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Dead man walking

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R.E Coursework

Describe and explain the Christian concept of love and forgiveness with reference to the film “Dead Man Walking”

What do Christians mean by “love”?

Love has many meanings in English. It can mean an intense feeling of affection, an emotion or emotional state. In ordinary use, it usually refers to impersonal love such as the Christian belief that people should be accepted as they are, no matter what their race, religion or colour and that everyone should be equally respected.

Christians believe that love is unconditional in that we cannot just stop loving others, regardless of what they have done. They think that we should give to others less fortunate than ourselves and not give up on the thing or person we love no matter what the circumstances are. The term "love" in English covers many things, including erotic love, love between parent and child, brotherly love, etc. Christian love can be modelled on love between parent and child and brotherly love. We are told to love everyone, particularly enemies. However this does not mean that we will like everyone. Love is not primarily an emotion, although it often involves the emotions, and is supported by them. It is primarily a commitment to care about someone.

What do Christians mean by “forgiveness”?

Forgiveness of sins is one of the key marks of Christianity. Christ died to seal our forgiveness by God and Christians believe that we expected to respond by forgiving each other, and acting as a force for reconciliation in the world. Christians believe we are called on to forgive enemies, both Christian and non-Christian. This forgiveness is intended to benefit both parties. In many cases it may win over the other person, and restore a relationship with them. Christians believe we should bear no grudges and act as if the situation of event never happened.  

Forgiveness has been described as a quality by which one ceases to feel resentment against another for a wrong he or she has committed against oneself. Forgiveness can be granted with or without the other asking for forgiveness. Some people also believe that persons can forgive themselves, that it is possible to forgive groups of people, or that it is possible to be forgiven by God.

What examples or comments about love were in the film?

There were many examples of love in the film. Firstly, Helen lived with the coloured ladies who she loved dearly. She was always happy to be around them and treated them as her equal. She still loved them when they were giving her the cold shoulder during the court case with Matt. Helen was seen many times during the film playing with the children, making them laugh and overall making their day brighten. They also loved Helen and at the end of the film this is illustrated clearly when they greet her after Matt’s death. Helen even showed love towards the cons when no one else believed in them, or even began to contemplate that they were truly sorry for what they had done. The prison officer told Helen that the prisoners where all the same, in other words, they were all terrible people. Helen refused to believe this which shows her character is very strong indeed. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of love in the film was between Helen and Matt. Helen felt desperately sorry for Matt and was appalled at what he had done to the young couple. She still, however stood by him and refused to do what everyone told her: ignore Matt, let him die, he does not deserve to live. Near the end of Matt’s life Helen says to Matt, “Matthew: Thank you for loving me.” Matt also loved Helen back, he was calm and almost happy when she was around even though he was about to die in a matter of days. Hew asked her to be with him all the time on the last few days of his life. Helen also showed tremendous love and sympathy towards the victim’s parents even though they wanted Matt to die, even though they thought he deserved to die for what he had done. Matt also eventually showed love towards his mother and his bothers. At first he was complaining about how his mother cried all the time but at the end he understood her and loved her dearly. Last but not least, the nun states to Helen that they still loved her no matter what, the nun says, “Helen, we still love you.”

What examples about forgiveness were in the film?

Helen forgiveness to Matt was probably the strongest example of forgiveness in the film. She forgave him for what he had done, even though the crime was disgusting gruesome. She believed he was truly sorry for what he had because of this belief she chose to forgive him even though no one else was willing to. Matt, after advice and persuasion from Helen, chose to forgive the victims parents for wanting him dead in the hope that they would forgive him. At the end Mr Delacoy shows up at Matt’s funeral which shows that Mr Delacoy has, albeit partially, forgiven Matt. Matt’s mother has also forgiven Matt for what he has done. This is illustrated in the film when Matthews’s mother comes to see Matt and hugs him.

What where Helen’s views about love and forgiveness?

Helen believed that love was unconditional and that we should love everyone…even murderers. She thought we should forgive everyone for their sins, no matter what they had done. Her views are illustrated strongly during the film, for instance she forgave Matt for what he had done and eventually grew to love him. She also forgave the prison staff for their beliefs that the convicts were “all the same,” that we could not trust them and they deserved to die for what they had done. Helen showed love and forgiveness towards the parents of the victims even though they rejected her but also, at the same time showed love towards Matt. This made many people angry because they thought Helen was two faced when she was just standing by her beliefs on love and forgiveness.

