In this essay I am going to be exploring the techniques and effects that the director Tim Robbins has used in the film “Dead man walking”. Dead man walking is a film about capital punishment in American. The two main actors in this film are Sean Penn who plays the character Matthew Poncelet (the person on death row) and Susan Sarandon who plays the Sister Helen Jean who is trying to stop him from being put death.
At the beginning of the film we see how Sister Helen Prejean is at first very uncomfortable and uneasy with this person who she thinks is a murderer. As the film goes on though you see that she slowly becomes more comfortable with him and at the end of the film she is completely comfortable with Matthew Poncelet and is very emotionally involved with him.
This is much the same with Matthew Poncelet at the beginning he was vigilant of Sister Jean and was not nervous but not completely honest and open with her but at the end of the film it is obvious that he has made a real connection with her and his last few words to her are
“I love you”
Through out the film though it is not apparent and rather ambiguous about if Matthew Poncelet did actually commit the crime which he is going to be executed for. He has been accused of killing a young man and a young woman and also of raping the woman. It is only towards the end of the film that the truth comes out. Until then, the audience is left to make there own decision based on what is seen in the film.
In the scene before the execution scene in the film we learn a lot about Matthew and also we see a lot which could change are feelings as the audience towards Matthew and the execution taking place.
Firstly we see the final meeting that he has with his family. This is a tremendously emotional scene as we see the people who love him the most say goodbye to him knowing that they will never see him again and that he is going to die. In this scene we learn a lot about Matthew Poncelet as a child and also as an adult. From his mother we hear and see that he is not an animal or a crazy person that people might think. It shows him talking and playing with his young brother and talking normally and happily to his mum. I think that the director here has used a situation and language and obviously characters to show that Matthew is humane. From this I think that he is aiming to make the audience feel sorry for him and not to want him to get killed.
In this final meeting it doesn’t only show that he is humane but it also shows that a lot of people love him and that a lot of pain is being caused again to his family. At the end of the meeting when Matthew Poncelet leaves the room you see his mother runaway and start to cry. I think that the director has shown this scene to let the audience know that his family are and will suffer masses of pain and misery from his death. I think that the main reason that the director has used this scene is to make you think about why he is being killed and how ironic it is really. He is being killed because he is being accused of killing 2 people and because he has caused a lot of pain to there families (as we see earlier in the film when Sister Jean visits one of the families). I think the director has used this scene to make the audience think and feel that one Matthew is humane and also I think he is making you feel sympathy for him and secondly that two wrongs don’t make a right.
The next scene and event that the director shows is definitely meant to make the audience feel one thing towards Matthew Poncelet and the death penalty. In this scene Matthew Poncelet confesses everything to Sister Jean. He confesses absolutely everything that happened and it is not good. In this scene he admits that he was involved in the killing of the two young people and that he raped the girl. This is a hugely significant scene in the film as it tells us that he did do the crime that he is going to be killed for. This dramatically changes the feeling that the audience has towards Matthew Poncelet. Personally for me it changed my opinion. Any sympathy I had for him before disappeared because now I knew the truth and the truth was not nice and personally that made me feel like he deserved to die. This scene I think was put in to provoke this reaction from the audience. This scene is definitely less sympathetic towards him than the other scenes.
Finally a last event which happened before the execution is the scene where he calls his family for the last time on a phone. In this scene we again see that his family is very hurt and that they clearly do want him to be killed, this again I think was put in to evoke a sympathy vote towards Matthew Poncelet. This is completely the last contact that Matthew Poncelet has with his family before he is killed.
In the execution scene the director of the film Tim Robbins uses many techniques such as camera shots, actors, music, sound effects, dialogue and plots to affect the audience and makes them think certain things and also focus vigorously on certain points.
The execution scene starts when the police officer shouts routinely “Dead man walking” which ironically is the title of the film.
