Political Film Society - The Life of David Gale

PFS Film Review
The Life of David Gale


How far will a person go to express commitment to a cause? Soldiers die in battle for their country. Socrates drank the hemlock to protest thought control. In The Life of David Gale, an opponent of the death penalty, David Gale (played by Kevin Spacey), is on death row, with only a few days before his execution. He has summoned Elizabeth "Bitsey" Bloom (played by Kate Winslet), a journalist who served seven days in prison because she refused to disclose her sources for a news story, to hear what he has to say. As the story unfolds, Bitsey changes from skepticism to intense involvement with an apparently innocent victim of the death penalty. Gale was a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, and we see him lecturing about Jacques Lacan's conundrum of the inability of a desired fantasy to be satisfying once achieved. When he finishes his lecture, and all students but one have left the classroom, Berlin (played by Rhona Mitra) offers to do "anything" to get a good grade, but Gale turns her down. When he leaves the classroom, he is joined by Constance Hallaway (played by Laura Linney), who updates him on developments surrounding the latest Texas death row inmate, a seventeen-year-old African American girl only a few days away from her execution. At a campus party, where Gale gets plastered, Berlin corners him and directs him in a sex act that leaves possible evidence of rape. Soon, he is arrested for rape, his wife walks out on him taking his son, though he is exonerated, presumably because the he-said she-said trial leaves reasonable doubt about his guilt. Nevertheless, the university fires him, the national headquarters of Deathwatch bans him from the Austin office, he drinks heavily, yet he continues to socialize with Constance. One day, Constance is found dead, Gale is arrested, and he is convicted and sentenced to death. On returning to her motel one night, Bitsey finds a mysterious videotape; when she plays the tape, she concludes that Constance committed suicide and was not murdered, but she obtains evidence too late to stop Gale's execution. At this point, the plot takes twists and turns, leaving some filmviewers confused, but they will not be in the dark about the real purpose of the film--to abolish the death penalty. Despite approval of the death penalty by 66 percent of the American people in public opinion polls, The Life of David Gale provides ample arguments, even religious arguments, to oppose a penalty that leaves the United States alone among the world's democracies. Alan Parker, who has received Political Film Society awards for his Midnight Express (1978) and Mississippi Burning (1988) and a nomination for Come See the Paradise (1991), receives another nomination for directing The Life of David Gale as best film of 2003 in raising consciousness about the need to advance human rights. MH

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