persisted, showing what

love and, in a way, courage could do under such dire circumstances.  Through it

all, she did it with spirit, life, vitality, and strength.  Her relationship

with the convict, Matthew Poncelet, was on two levels.  The first was as a

friend and confidant.  Sister Helen was the first to truly explore Matthew for

Matthew.  Others tried to learn about him, but only to vilify or condemn him.

The second level was as a messenger of religion, a messenger of God.  For the

very first time, Matthew was given the opportunity to realize his worth as a

human, and his worth in the eyes of God.  Through this understanding, he was

able to realize the value of all human life, including those who he murdered.

Sister Helen's relationship with the families of Matthew and the victims was

honest and up-front.  She approached each with a hopeful attitude, trying to

understand them while also trying to give them peace.  In each instance, she was

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uncertain and apprehensive.  This fact is not surprising, however, because

Sister Helen is only human, and her religion is human as well.  The only path

to certainty is experience, and this was Sister Helen's first time as spiritual

advisor to a death-row inmate.  All in all, Sister Helen was a shining example

of strength, courage, and love that all people could look up to.


      In the beginning of the film, Matthew Poncelet was not a likable

character.  He was stubborn, arrogant, biased, hateful, and seemed to want

company only for his own amusement.  He did not appear to care about his crime,

nor those whose lives his crime changed forever.  However, he appeared to let

down a guard during the course of the film, which revealed a less-monstrous

human being struggling internally with a fact about himself that he could not

erase, with pride, and with a need to outlet his internal feelings. His anger

about his sentencing was justified; his accomplice and apparent leader was only

given a life sentence while he was to die.  While this is certainly an unfair

situation, it is unfair because the accomplice deserved the maximum penalty

under the law as much as Poncelet.  Towards the end of the film, Poncelet

appeared to be a changed person.  He learned, with the help of Sister Helen,

that the truth would save him.  And in admitting the truth, he learned the value

of life and of love.  He said in his final few hours, "...I needed to die to find

love..."  But, in the end, he appeared to truly accept his actions, the

repercussions of his actions, and his fate.  He was truly sorry and changed in

the end.


      Earl Delacroix was the father of the teenage boy who was murdered by

Matthew Poncelet.  He harbored a lot of hatred and sadness because of the

slaying.  To make matters worse, the murder of his son caused a rift between

Earl and his wife, eventually leading to the filing of divorce papers.  In a way,

Matthew Poncelet killed Earl's son, his marriage, and his heart.  Anyone whose

interpersonal relationships have been affected by outside influences could

easily relate to Earl, an honest man with a good heart. Obviously, anyone who

has lost a child or even a loved one would relate to the strain, sadness, loss,

and emptiness Earl felt after his son was suddenly taken from him.  But the

feeling that many, including myself, can relate to is the helplessness when a

relationship dear to you starts slipping away because of outside influences and

situations that are beyond your control.  Those situations do not need to

involve murder, but they could include different family values, intolerant

friends or family, sickness, employment differences or changes, geographical

changes, educational differences, and more.  Earl's situation shows how fragile

interpersonal relationships truly are, and how people must actively participate

in relationships together, and not rely on one aspect to hold it strong. Earl's

son was that aspect for his marriage.


      The parents of the slain teenage girl, whose daughter was not murdered

by Poncelet but was raped by him, were justifiably upset when they learned that

someone was taking the time to apparently try to save the murderer.  They asked

Sister Helen at one point "How can you sit with that scum?", and asked her to

leave their home when they realized that she had not become as bloodthirsty as

they were.  It was understandable that they felt hurt by a Catholic nun's

decision to attempt to help someone who had no value for human life.  However,

their attacks on Sister Helen, no matter how passive aggressive, were

reprehensible.  The family, unlike Mr. Delacroix, showed no interest in being

helped to understand her situation.  They simply wanted her, and everyone else,

to call for blood.  The family did not want to see any equal justice for Matthew

Poncelet and his accomplice, they simply wanted either or both dead.

Furthermore, it appeared that they needed Matthew's death for themselves rather

than for the sake of justice, or for their daughter.  At the end of the film,

during Matthew's last words to Earl Delacroix, they griped, "What about us?!"

One would wonder what would happen to their relationship after the death of

Poncelet.  Or, what would happen between them and their other daughter.  The

movie left such questions unanswered, but one is forced to question whether or

not the capital punishment of Matthew Poncelet truly served as a healing for

that family, or whether it was only the beginning of trouble for them.  People

tend to hold on to a problem or severe, urgent situation as a driving force.

Sometimes, without proper channeling of their feelings and anger, the closure of

such a situation leaves a void too large to be overcome.  While the answer may

not be known in this particular case, their actions and statements cause

viewers to question it.


      The film shows that capital punishment affects more people and lives

than one would perceive.  It also shows there is value in every human life, and

with proper guidance, anyone can change.  Matthew Poncelet was not a danger to

society at the end of the film.  He had been humbled and had made a conscious

decision to attempt, in any way he could, to ease the pain he had caused.  He

provides hope that anyone in his situation could become a better person, and

could possibly affect lives in a positive way.  While it might be stretching

such an observation to say that a convicted murderer should be let free, it

would be fair to say that a life sentence is not merely wasting tax-dollars.  A

life sentence allows a person to reflect upon his or her past and change the

person that he or she is.  It allows for the possibility of helping others to

not make the same mistakes.  Sister Helen stated "I'm just trying to follow the

example of Jesus who said every person is worth more than her/her worse act."

This statement is relevant to her situation because indeed she was trying to

show Matthew that he was a human being, not an animal or worse.  She also was

trying to help his family deal with Matthew's actions, and move on knowing that

he was a person who made a mistake.  In many ways, that statement could very

well have been the thesis statement of the movie.  Sister Helen, like Jesus,

befriended the society-labeled "vermin", and gave him some semblance of self

worth, importance, and most important of all, dignity.

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