The execution scene starts with Matthew Poncelet walking towards the room where he is going to be executed. The film then suddenly changes from normal speed to slow motion. I think that the director has done this for one reason. I think he has done it to show and emphasize that this walk that he is taking now is the “walk of death”, the last walk he will ever take. I also think that director has put this part of the scene in slow motion to make it seem that Matthew Poncelet is important and almost righteous. I get the view that the director wants the audience to think that he in some way is righteous as he combines both the effects of slow motion with the dramatic and emotional music. Together I get impression that Matthew Poncelet is important, righteous, valuable, honorable, up right and respectable. Which as you know he isn’t because he murdered and raped a girl and assisted in killing a young man. I think that the director has used both here the effect of slow motion and the emotive music to make you feel almost sorry for Matthew which I think is strange. Overall the scene makes you feel sorry and creates an idea of injustice wrongly. The director is trying to play with the audiences feelings.
In the execution scene the director has used many different types of close up camera shots to give the audience a certain impression or feeling.
One close up which the director uses is the close up of sister Jeans hand on Matthew Poncelets shoulder as he is walking towards the room where he will be killed. I think that the director has used this close up of her hands to show that Sister Jean really does care for Matthew. Overall the director is aiming to give the audience the impression that sister Jean really does love and care for Matthew and she too will experience pain and misery from his death and not only his family.
Another range of close ups that the director uses are the close ups of him being buckled and strapped to the board which he is going to be killed on.
There are 4 different close ups of the belts buckling and pinning him down. There are 4 buckles on the board evenly distributed among it too make sure he can’t escape. I think that the director shows the 4 close ups of each belt buckling to give the audience the feeling he can’t at all move, he is now paralyzed and that it is a horrible way to die.
A further close up that the director has used is the close up of the clock ticking. In this close up we see the clock tick mournfully towards 12 o clock when the execution will start. The director uses this to show us that time has no meaning anymore as even though everything is ready and waiting for his death they still wait until 12 o clock to start which is odd. I feel that this intern shapes the audiences feelings to feeling that Matthew is going to die now and that it is calculated as they wait until 12 to kill him. This makes the audience feel that this is wrong.
An additional close up that the director uses are the many detailed close ups of the things that are going to be killing Matthew. The heavy rubber gloves that the doctor wears, the mechanical syringes that are filled with strange liquids, the close up of each individual light with names beside of them, the sponge wiping his arm even though he is going to die, the bulky silver needle being injected into his veiny arm and the tube gong into his arm. All these close ups I think have been used by the director for a simple effect.
I think they were used to make the whole killing process look cold and calculated. He deliberately used close up shots of weird things like the mechanical syringes and thick silver needles to make the whole thing seem very mechanical, bizarre and cold and weird. I think the whole effect from these close ups is to make you feel like this killing is cold, calculated and wrong. Overall I feel that the director has used these close up shots of these things to make the audience feel sorry for Matthew and also to show at what is happening as it seems so plain and calculated.
These close up really do affect the way the audience feel about the whole death. If it seems cold, calculated and sick, this makes the audience feel that killing him in this way is wrong maybe. I don’t think that the director was trying to make people feel that killing him was totally wrong from these camera shots but he was trying to make them feel that this way is wrong.
After he has been strapped down to this board and had all these needle put into him he is then displayed in front of the families of the victims and Sister Jean as they watch from behind a glass screen. The way though that the director displays Matthew Poncelet has been done to make the audience feel a certain feeling.
Matthew Poncelet is displayed vertically up with his arm spread out. I personally felt that this was very much like the way Jesus the son of god was placed on the cross.I think that the director has used this to give the audience a very understandable feeling. When Jesus was killed on the cross he was killed wrongly as he was the son of god. I think that the director is using this pose and playing on the idea of Jesus dieing to make the audience feel that this is an injustice, much in the same way that killing Jesus was an injustice. The director here has overall used this pose to make the audience be against him being killed.
After he is displayed Matthew Poncelet is asked by one of the officers if he has any last words to say. Matthew Poncelet looks at Sister Jean and then speaks.
“Yes I do” he then continues by saying that he is sorry to both families. He is sorry to both family for the pain and misery he has caused and also for taking away there children. He then hopes that his death can offer them so relief. He then finally finishes his last word speech saying
“I just wanna let you know that I think killing is wrong, no matter who does it, albeit the government or me”
This dialogue which the director has included in this scene is extremely important in the feelings the audience have. I think that the director has used this dialogue and also expression (as Matthew Poncelet is shaking nervously and scared when he says this) to make the audience feel one sorry for him as he is shaking fretfully and anxiously when he says and secondly I think the dialogue shows the audience that Matthew Poncelet is truly sorry has genuine remorse for what he has done. This again I think was used by the director to make audience feel sorry for him.
