Friday, May 11, 2012

Execution Style

Last night I watched (again) the 1957 movie I Want to Live! starring Susan Hayward.  This movie fascinates me for many reasons, not the least of which is that the main character has my birth name, Barbara Graham.  Since Barbara Graham was executed six months before I was born, I am not sure why my parents chose to name me that, but I'm ok with my name now.  Anyway, it's hard to watch a movie where they keep talking about you as a murderer who is going to be executed.  "Barbara Graham is going to the gas chamber....."

Of course the movie ends with my namesake being gassed, which is a disturbing image to go to bed with.  So I laid awake and thought about movie executions.  We've seen just about every movie execution style.  Hangings (True Grit, all westerns), crucifixions (Passion of the Christ, Spartacus), beheadings (anything about the 16th century, the French Revolution, and Braveheart), electric chair (The Green Mile), gas chamber (Daniel), and lethal injection (Dead Man Walking.)  Have I missed any?  Of course, most Hollywood depictions are designed to make us feel sorry for the executed and see how barbaric capital punishment is.  And some were; what struck me about I Want to Live is how expensive and involved the gas chamber was.  Beheading has to be the quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to execute someone.  All the others risk survival and most are not without pain and torture.

What is equally fascinating about the Susan Hayward movie is the suspense of waiting for her execution.  It's done pretty well, although the movie portrays Barbara Graham as innocent and she probably wasn't.  We used to have public executions as a warning to others.  The arguments today say that cp doesn't work as a deterrent, and that the system is stacked against the poor and too open to error.  Any death is disturbing, but .... is it more just to let a person rot in jail (and influence others from that jail) or a person be executed (and be a symbol of possible injustice?)  As with everything nowadays, there seems to be a political component. 

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