is not only one of the best films of all time, it's one of the only films to penetrate
into the heart of human darkness and evil so deeply as to encounter the light
of God that lies hidden therein. Tim Robbins has constructed a masterpiece. While
others have created epics dealing with religious subjects, few have captured on
film or in any other art form something as close to the essence of what it means
to discover the grace of God in the midst of life's shadows.
On the surface
this film is the story of a nun, Sister Helen Prejean, who in dreaming innocence
decides to become the spiritual advisor to a convicted murderer and rapist, Matthew
Poncelet. As masterfully played by Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, these characters
come to life, drawing us deeper and deeper into the tragedy of a heinous crime
and the absurdity of a criminal justice system which can only address the brutality
of rape and murder by the taking yet another human life. Yet one of Robbins' great
achievements in this film is to avoid making this into a moralistic tale about
either the futility, or the necessity of capital punishment. Robbins follows Sister
Helen Prejean's spiritual journey to a place much deeper than that. Transcending
both sentimentality and politics, Robbins has captured the far more important
drama of one woman's journey into the heart of darkness.
While many films
have succeeded in capturing the absurdity of human life, and the depravity of
human nature, few have even come close to demonstrating how God's grace can erupt
even in the midst of life's deepest despair. This film is not about capital punishment;
it's not about religion. It's about an ordinary human being who by her simple
faith becomes the agent of God's redemptive power, and a living testimony to the
triumph of good over evil. This film not only earns five flames; it is a flame!
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.