After he has said this he is then taken from his vertical upright position and put into a flat position and then his execution commences.
This part of the scene is now accompanied with some very strong emotional music. It is music though that doesn’t make sense though. It is almost like tribal chanting and it almost sounds like the person who is singing it is in a lot of pain. This music I think has been used during this very emotional scene to emphasize how serious this is. I think that the music used is gruesome and honest and it really made me feel that. It also made me feel that it was wrong. This is the effect I think the director wanted on the audience a shocking sound track to accompany a shocking story.
Matthew is now being killed. Again during the actual killing many close ups are shown again. Close ups of the tubes of liquid being pushed down and close ups of lights saying start and finish. Also some very loud and firm sound effects are used such as the loud clicking from the machine when the lights turn on. The close ups of the equipment in use don’t stop there you actually see the light blue liquid going through the tubes into his arms. This part of the scene where he is being killed is very detailed and has heaps of close ups. I think the director has used these very graphic and comprehensive close ups to make the audience see and feel that this real and that it again is cold and deliberate. Overall I got the feeling from this that the director was trying to make audience feel either sorry or against Matthew Poncelet being killed.
The next part of the scene was Matthew Poncelet slowly dieing. Here the director has done something very clever. All the way through Matthew Poncelet dieing there are flashbacks and clips off Matthew Poncelet and another person killing these two children. It starts off by showing the two children kissing in the car and then Matthew Poncelet and his friend get the two children out of the car and into the woods. Here then ties them both up. It shows them both raping the girl and tormenting the boy and then eventually it shows them killing both of them.
This is not all shown at once though. As Matthew Poncelet dies it shows clips of them. It is almost guiding you through all of the people’s deaths at the same rate. As Matthew Poncelet dies a little bit more it goes back to the flashbacks and then they die a little bit more. It is set up in a kind of step by step.
The director here has shown the two deaths in comparison. The death that he committed against the two children and his death. I think that director has used these flashback scenes to give the audience the impression that him being killed is justified as it shows them how brutally, harshly, ruthlessly and mercilessly he killed them. I think that the director has used these two scenes to show the audience the differences between the two deaths.
In the death scene of Matthew Poncelet we see that he dies humanely and pretty much peacefully. There were no screaming or shouting around him, there was nobody there degrading him and he could mentally before prepare himself for this even though he was still very nervous at least he had the chance to. The director shows this in the plot and in the past and present scenes.
He compares this honestly to the way the two children died. They were wrongfully picked on as we can see and dragged forcefully into the wood. They were then obnoxiously tied up and thrown on the floor in heaps of thick mud. The girl was then tormented and raped by both the men and the boy had to listen and watch his girlfriend being raped. They were then both killed the girl slowly and the boy quickly. They had absolutely no dignity at all, they had nothing just fear as you can see. Both of them were reduced to completely nothing. This director has used this scene to shock and distress the audience, it is very detailed and graphic and no idea is left unturned.
So I think that here the director has used these two scene in comparison to strongly make the audience feel that killing Matthew Poncelet is right. He uses them so that you can see that really it is unfair he is getting to die with love around him from Sister Jean and they died with nothing but fear. These scenes are definitely used to mould the audience’s personal feelings towards wanting Matthew Poncelet to die. I personally feel that this two comparison scenes are the most emotional and important part of the film. It really did change my personal opinion towards Matthew Poncelet and shocked me. This is exactly what the director is aiming for and to me he has achieved it.
One other effect that the director used on one of the killing scenes was the use of color. You may be thinking that colour was used through out the film. Well the scene we are talking about is the final flashback scene where the two young adults are being killed and the girl is being raped. There are many flashbacks to the killing of these two in the film but the other flashbacks were in black and white and this final and evidentially truthful flashback was in colour. I think that the director here has used colour to in some show that this flashback is more truthful and factual. This shapes the audiences feelings again that this time this flashback is the real one.
