Saturday, 11 July 2015

Top 4 Anti Capital Punishment Films

I can’t say I’ve ever held support for the death penalty. Thinking about why, I’ve narrowed it down to four key points: 1) What if they’ve got the wrong suspect? 2) The state in my anarchist viewpoint relies on a monopoly of violence, and there is no greater example of this than a ‘free’ state exercising a law that gives it the arrogance to take away a person’s life. It is the fear that holds up institutions and the forces that keep the people in place. 3) Taking the life of a person, regardless of how evil an atrocity they have committed, will never bring back who or what it was they took from you. Killing a murderer will not bring back the person they took, so how does taking the murderer’s life make us any different from them? And 4) Because life is the most important thing for me, nobody has the right to take it away, or to order it to be taken. This is why I do not support war nor national service, because the state thinks it can have the final say in how someone’s life ends. Every individual must have the final say in how their life ends. This is why I support euthanasia and abortion – in euthanasia it is best to put someone out of their misery because the individual would not want to be in pain, and in abortion a woman must be allowed to do whatever she wants with her body and if she does not wish to have a child it is her choice.

Now enough of my left wing rantings, let’s get down to why you came here. I have thought long and hard about the things that have influenced why I don’t agree with the death penalty and I have lined up the top 4 films which led to me having said opinions.

Ladies and gentlemen and third gender, here are the top 4 best anti capital punishment films. Why 4? Because 5 and 0 do not make everything equal.

I was shown this movie in ethics whilst studying my GCSEs, and it reflects the debate on capital punishment among Christian groups. The film follows the true story of a catholic nun, Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) as she gives guidance to death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) as he awaits his execution. Poncelet has been sentenced for raping and murdering two teenagers – which is depicted in one of the most gruesome scenes I’ve ever seen in a non horror film. 

Prejean is a vocal opponent of capital punishment, and it is her arguments with the protestant prison chaplin which makes up the majority of the film’s message. Why should a Christian oppose or support the death penalty? In my atheist opinions, this is a good reflection of how ferocious debates on topics like this can spring up amongst denominations and splinter groups, be they religious, militant or political. In-fighting is something that has always turned me away from party politics and organised religion so this film is something to look at if you’re curious about how the death penalty is such a big debate in so many circles.

But what makes it such an anti death penalty story, is how the compassion, upset and realisation that this man’s death will not bring justice is seen in the final scenes. As Poncelet is put to death by lethal injection you can see how the parents of the victims and the pro-death chaplin have realised how wrong they really were. It is a scene without dialogue which makes it all the more poignant. And the performances given by Poncelet’s family, including Jack Black certainly shows how having a family member executed is not a service of justice but a humiliation that will hang on innocent people’s shoulders forever.

Whether or not you believe in God, this is a film you must see to look into how the US justice system is in dire need of a reformation.

This is not an overtly anti death penalty film, but how the system is portrayed in a manner only a Stephen King novel can do so, certainly makes you wonder how such a gruesome act of rough justice is still practised today.

It follows prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) as he recalls the year an innocent black man, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) was sentenced to the electric chair. Edgecomb discovers that the man possesses god-like powers - such as the ability to heal him of his genital infection and resurrect the dead. 

There is plenty of Christian imagery in this film which again raises the debate on why a supposedly Christian nation should practice such an act of justice. I guess Stephen King wanted to express his wonder at why a religion so bent on forgiveness would legitimise such a non-forgiving act.

Coffey’s execution is certainly on a parallel with the crucifixion, but how it is portrayed would lead anyone with compassion and respect between their ears to shout out ‘why are we still doing this?’ The film is set in the 1930s, but even that wasn’t so long ago and was at the peak of time when the whole world had beaten itself up and was itching to do it again. I have to admit that this film made me realise just how disgusting the electric chair is to put someone to death – it is an abuse of science. 

For anyone who wants to know how brutal a history the USA has with its justice system, this is the film for you – based on the works of one of the finest storytellers of our generation.

Now how else do you tell such an amazing story of how wrong the death penalty is, than chronicle the life of the last man to hold the profession of Executioner in the UK.

Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) hanged over 600 people in his life, among them the Nazi war criminals sentenced at the Nuremburg trials. After the death penalty was abolished in the UK in 1964, Pierrepoint became allegedly, an opponent of capital punishment. And how else do you know just how wrong the act is, if you took part in it? That for me is the same reason returning soldiers become such vocal anti-war protestors. I am in no way defending what Pierrepoint did, but it is always wise to look into those who took part in something in order to reveal just how wrong something is. It is similar to the story of Albert Speer, the Nazi munitions minister who was spared Pierrepoint’s noose because he plead guilty and apologised for his actions at Nuremburg.

This is also a keen drama to understand why someone would take up such a profession. In one scene, a coffin has not been brought for the man Pierrepoint has hanged and that angers Pierrepoint, leading to his line: ‘This man has been atoned for his wrongdoings, he now deserves a decent burial.’ So whether or not you agree with him, it’s worth watching to understand the logic for a state giving legitimacy to the gallows.
I found this film to be an excellent retelling of a time I’m pleased to say I did not grow up in. Death does not solve problems and this was a film that told me I am not a person who would ever work in a profession that involves taking other people’s lives. For a big part of my teenage years I wanted to be a fighter pilot and it’s films like this that told me I am not someone who would function in any profession where you must take another person’s life – that includes the armed forces.

This is also Timothy Spall’s most stellar performance in my opinion. And I must stress that these films are not to be watched for entertainment value, they are to be watched in order to understand why the death penalty is not something we all agree on.

And the number one anti capital punishment film is...

There is no greater story of British injustice than that of Derek Bentley. Bentley (pictured below) was an 18 year old boy with the mental age of an 11 year old and the IQ of 66. After he left a special needs school he got involved in a gang through peer pressure. One night in 1953, Bentley and the gang leader Chris Craig climbed onto the roof of a cenfectionary warehouse and they were followed by the police. Upon seeing the police, Craig pulled a gun and the unarmed Bentley, scared by all this shouted the eponymous line, which was not a call to open fire but to hand over the weapon.

Craig murdered two policemen and then tried to kill himself. Bentley was arrested and did not resist at all. And when the case came to the high court, the sentence of death was imposed upon Bentley because he was older than Craig (16) when found guilty. Craig served time in a state prison.

However when the sentence was passed, the judge ordered that mercy be considered for Bentley, but despite the public outcry that an innocent man had been sentenced to death, the British government refused to overlook the sentence until the execution had been passed.

I can think of no other story of a man being murdered by the state. It is no wonder Bentley’s gravestone reads: ‘Here lies Derek Bentley – A Victim of British Justice?’ And what is more upsetting is that his sister who spent her whole life campaigning to have his name cleared, did not live to see the day he was finally acquitted in 1998.

As for the film, there is no other movie I can recall that has made me cry uncontrollably. This is an example of a government wanting to crack down on a nation’s special needs population and is the film to show to any Brit who shouts ‘bring back hanging!’ Ironically, Bentley was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint. 

Anyone who has ever felt the death penalty should be reintroduced to this nation – I urge you to watch this film. This was Christopher Eccleston’s first film, and perhaps the finest performance he has ever given. 

Speaking as someone who qualifies as special needs, I cannot fathom how the judicial system of 1953 could ever have considered putting a young man in need of aid to the noose. This country claims to have the best justice system in the world, but it hasn’t the cleanest of pasts. Let anyone who campaigns for the reintroduction of the gallows see this film.


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