Throughout human civilisation justice has been a part of society ever since the ancient Greeks with Socrates to the present day. The concept of justice can be broadly interpreted as the quality of being just and fair. However it can be interpreted variously by different people as it is an ambiguous enigma that can never be justified completely. Tim Robbins, producer of Dead Man Walking, explores the ideas of criminal justice by challenging us to shape our own understanding of it. Similarly, Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech explores social justice by questioning our humanity and proclaiming white Americans as injudicious.
The two composers investigate different branches of justice but they both are strong advocates of it. Both composers select specific themes and techniques to portray their concepts of justice. Martin Luther King predominately incorporates themes of equality and freedom regardless of race, whilst Tim Robbins examines themes of revenge and redemption, and capital punishment. First and foremost, revenge and redemption is a cardinal theme in the film Dead Man Walking. It is shown various times throughout the film by means of quotes, implications and film techniques.
Sister Helen Prejean is a strong anti-death penalty advocate and she wishes not revenge but redemption. This is evident and she is acting as a spiritual adviser for the accused Matthew Poncelet. During a discussion between Clyde and Mary Percy with Sister Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins incorporates numerous amounts of close ups to enhance the hatred and thirst for revenge in the parents face. In contrast, Sister Helen Prejean is depicted through medium shots and has a calm serene expression. “Mr. Percy, I’m just trying to follow the example of Jesus, who said that a person is not as bad as his worst deed”.
This quote reflects Sister Helen Prejean’s personality as forgiving and it is saying that any human is able to redeem from their worst act. However this is contravened by the general public and the victim’s parents as they poignantly seek revenge due to their misunderstanding of justice. The media has been portrayed as detrimental as it was seen that they believe that revenge is the only solution. They wish the worst upon Matthew Poncelet and do not give him an opportunity to amend from his crimes. This is seen through the media reports, protests and conversations between the general public.
Tim Robbins pans through the protest to show the mass numbers of people who seek revenge. They clamour phrases such as “an eye for an eye”, with background music that disheartens the audience. This shows the cruel reality of the publics’ opinion on revenge. On the other hand, Martin Luther King explores racial injustice issues regarding freedom in his I have a dream speech. This speech was spoken in August twenty eight, nineteen sixty-three, during the black civil rights movement in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.
It was spoken to a crowd of two hundred and fifty thousand people, African Americans being the majority of the crowd. Martin Luther King constantly uses anaphora which is synthesised with high modal language to convey his plead for freedom, an example is “We can never be satisfied…”. This clause is repeated seven times in paragraph nine to enhance its rhetorical effect. During the deliverance of the speech, he synthesises a hiatus among the clauses to let the audience reflect on themselves and their Ignominious actions. This is substantiated in paragraph three, “But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free [pause].
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation [pause] and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later [Pause]. ” Furthermore, metaphors are used to explore the racial inequality in America. They are used subtlety throughout the entire speech to give us vivid images of injustice in our mind, this can be illustrated through paragraph five, “America has given the Negro people a back check, a check which has come marked ‘insufficient funds’. ” Given these following techniques, the theme of racial justice has been explored thoroughly.
Moreover, capital punishment is a recurring and more overt theme in the film Dead Man Walking. Tim Robbins explores this theme through his characters Matthew Poncelet who is facing the death penalty, Sister Helen Prejean and the lawyer. Capital punishment is a highly controversial topic and is interpreted differently, some believe it is justice whilst others believe it is in inhumane. Characterisation is a crucial technique used extensively for depicting the parties that are for and against capital punishment. The lawyer representing Matthew Poncelet is a potent character despite his humble features.
During the court scene, the lawyer testifies that “if Matthew Poncelet had money, he wouldn’t be in this situation right now”, this is implying that justice is bought and it highlights a flaw in the legal system. In addition, it also implies that life can purchased if all it required was money to escape the death penalty and to flee justice. The media is crucial to shaping our perception of justice and the death penalty. At the final scene where Matthew Poncelet is receiving the lethal injection, Tim Robbins alludes to Jesus’ crucifixion as he is raised up with his arms open with a poised expression awaiting a cruel death.
This allusion gives the audience a reprehensible emotion as they bear witness to a man being murdered by a ‘civilised society’. Similarly, Martin Luther King alludes to the bible, Abraham Lincoln and the United States Declaration of Independence in his speech to bring forth the concept of equality and social justice. Firstly, by alluding to the bible, it bestows an illusion that God is on Martin Luther King’s side. “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. ”, this is extracted from Amos 5:24.
The second allusion is said during the introduction “Five score years ago”. This explicitly alludes to Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg speech, this quotation is especially effective as the speech was delivered in front of Lincoln Memorial. The final allusion “guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” deeply captures the heart of American citizens as it was removed from the United States Declaration of Independence. By incorporating allusions Martin Luther King was able to evoke the audience and make them reflect on the injustice.
In closing, the composers explore the concepts about justice through themes and techniques to shape our perspective on justice in the texts Dead Man Walking and I have a Dream. Tim Robbins focuses on revenge and redemption, and capital punishment while Martin Luther King highlights the disparity between race and the call for equality. For the aforementioned reasons we are able to deduce the concepts of justice by synthesising both of the mediums to give a solid conclusion. The paragon conclusion is “How can a civilised society protect itself against anarchic violence without comprising its own ethic standards”.
Courtney from Study Moose
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