I’m not really equal to the task of reviewing the entire Decalogue beyond saying that it is really, really fucking good and that everyone I show it to – film buffs or not – loves it. If you haven’t seen it, see it. I’m just going to discuss Decaloue 5
The Decalogue, for those who don’t know, is a series of ten films made for Polish TV by Krzysztof Kieslowski, who many consider to be one of the very best filmmakers in history. Each film uses one of the ten commandments as a theme and runs a bit under one hour.
Decalogue 5 takes the sixth commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” as its theme. Kieslowski takes perhaps the most obvious approach to the commandment and tells the story of a capital murder case. We cut between the murderer, victim and the defense attorney, who is arguing against capital punishment in a closed session after the verdict, hoping to persuade the judges to leniency. Gradually, the parties converge. The murderer closes in on his victim, a randomly chosen taxi driver, and brutally murders him. The attorney’s arguments are unsuccessful and he must face his client as he is sentenced to be hanged.
In less than an hour, Kieslawski covers all the bases. We see the humanity of the killer, but the murder is brutal and cold blooded in a way that will test our compassion when he faces his sentence. Although the killer struggles with the decision to murder, he makes it and reaffirms it several times. Watching the killing, it’s difficult not to be sympathetic to the death penalty (assuming they always got the right man).
The second killing is equally disturbing, capturing the cold, mechanical nature of the state execution. The judge assures the attorney that nothing he could have done would have saved his client. The execution machinery is tested. The convict s dragged out, the sentence is read, he is hanged. Watching the execution, it’s difficult to be sympathetic toward the death penalty.
Decalogue 5 is, or at least should be, the final word in films about capital punishment. The only angle it does not really cover, although it is mentioned, is the possibility of executing an innocent person. The horror of both killings is inescapable and the film is too honest to offer lessons. You can easily watch the film, the brutality of the murder and conclude that a person who engages such barbaric behavior forfeits his own life. Certainly, if someone had stumbled onto the murder in progress and shot the would-be-killer, few would feel much sympathy for him. You can just as easily watch the process of execution, however, and find that it taints all who are involved, which in the case of a state execution, means everyone. Could you pull the switch? If not, why is it acceptable to let the state pay someone to do it for you?
These are just my thoughts – thoughts I’ve had before – and are not drawn from the film, but rather stirred by it. This film and the whole Decalogue do what adult films about morality should: they depict rather than demonstrate and stimulate rather than teach.
- Film Overall: 9.5
- Direction: 10
- Story: 9
- Acting: 9
- Rewatchability: 8
Special Ruthless Ratings:
- Number of minutes you sat staring blankly after the film was over: 2
- Number of times the movie was paused to do something else: 0
- Number of beers that to drink while watching film: either 0 or 8