An Investigation of the way Capital Punishment is presented in

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GCSE English

Media Coursework

Task: An Investigation of the way Capital Punishment is presented in “Dead Man Walking” and “Let Him Have It”.


For our GCSE Coursework we have been watching two films, “Dead Man Walking” and “Let Him Have It”. They were both based on true stories.

‘Dead Man Walking’ was about a man called Matthew Poncelet who supposedly raped and killed a girl. After six years had gone by, he was given the death penalty by lethal injection. ‘Let Him Have It’ was about a young man, Derek Bentley, who has mental disabilities and suffers from epilepsy. After spending years at home, he goes out and gets dragged into the antics of a sixteen year old Christopher Craig. After the murder of a police officer, Derek gets to death by hanging.

I feel that both Matthew Poncelet and Derek Bentley are in the same, sad situation. Matthew has committed a murder and is given the death penalty, where as Derek, although did receive the death penalty, his case was different because it seemed that all of his life was bad luck due to his mental disabilities.

Section 1

At the start of the film, Poncelet acted as if he shouldn’t be messed with in prison using a tough voice. During the film, Sister Prejean was trying to help Poncelet hoping that if he pleads for forgiveness, then he might be released from Death Row. During this time, you could tell and see the different types of emotions that Poncelet had inside him. When he was sitting with Sister Prejean you could see his soft side, caring and thoughtful. But when he was by himself you saw the side of him that was, a monster, no shame, nor remorse and self-centred.

The music used in this film is harsh, no –western music and discordant, it also clashes making the audience feel uncomfortable. The most effective times this style of music was used was in the occasional scene of Sister Prejean thinking by herself about what she should prey for, this symbolizes how uncomfortable she is.

I think that the actor who played the part of Poncelet (Sean Penn) was excellent because his appearance is what you would expect from someone who is living on Death Row. He has waxed hair that looks as if it has been stuck on with glue, tattoos either arm or his never ending pack of cigarettes, in almost every scene you see him smoking. He uses facial expressions well like when Sister Prejean passed out and was taken to the medical room and no-one stayed with Matthew, as she returned, Poncelet exploded in anger, really letting Sister Prejean know how he felt. Sean Penn acted in such a way that you wouldn’t mind betting that he is actually Poncelet in the flesh. I also noticed that whenever he wore his boots, he felt powerful and superior to every one else. At the time of Poncelet’s execution, he had his boots taken way from him, given slippers to wear giving a sense of him now being powerless and defeatable.

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Editing techniques such as the flashbacks were probably the most effective in the film, as

Sister Prejean sat beside Poncelet at the table; short clips of the murder scene were flashed back on the screen, it was used to show what Sister Prejean’s guess on how the murder may have happened. The sounds of gunshots and the screams of the raped girl echoed through her head. There was a lot of panning around during the film, I think the best time this was used was at the end of the film, when Poncelet was lying on the death ...

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