Humanity in Dead Man Walking

Dictionary.com defines humane as “characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed. In Dead Man Walking, it is abundantly clear to the audience that Matthew Poncelet is not a humane person. Hope’s father makes this statement in regards to Poncelet, “This is not a person, this is an animal, no I take that back, animals don’t rape and murder their own kind.” Hope’s father does not view Poncelet as even human or animal, he is a monster and an inhumane being. The true face of humanity in this film is Sister Helen. Sister Helen does not have any obligations towards Matthew Poncelet and she chooses to be his spiritual advisor anyways. She is faced with judgements from the community as well as her congregation and she ignores them and continues doing what she believes to be the right thing to do.

In the beginning of the film the audience might question how Sister Helen could help a man when she knows of the terrible crimes he has committed. The answer lies in her humanity. She has kindness towards every individual. When Hope’s father asks why Sister Helen could work with Poncelet she replies, ” Every person is worth more than their worst act.” Even though Poncelet is a monstrous person that has robbed families of their children, Sister Helen shows compassion towards him. This is not to say that Helen’s humanity is one sided. Helen seeks out the families of the victims not only to get more information about what happened, but also because she wants to reach out and try to help them and herself understand. Although Hope’s family is not accepting of her offer after realizing that she is still helping Poncelet, Walter’s father is more accepting. It is evident that Walter’s father is struck by Helen’s actions because he continues to seek her out throughout the film. He is able to see beyond the exterior that she is spiritually advising the man that murdered his son and sees that she is trying to accomplish reconciliation for everyone involved. In the screenshot below Helen is reaching out to Matthew during his execution and tells him that she loves him when he tells her that he loves her.  Sister Helen is showing true humanity because she wishes for Matthew to die knowing that he was loved which is what he wanted. Helen demonstrates kindness to both the families of the victims and to the criminal because she has humanity for all people and is willing to love Matthew after he admits what he did.

Timestamp: Execution Scene

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Humanity in Dead Man Walking

  1. I feel as though you stress that Poncelet is inhumane. While throughout the majority of the film he seemed the very opposite. He showed compassion for Sister Helen and he also showed sympathy for his mother and what she might be going through because he is being put to death. During the final visitation, we see that he is very loving of his family. To me, Robbins showed sides of Poncelet that were very normal, therefore should not be described as “monstrous.” An inhumane person would indeed be the opposite of the definition that you provided. However, I feel that Poncelet had compassion and sympathy for others despite his raping of Hope and murdering Walter.

    Once Poncelet actually admits that he has committed the crime, I felt it was hard to believe just because the director did well in giving the audience a view of Poncelet that we could empathize with.

  2. I don’t think that Sister Helen actually shows much more humanity than anyone else in the film. She has chosen a career in the clergy and therefore is obligated by her profession to assist all people that she can, so her decision to Poncelet’s spiritual adviser should not be overly glorified. Also, she does not even think to visit the parents of the children until she is called out on it.

    This film shows the humanity and inhumanity of all its characters. The parents, supposedly good Christians, do not believe Poncelet even deserves Jesus’ mercy, despite the major tenants of their religion. Poncelet, who was capable of absolutely heinous acts, shows his more human side through conversations with Sister Helen. At the end of the day, none of these people are paradigms of human existence, so we must question whether any of them have the right to decide the fate of another.

  3. kayleigh0812

    I thought your post was interesting. I did not really think about the humanity of the characters at first. However, when I read your post something stood out to me at the very end. I do not think that she said I love you in the end just so that he knows that someone loves him. I think she had a deeper connection with him than that. I believe that if this is what she was trying to get across to him she could have used a different phrase. It should the viewers that in the end she became too emotionally attached to Poncelet. I also agree with the other two responders. I do not think that, because Sister Helen is reaching out to Poncelet that she is showing any more humanity than the others. This is what she is suppose to do with her profession. Had she been doing this and did not have an obligation to that would be more humane.

  4. terrellhicks

    I don’t think that Sister Helen is the most humane character in the film. I think Poncelet is the most humane character in the film, regardless of the good argument presented in the blog post. Everyone is not all good like Sister Helen. I believe that there is good and bad in everyone and that is shown in Poncelet’s character. Poncelet recognizes that he has done wrong and by the end of the movie he is dressed in white to represent purity and signify that he has changed. Poncelet obviously learned from his mistakes of raping and killing someone and has changed his view of right and wrong. I do think that Sister Helen is a good example of a good person, but Poncelet is the more realistic character in the film. Sister Helen does her job as his spiritual adviser and helps him take credibility for his actions. Poncelet might have been inhumane in the beginning of the film and deceitful throughout the film in terms of making the audience believe he was innocent at one point, but he is the character that most people can relate to since people have to forgive and attempt to forget bad behavior.

  5. emilydarst

    I disagree with your characterization of Poncelet as a completely inhumane being. While it is true that killing the Percy’s and the Delacroix’s children was a monstrous and terrible act, Poncelet’s humanity cannot be judged solely on his past. In the years that have passed since the murder, especially in his short time with Sister Helen that the audience witnesses in the plot of the film, Poncelet is changed into a much more sympathetic character, one who now believes that killing is wrong, and one who asks forgiveness for his wrongdoings. By the end of the film, there are still some characters (as well as some audience members) who view Poncelet as an evil and inhumane character, but I believe that it is time, and mostly Sister Helen’s own humanity that bring out the humane qualities of Matthew Poncelet himself.

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