Monday, November 1, 2010

Religious Symbolism in Murder in the First

After revisiting the movie a second time, I noticed many religious symbols in the beginning of Murder in the First. Whether intentional or not, they add a different texture to the intended meanings in the movie.

Early in the movie, several inmates are led in the very famous Christian prayer, "Our Father." This is the most known prayer and it is said at every Sunday mass. Immediately following is a scene where Henry Young is being whipped and punished for trying to escape Alcatraz. This prayer is important during Reconciliation because it includes words like, 'forgive us for our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.' This prayer, in a way, is supposed to be able to renew one from their sins and give them a second chance. Henry Young is paying for trying to escape and this his first steps to reconciliation.

A bit later in the movie, there's a scene where the guards tie Henry Young's hands to the walls that him arms are completely outstretched, just like how Jesus's arms were outstretched on the cross right before he died. As a bold statement, Henry Young is being used as a metaphor for Jesus Christ. After you think about it, it makes sense because Young had to suffer in order for change had to happen within the penitentiary system. Henry Young died so that prisoners after him wouldn't have to suffer in solitary as bad as he did. Although difficult to see Young as a martyr, this blatant comparison tries to make a statement about the significant role he played in changing the penal system.

The movie also mentions Christmas, which is actually the birth of baby Jesus. In this Christmas on Alcatraz, some carolers are singing a tune one wouldn't expect from the cheer holiday. The song they are singing is a bit haunting making the audience feel a bit uncomfortable. This is the same time that Henry Young is first allowed out of solitary as he gets a haircut to symbolize his 'rebirth'. This could also be seen as the birth of the catatonic killer that has surfaced because of Alcatraz. Aside from the religious aspect, Christmas was just another chance to show how lonely Young is and how lonely he would be on Alcatraz.

Although some of these religious comparisons may be a bit stretched, they are still apparent in the movie. These symbols are able to add another layer of understanding of Henry Young and Alcatraz and the religious symbols they stand for.


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