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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dead Man Walking (1995)

The death penalty has always been controversial, the debate over whether society and laws have the moral and ethical right to take another person's life. There are a large number of countries where the death penalty no longer exists, with the major nations where the death penalty still holds being Russia, China, India, United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia (and other Islamic countries), Singapore, etc. In the United States, the debate has been a long one, with many people being strong proponents of the death penalty, and others arguing against it (this is getting more heated now that DNA testing is revealing wrongful convictions, link to Innocence Project).
Dead Man Walking is based on a book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun, a passionate advocate of abolition of the death penalty in the US. The title of the book and the movie comes from the traditional saying by guards walking the condemned man to his execution, "Dead man walking, dead man walking here".

Dead Man Walking (1995 Film)

The movie (directed by Tim Robbins) won great critical acclaim, and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards. It deals with the story of Matthew Poncele (played by Sean Penn - and based on 2 different characters whom Sister Helen Prejean counselled, both of whom were on death row. In the movie, Matthew has been in prison for 6 years now, awaiting his execution for the crime of having killed a teenage couple (after having raped the girl); his accomplice Vitello was sentenced to a lighter prison sentence due to a better lawyer.
Matthew appeals to the Sister to help him in his final appeal; and he is not the image of a repentant person - instead he comes across as both arrogant and sexist, and with not the slightest tinge of remorse. Instead he claims to be innocent. While visiting him over a period of time, she gets to know his mother, as well as the family members of his victims (who cannot understand her motives for trying to save a convicted murderer). Poncele does not get remission, his appeal for denial of execution is denied, and his date for death is set. Sister Prejean will finally hope to save his soul, for him to confess his deeds. In the end, Matthew does indeed do so, confessing his crimes and pleading for forgiveness from the family members of his victims (just before his execution).

Oscars:
Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.
Sean Penn was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Tim Robbins was nominated for Best Director
Main track, "Dead Man Walkin" by Bruce Springsteen nominated for Best Song

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