Redemption and Forgiveness in the Film Dead Man Walking

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Eric Sterling


The film Dead Man Walking focuses on the transformation of death row inmate Matthew Poncelet, who is about to be executed for a rape and two murders. Poncelet initially is unrepentant and unwilling to confess. However, under the guidance of Sister Helen Prejean, Poncelet undergoes a spiritual conversion and repents for his crime. He sees that Sister Helen loves him, so he learns to love himself. His anger toward the families of his victims evolves into understanding and remorse. His genuine remorse, confession, and settling of accounts lead to his redemption. The change in Poncelet’s attitude manifests director and screenwriter Tim Robbins’s theme that even villainous criminals are capable of reform and thus should not be executed; furthermore, the killing of murderers – no matter how heinous their deeds – constitutes cruel and inhumane vengeance that does nothing to heal the pain and suffering of the victims’ families.

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Sterling, E. (2019). Redemption and Forgiveness in the Film Dead Man Walking. Humanities Bulletin, 2(2), 207-216. Retrieved from