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How does Tim Robbins's direction of the execution scene in Dead Man Walking influence the viewer's feelings about the death penalty in the USA?

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Introduction

How does Tim Robbins's direction of the execution scene in Dead Man Walking influence the viewer's feelings about the death penalty in the USA? Dead Man Walking is a film based on the book of the same name - it recounts the experiences of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun from Louisiana. It focuses on her relationship with Matthew Poncelet, a convicted murderer on Death Row. There are five main themes that run through the film, and these are brought together during the execution scene. The themes are as follows: the ongoing suffering of the families of the victims of Poncelet's crime, the connections between Christianity and the death penalty, the gradual bonding of Helen Prejean and Matthew Poncelet, and that the death penalty is simply unpleasant. Robbins uses several different techniques to present the process of state execution as a very cold, clinical process. Close-ups are used to force the viewer to take in what is being shown, for example, the shot of the gloved hand that swabs Poncelet's arm with alcohol before the catheter is inserted creates a feeling of impersonality, as if an unnamed being is initiating his death; we do, however, see the hand's face for a short time before the camera moves to Poncelet's arm, and we notice that it belongs to the same woman that treated Prejean after she ...read more.

Middle

He also addresses Mr. Delacroix, and asks for forgiveness, and then the Percies, and tells them that he hopes his death brings some relief to their lives. This shows that Poncelet is remorseful, which makes the viewer sympathise with him, and therefore makes the viewer biased against the death penalty. From the beginning of the execution scene, Prejean is wearing black. This is significant because Prejean had previously been wearing pastel coloured clothes, and her wearing black is a sign of mourning - again, we see the idea of 'death before death', which further turns us against the death penalty. Poncelet, however, is wearing a white t-shirt, when he had previously been wearing blue overalls. In the previous scene, Poncelet confessed to Prejean to killing Walter Delacroix. He wears white because his confession marked the cleansing of his guilt, and white is a sign of purity and cleansing. The fact that he is wearing white also ties in with Isaiah 43:1. Because he is wearing white during his execution, we get a sense of killing a pure being, which we generally believe to be fundamentally wrong, so makes the viewer believe that the death penalty is a bad thing. Throughout the film, we see the relationship between Prejean and Poncelet develop - this is shown not only by their emotions, but by the physical barriers between them. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is a wedding ring on her finger, symbolising her marriage to Christ. The close-up of the ring on her finger and of her reading the Bible to him both remind the viewer that she originally came to Poncelet's aid as part of her religious vocation, and the fact that the Bible she is reading from was a gift from Poncelet to her is another manifestation of the bond between them. One of the few pro-death penalty arguments that the film puts forward is the victims' families' suffering. When Prejean enters the viewing room, we see Mr. Delacroix and the Percies. The camera shows them side-on, with their shoulders turned towards Prejean and Poncelet's lawyer. This emphasises their hostility towards Prejean. After one of the flashbacks, we see Poncelet lying unconscious through the glass of the viewing room. We do not, however, see the viewers reflected in the glass, but we see the faces of Hope Percy and Walter Delacroix. This gives us the feeling that Poncelet has finally paid for his crime, and that the victims have been put to rest. Although the execution scene makes an attempt to be unbiased towards the death penalty, there is more in the scene opposing the death penalty than there is to make us biased towards it - in fact, there is very little obviously pro-death penalty content in the film. ?? ?? ?? ?? George Adje 10Latymer Page 1 12/07/2008 ...read more.

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