What where Matthews views about love and forgiveness?

At the beginning of the film Matthew was confused between love and lust, he could not understand why Helen wanted to help him. Once when she was visiting him, he told her she was “very beautiful” which showed his confusion. He could not accept love from either Helen or his mother because he did not know why they wanted to love him. Eventually, he began to believe in Helen and responded to Helen’s love. He also began to acknowledge his mothers love and loved her back which eventually brought them to be very close together.

What other views were shown in the film?

Helen’s family loved Helen and showed forgiveness towards her. The victim’s parents loved their son and daughter a lot, this is shown by the strong emotions they showed, such as the anger towards Matt and the fact that they believed Matt should die to pay for what he did. The prison guards showed strong views about the prisoners, believing that they were “all the same,” as did the prison chaplain. The coloured ladies also showed views of hatred towards Matt, and also thought that Helen should not be helping Matt. Perhaps the strongest views came from the politicians; they thought point blank that Matt should be sentenced to his original death penalty, not because it was the right thing to do, but because they were more interested in winning an election. They viewed Matt’s case as dangerous if he were to live, because it would most probably mean fewer votes and cost them the election. Also Matt didn’t have much money to offer lawyers etc, which the politicians viewed as a good thing because it would mean he had less chance of winning his case.

What is the significance of the films title?

There is a strong significance in the films title because Matt is basically a dead man because he has been sentenced to death. However, he has not yet been executed which adds to the title’s importance. This is portrayed in the movie when Matt was about to be executed. One of the people escorting him says “dead man walking.”

What are your opinions about the Christian idea of love?

My opinion of the Christian idea of love is that it is important to follow their views of love. If everyone treated love as unconditional and sacrificed for others than the world would be a better place. Also I think that everyone one should give to others less fortunate and accept others as they are because than there would be no racism in the world. Although I think that this could never happen because not everyone is a Christian. However, even though not everyone is a Christian, I think that they should follow Christian views in order to get the most out of life.

What does “love” mean to you?

To me, love means a lot. For instance I love a lot of people because they are special me and they love me all the time. They sacrifice a lot for me, as I sacrifice a lot for them. They also give a lot to me and love me for who I am. I believe this is important for a good way of life. My parents have unconditional love for me and this is important for a good relationship.

What are your opinions about the Christian idea of forgiveness?

My opinions of the Christian idea of forgiveness are that no matter what someone has done you should forgive them and start again. I realise this can be extremely hard for some people because as every human being does, they have emotions, and it can be hard to forgive people. However, I also think that when you forgive someone, you should bear no grudges because if you do, I think you haven’t truly forgiven them. I also believe that people should make a new start after they have forgiven someone because it gives you a better chance to get on with life.

What does “forgiveness” mean to you?

For me forgiveness means to start again and wipe the slate clean. Although I do not think you should forgive people too easily or they might take advantage of your willingness to forgive and do what they did over and over again. Also I personally would not act as if nothing happened because then the person involved might never learn from their mistakes. However, if I did forgive someone I would not bear any grudges after, and would wipe the slate clean.

What different views do other people have about these concepts?

There are many different views about the concept of love and forgiveness. Many people are confused between love and lust like Matt was. Also, many people believe that love is not unconditional and we should not have to give to others less fortunate than ourselves because they should work hard and provide for themselves. While the majority of people do give to others and love other people unconditionally, there are a number of people who still believe that love does not mean caring for others, or sacrificing for others. The different views about forgiveness are that we should forgive others, wipe the slate clean and be able to start again without bearing any grudges. For others forgiveness is conditional and they can only forgive small mistakes not ones they believe to be unforgivable. They believe they cannot just wipe the slate clean and act as if nothing happened.

Why do you agree/disagree with them?

I disagree with these views because I am my own person. When the time comes, if I want to forgive someone for something they have done, or do not want to forgive them as the case may be, than I will do what is necessary. Although I agree that love should be unconditional, and that we should give to others less fortunate than ourselves. I also think that everyone should accept people for who they are, because if everyone did there would be no racism and the world would be a better place.

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