So after these flashbacks Matthew Poncelet begins to come a lot closer to death. His eyes and hands being to close up and his breathing becomes slower. The tribal mourning music which started at the beginning of the actual execution scene is still playing and the atmosphere in the film is emotional and still serious. Again as Matthew Poncelet is nearing very close to death the director is using a number of close ups to show the audience ideas. He closes up on his hands as they struggle to stay open and the same with his eyes. I think that the director has used these again to make the audience feel some sympathy for him even though I think from the previous scene this may not achieve much.
This is then followed by a clever use of characters, camera angles and effect. Plus the use of no dialogue. The silence really does work in this next bit that the director added. As Matthew Poncelet is fading out of being alive so do the two young adults. There two reflections are seen in the glass which from the audience you are looking through. As Matthew Poncelet fades out so do the two young adults that he murdered reflections. This looks like they both died at the same time. I think that the director Tim Robbins has used this to make the audience feel that this is justified. The way it has been done that they kind of both fade away at the same time I think was used to say in a way that “it is a life for a life”. I think that by using this that one he was making the audience feel that Matthew Poncelets death was justified and also I think he was making a statement saying that you take a life you give your life.
Finally Matthew Poncelet dies and on this we see close ups of his hands unclenching and remaining deadly still.
After this though it shows an immediately and extremely close up of Sister Jeans eyes opening. This close up of Sister Jeans’s eyes opening up has been used to trick the audience into thinking that Matthew is alive. The director set it out in such a way for the audience to think this. Firstly he showed a steady rotating camera around his now delicate body which is basically dead and this was then followed a sudden energetic flick back to the eyes of Sister Jean this sudden energetic close up I think was used to make you think that Matthew was not dead and was alive. I think from this use of camera angle, character and expression from character that he was trying to make the audience feel for that split second shocked and thinking that they wanted him dead and that this is not how it should be.
Finally to end the execution scene the director zooms out of Matthew Poncelets body which is displayed across the board. Dead and still. This fades into the forest scene where there to the camera is zooming out with the two young dead peoples bodies opposite each other. One naked one clothed.
I think that the director has used these shots of each of them to show that how defenseless they all are now and how raw this is. I think that this has been used to make the audience feel that killing is wrong no matter how it is done or who does it. I think that the director was aiming for this to be against capital punishment.
In conclusion I think that the whole execution scene is exceptionally emotional, strong, effective and extreme. I think that a clever use of dialogue, characters, language, camera angles, close ups, actors, music and sound effects, plot and structure has been used to an unbelievable emotionally passionate effect. This execution scene is very moving, convincing and if I didn’t know that it was a film I would think it was real.
I think that it was powerful because the director was not scared to show the raw truth and the reality of the whole situation. He showed the atrociously brutal murder and rape scene which shocked and stunned the audience. He also showed us every bit of Matthew Poncelet death and was not afraid to show the side effects at every end. Overall I think that this scene was powerful because one it was absolutely truthful and secondly it was directed and shown in a number of clever ways which made you think more about what was happening and way it was happening.
I did not think though that this scene was very balanced at all. I think that far worse, evil and over powering things were shown than good. In comparison I think that more over powering scenes were written aimed too make the audience feel that killing him was right than there were scenes that were aimed to make you feel that it was wrong. This I feel in turn over powers the audiences personal beliefs and makes them feel that his death it right and justified.
From this then I think that I can safely say that I think that the director’s personal views towards capital punishment are strong and certain. I think that the director Tim Robbins is definitely without a doubt for capital punishment although I do think he is against pain, misery and suffering to innocent and good people. I don’t think that he is bloody thirsty in any way but I think that he thinks justice needs to be harsh and unsympathetic for the good of the world.
Watching this film has definitely made me think more about capital punishment. When I was watching it, it made me think very carefully about what was being done and why and what its effects are. I wouldn’t say that it has changed my views necessarily but it has definitely strengthened either side of my argument for capital punishment. I personally find it hard to say whether I am for or against capital punishment as either side of the argument has valid points.
Overall in this film and most importantly in the execution scene I think that it explores every idea and concern about capital punishment and to do this it uses a wide range media techniques.