ntang (ntang) wrote,

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Dead Man Walking

I saw Dead Man Walking today; I rented it on my birthday (well, technically the day after) but didn't get around to seeing it until today.

First the cursory comments: it was very well acted and very well filmed but felt somewhat unsatisfying; it didn't have much emotional resonance for me. I guess it was a little too detached in some ways; interestingly when you listen to the director's commentary (and I only listened to a little before I wandered off... well, to here) he's talking almost exclusively about actors and filming and sets and doesn't really get into the emotions of the piece for quite a while, and even then only touches on something before going back to the technical details. Now it's possible that's because he felt the movie spoke for itself, or that he gets into it more later as he relaxes, or whatever, but I dunno. All I know is the whole movie felt like that a bit.

Now, on to the actual movie itself - it provoked a very interesting reaction in my father - anger. He was angry that the killer was portrayed in a sympathetic light, and he was angry that the parents were portrayed the way they were, in such a relatively unsympathetic light. As he put it, if it was his child - or grandchild - that was killed, he'd be satisfied by nothing less than the death penalty too. And he expressed a lot of discontent with religion and the way that it's portrayed almost like a get out of hell free card - just admit your wrong doings and all's ok.

Now, personally, I interpreted it all very differently, but I'm also a very different person. For one thing, religion for me (and Christianity) is something very personal and very potent - while I don't make a big deal of it, I am a Christian and there's no doubt in my mind about that one*.

He made an interesting and impassioned argument about how it's not ok, it's not redemption, because it was all just the fear of being killed that provoked the reaction in him. That's probably true - but the point I tried to make, less in defense of the movie than just defense of the concept, is that in the end that doesn't matter. The argument was never that he should walk free and be allowed to kill again, as yes, it's probably true that if set free something more would have happened. It's very, very, very possible that he never would have learned anything if it wasn't for being put on death row and facing his own death... but that doesn't make it any less real. Maybe he was a lost soul and had no hope out there, maybe the only way for him to see the truth was to be presented with his own death. That's "ok" in the big picture - in the end, whether from fear or years of solitude or whatever, he came at least a little bit closer to the truth, and to understanding, and that was what the nun was trying to help him achieve, I think. You can't save someone in the sense that all of their sins will simply be washed clean by a confession on the eve of your execution, but you can bring them a step closer to that holy state, and you can do some good for them.

In the final analysis, no matter how evil, no matter how stupid, no matter how wrong-headed, he's still a person. He's not a monster, he's not an animal, and it's wrong to let yourself be fooled into thinking he is, that he's somehow less human than you or I. He's different, and certainly a lot more wrong than the average individual, but he's every bit as human. The evil in him is the same evil that lies in all of us, he just let it surface in fear and anger and hatred and murder, rather than learning to control it and to nurture the good in himself. I think part of the point is that any of us might have been there, had we been raised differently, taught differently, experienced a different life.

It's a tricky sort of thing to talk about, because he's right - so much of organized religion - any religion - is stupid and wrongheaded. It's stubborn and it's rigid and it's close-minded. The problem is that religions are ultimately codified and documented by humans, and humans are fallible, and humans are emotional, and humans are corruptible. The Word of God, whether or not you believe in it, is not what's in the bible, and it's not what's being said by some preacher on Sunday morning tv, and it's not what's in the fliers being handed out in Times Square by some loud jackass. I don't think any of us know what it is for certain and with any sort of precision - I don't think we even have the capacity to fully, truly understand every bit of it and to do it justice. Why? We're human. That's life. All we can do is try our best, struggle and struggle and struggle to be the best that we can be, to live as close to our understanding of that Word, of that teaching, and to constantly, CONSTANTLY re-evaluate it and question it and challenge it and pull every little bit we can from it. Anything less and we do ourselves no justice, we do our neighbors and family and fellow humans no justice, and we do our creator - God or Allah or Gaia or Joe or whoever - no justice.

Really, I think that's the way we have to live our entire lives - always learning, always paying attention, always questioning, and always challenging - not for the sake of being difficult but for the sake of never being content with a surface understanding, of always putting in the effort to try to really understand everything we do, and as importantly the consequences of everything we do.

That, at least in part, is what Sister Helen helped him achieve - she helped him face his actions, face the consequences, and take at least some responsibility for it. Does it make it all ok? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. What it does it make it just the tiniest bit better, and make him just the tiniest bit better, and whatever redemption he finds is shared by us all. We're all living here together on this planet, and none of us can find grace or redemption or enlightenment or anything else without the help and cooperation and shared effort of others. The scientific discoveries of today are achieved by "standing on the shoulders of giants*", right? I don't know that it's any less true of spiritual achievements.

On that note, Wil Wheaton posted a very interesting and totally unrelated commentary here: http://www.wilwheaton.net/mt/archives/001094.php

Go read it, it's pretty short and worth the time. Why did I say "On that note" when it was on a totally different note? Damned if I know. I'll take... Lack of Sleep for $800, Alex.

Anyways, I think that's all for now. I've said more or less what I wanted to say. G'nite people.

* - A friend told me (actually, several times) that she thinks I'm a Buddhist, that the way I talk about religion and my beliefs and my world view makes me out to be one, not a Christian. I dunno. I don't think that's true, because the letter of my beliefs is Christian, regardless of any interpretation of my philosophies. Here's the thing: I think religions in general tend to be about interpretation. The message, the meaning, the deities, the practices, they're all just interpretations and moreover they're open to interpretation. Look at how many millions of belief systems there are (if not billions, really) - everyone's got their own spin on things, and I don't think anything particularly makes one better than another. I do think we've got a responsibility to think about and consider our religious choices constantly, to challenge ourselves and our interpretations of said religion every single day. However, I think in the end the reason there are so many similarities between this one and that one and the next one is because in the final analysis, we're all seeing different perspectives of the same force, the same God, the same structures and rules. Maybe I look at it and see a long-haired hippy carpenter who turns water into wine and has vampiric tendencies, and maybe someone else looks and sees a giant floating head and someone else sees a fat giggling (under-)dressed in robes, but the point is they're all just ways of approximating and personifying that spirit out there and in us. I'd say more, but I'm getting tired and I've gotten distracted, so whatever.

** - I believe the full quote is "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants", said by Sir Isaac Newton. Interestingly, it seems he adapted that from other quotes, the earliest of which I could find anything being from the 12th century, when Bernard de Chartres said "In comparison with the ancients we stand like dwarves on the shoulders of giants". Bless you Google, and your mother.

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