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Helmreich, A. Marcusm, P. (1996). Dead Man Walking. Psychoanal. Rev., 83(5):780-782.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Review, 83(5):780-782

Dead Man Walking

Alan Helmreich and Paul Marcusm, Ph.D.

Dead Man Walking is a film with an agenda. It eclectically invokes biblical platitudes such as “Thou Shalt not kill” and portrays cynical law-and-order politicians, in rallying the audience against the evils of capital punishment.

However, where the film strikes its harshest blow is not in its sometimes bland religious arguments and clichéd political commentary, but in the film's more covert emotional messages. This film, although told from the perspective of a nun, is strongest when it strays from Bible thumping and moralistic terminology and employs psychological techniques to affect the viewer.

One might expect a film designed to convey the injustice of capital punishment to depict a falsely accused convict who is wrongfully sentenced to death. However, by the movie's climax it is clear that Matthew Poncelet, who has been sentenced to death by lethal injection for a double murder-rape, is every bit the killer he is alleged to be. Although having an innocent man put to death would have perhaps conveyed the anti-death-penalty message more efficiently, Dead Man Walking still manages to make its point in a forceful way. How?

Cleverly, in the film's pivotal stages when the viewer is building rapport with the characters, it is still unclear whether or not Poncelet actually committed these murders. This is conveyed partially through Poncelet's interaction with Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun who has devoted herself to comforting death-row inmates.

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