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The classical theory is one that believes that human beings were believed to act in terms of their own self-interest, but also to be capable of considering which course of action was really in their self-interest(Classical 1). Also the classical theorists believed that people were free willed, making them completely responsible for their actions(Bohm 12). The state would then construct laws and punishments in such a way that people would understand peaceful and non-criminal actions to be in their self-interest through strategies of punishment based on deterrence(Classical 1). When it came to punishing individuals, Beccaria believed that the only purpose for punishment was for deterrence to make sure that that individual or anyone else who knew of the crime did not also commit the same crime(Bohm 14).
One of the assumptions that the classical theory makes is that it assumes that everyone is motivated to engage in crime through the pursuit of their self-interests(Agnew 17). As a child most of what you do is in the pursuit of your own self-interest, at least so it seems at the time. In the beginning of the movie the crimes start out slow that Henry commits and seems to drag Mark into every time he does, but with them being so small Mark does not think anything of them. For instance, the two boys start throwing rocks acting as they were grenades and it then escalades into throwing the rocks through panes of glass on the building that they are inside of. Another example, it is right after that point in the movie that Henry takes Mark to a well and pulls a box out of the well that he has hidden. Inside the box are a lighter and some cigarettes that Henry lights up and gets Mark to take a drag.
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As the story goes on, the crimes that Henry is committing become much more serious. A couple I like to think relate to the first assumption of pursuit of his own self-interest. You find out early in the movie that Henry’s younger brother had died years before from drowning in the bathtub, and later it comes out that Henry is actually the one that drowned his brother. Also, Henry is very abusive to his sister Connie on several instances during the movie both physically and verbally. In one scene after the parents go out for the night they begin to play hide and seek in the house when Henry cuts the power off in the house. He then scares her horribly when she turns around, and then hints around to Mark that he wants to hurt her. This may seem like normal brother-sister relationship but at one point in the movie Henry actually does try to kill Connie. The two of them were ice skating on a pond together holding hands when Henry swung Connie out onto some thin ice and when she stood up she fell right through into the water. Henry does then proceed to crawl out on the ice to her and pretends to give her a hand but he never really does make much of an effort and when she goes under the ice and men try to cut her out he just lays on the ice with not much expression on his face. The way I see this as being in pursuit of his own self-interest is possibly trying to get rid of any competition he would have as a child to his parents, and by getting rid of his siblings he would be an only child again.
The second thing that the classical theory assumes is that people are rational and engage in crime to minimize their pain and maximize their pleasure(Agnew 17). Henry is a very sick and twisted kid and it seems that he gets his pleasure from hurting other people or things or making them suffer. There are many instances in this movie where he displays this very well. There are numerous times when he brings up his younger brothers death. The first time is was at the well with Mark and he discussed looking at his dead body and blue face and lips with not much remorse on his face or in his voice. The other time is he randomly brought up Mark wanting to move into his brother’s old room when the fact is that it had not been discussed before, and then sat and watched as his mother and father argued about it. There were also a couple of occasions involving shooting at animals that seemed to give Henry pleasure. The first was when Henry pulled out his homemade crossbow that shoots bolts, as he began to aim at a cat Mark told him not to hit it but to only scare it. Henry did end up not hitting the cat but he seemed pretty upset when he missed. The second time was with the same gun later on in the movie and Mark kept giving Henry the ideas to shoot at a sign or a light. Henry decided to try to shoot at a dog and told Mark he was just going to give him a scare, but in fact actually aimed at the dog and hit it, killing it. Then when they dump the dead dog into the bottom of the well, Mark seems really upset at the situation while Henry does not seem to care.
The biggest scene in the movie really corresponds with the idea of minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure is when Henry gets Mark to help him carry a dummy to a bridge and set him on the edge, and after talking a little bit Henry pushes off the dummy in front of a motor home which slams on the brakes causing a massive pile up on the highway and the whole time it happens Henry is very amused. The boys start running and up the road they see the cops coming, so to hide the climb under the road into a little tunnel. While in the tunnel Mark expresses his feelings toward the situation and how bad it was, Henry just responds by saying, “once you realize you can get away with anything you are free, you can fly.” In that line right there it seems very evident that all the criminal activities that Henry commits are to help him feel good inside.
The third assumption is that whether people engage in crime is largely dependent on the swiftness, certainty, and appropriateness of the punishment(Agnew 18). When this assumption was made by the classical theorists is was probably made more towards the punishment by law, but in this paper I am looking more towards the punishment given out by Henry’s parents. Since most of the incidents that Henry commits are never known about until the end of the movie, it really is not possible for them to hand out any punishment severe enough. However, Mark is with Henry every time that he does commit one of these criminal acts and does not tell anyone about them until the incident at the pond. Mark does tell Henry’s mother about the pond incident and what Henry did but she responds by slapping him and not believing him by saying, “never come to me with these lies again.” I can see how this would be hard for a parent to believe, but I would think something of that nature would be worth at least looking into. Then when Mark tell his father, who is out of the country, about what was going on his father tells him to go talk to his therapist about what is happening but when he gets there Henry is already there telling the therapist that Mark is the one doing all of these horrible things, and she believes him. It is not until the end that the mother does try to do something about Henry and when she does he tries to push her off a cliff and when she catches herself on a branch he does then proceed to throw a large rock at her.
Agnew, Robert, and Francis T. Cullen. 2003. Criminological Theory: Past To Present. “A General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency.” P. 209-14. Los Angeles: Roxbury.
Bohm, Robert M. 2001. A Primer On Crime and Delinquency Theory. “Social Control Theories.” P. 90-1. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Classical Theory: The Basics. 9 May 05. http://www.homestead.com/rouncefield/files/a_soc_dev_10.htm.