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Dead Man Walking (1995)


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It seems unimaginable to me that there is no thread on this film, but I did the requisite due diligence, searching the engines for the title and/or using keywords such as "Robbins," "Prejean," and "Sarandon." I also tried the Google engine but to no avail. If it is here and I missed it, apologies.

Anyhow, I mentioned in the "About You" thread, that I've been messing around with Kindle direct publishing for various odds and ends and I uploaded a conference paper that I wrote for the 2006 Mid Atlantic Pop/American Culture Association about this film. Here's a link.

I look at Robbins's director commentary track to describe what Genette calls "peritexts" and argue that Robbins uses the book and the argument of authenticity (being true to life) to side-step criticism that the film may be biased against capital punishment. I'm more or less against capital punishment, but I argue that the way the commentary justifies some of his formal and directorial choices hurts the credibility of his argument.

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We do have a page on this film, with a blurb by SDG, dating back to one of the earlier incarnations of the A&F Top 100. But yeah, no thread, apparently, until now.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Incidentally, the paper I reference above is currently available to download on Kindle for free if you are an Amazon Prime member.(There are a certain number of days it can be made available for free as part of the KDP publishing deal.)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Incidentally, the paper I reference above is currently available to download on Kindle for free if you are an Amazon Prime member.(There are a certain number of days it can be made available for free as part of the KDP publishing deal.)

Thanks for sharing this. Coincidentally, I've been reading about paratexts lately and their function within a transmedial culture. My favorite subject so far is "trailer rhetoric."

In your essay, is "paritext" to be understood as something distinct from "paratext" or is it merely an alternate spelling?

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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In your essay, is "paritext" to be understood as something distinct from "paratext" or is it merely an alternate spelling?

If I said paritexts, it was a typo (I make a lot of those as readers here know due in part to some poor eyesight). It's been awhile since I re-read the essay, but I believe I (following Genette) divide paratexts into two categories: peritexts and epitexts, the distinction being one type (the peritext, I think) were not originally part of the text but added afterwards (such as a director commentary, or an author "foreward" on the anniversary of a republishing), whereas the other--titles, epigraphs, footnotes, afterwards--are sometimes part of the original text, even if they are not often thought of as such.

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  • 7 years later...

Of the films I nominated for the top 100 Dead Man Walking is the one that has the strongest effect on me personally. Nevertheless, it has been a long time since I've seen it now, so my memory might not serve me well for everything I say.

Dead Man Walking challenges me to question how I understand the concept of forgiveness and whether or not it should have limits. Simplistically, it may appear that one set of parents is portrayed as forgiving because they oppose Poncelet's execution, while the other is portrayed as unwilling to forgive because they take no action regarding the case. But I don't see the portrayals like that all. Sister Helen views her calling as ministry to Poncelet. Interaction with the parents becomes necessary but is not her main purpose. Whether or not she believes Poncelet's innocence is immaterial to her ministry. But it's crucial to whether or not the parents can extend forgiveness to Poncelet. It flies in the face of what is taught in most American Christianity that human forgiveness should be unconditional like love. Watching this movie actually helps me view forgiveness in a way that lines up better to the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus than what most American Christianity teaches. I see the set of parents that don't forgive Poncelet as the people who rightly act out of skepticism, not bitterness. We're never given any clear evidence that his repentance is real, and they understand repentance as what must happen so they can forgive.

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