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Dead Man Walking
A Review of the Tim Robbins masterpiece

This 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!

For further reading: The Christian Case Against the Death Penalty

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.