Ironweed was a movie prepared by Kennedy William to capture events that occurred during the period of Great Depression. The main characters are Phelan Francis and Archer Helen. Phelan Francis was a depressed alcoholic who unfortunately murdered his own son possibly while in a state of unconsciousness.
He also murdered two more people before the death of his own son. One day, while working in a burial ground in order to recompense outstanding law arrears, Phelan encountered his son’s grave. He recalled how he unintentionally murdered his son who aged 13 days old. Phelan remembered how he accidentally dropped his son to the ground and eventually the son died.
Phelan was haunted by three people who he killed. He fantasized about the dead men, and such apparition disturbed his life. Phelan was irresponsible individual who abandoned his family members who are residents of New York at Albany. Moreover, Phelan never felt guilty over his fatal violence acts but instead avoided his work and family responsibilities. He was always involved in severe drinking.
Archer Helen was a musician in a radio station while Phelan Francis was a gifted league baseball pitcher. However, misfortune surrounded lives of Phelan Francis and Archer Helen. Phelan was haunted by his own son and other two people he murdered. On the other hand, Archer Helen was suffering from cancer. Francis, the father of three children, left his family after succession of ill-fated events that disturbed his life.
Though initially, Phelan was a hopeless, bum and stubborn person, he was able to seek redemption when he realized his mistakes after sometime. Phelan acknowledged that he was a thief, abandoner, bum, murderer, and drunker. He was willing to transform his life. During his lifetime, Francis was a vagrant, incompetent, and lazy person who depended on other people’s effort.
Phelan roamed from one region to another looking for appeasement and sustenance that would satisfy his needs. Despite Phelan’s unjustified behavior, people pitied him. At the end of the story, Phelan went back to Albany and reconciled himself over negative acts he was involved in during his past life. This paper reflected on how justice not only prevailed upon characters of the movie but also on the State of Albany.
According to Pizzitola, absolute justice was beyond persecution of offenders who breached the State’s laws; it also presupposed the interpretation of divine law (12). The aim of justice was to punish offenders who performed harmful deeds in appropriate way which fit the level of offense committed. Though, many challenges happened in the society, justice would prevail at the end.
The perpetrators, like Phelan, would not escape off the hook; absolute justice would fall on them. Whether the aim was upon spiritual system or criminal operation; offenders, like Phelan, would eventually come to pay their price. This was a time when ultimate justice would pace on its course. There was life after death, and people who committed evil deeds would be judged according to their actions in life.
Pizzitola viewed that mourning was a basic psychological process in which victimized people had to perform in order to express their emotional dissatisfaction; such discontent feelings expressed themselves in search for vengeance and retaliation (10). People who lost their loved relatives mourned because they lost individuals of highest value who had roles and duties to play in life. Archer Helen was grief when she lost her son due to an unintentional incident that happened to Phelan.
The catastrophic event struck Archer Helen together with her two children; the incident negatively changed their lives. It was an unforgettable history. However, Phelan’s action could be perceived as intentional because apart from accidentally murdering his son, he is also alleged to have murdered two more people. “Absolute Justice aimed to punish evil deeds in order to promote fairness to every person” (Pizzitola 9).
Absolute Justice was an ideal sprite that ensured that offended people (the three murdered people) should not seek vengeance; because they would reap justice from the Divine being who was capable to accomplish death, in spite of the biological status of Phelan who was accountable for such deaths. “Justice could only be realized through upholding Divine principles based on morality” (Pizzitola 4).
Forgivingness could only take place when Phelan had to seek reconciliation. “In order to forgive, Phelan had to embrace the essence of mercy, good and justice” (Pizzitola 6).
The Ironweed story ended in a good note when Francis realized his weakness; he begged for forgiveness from his family members. Supposed Phelan did not reconciled, he would have faced justice over his evil actions. The offended people like Archer Helen acquired spirit of forgiveness; this was the basic assurance that would enable her not to seek vengeance as a way of retaliation against Phelan.
Indeed, Archer Helen embraced forgiveness that helped her to fulfill her duties in life and to strengthen her whenever she encountered negative deeds in the world. Pizzitola expressed that it was important to note that, even though Francis was forgiven, his evil deeds would not go scot-free. Francis had to be punished according to the State’s law, and by stipulation of the Divine justice (5).
However, “some people claimed that ultimate justice could be achieved through death penalty in order to discourage killers and to enhance sacredness of human existence” (Pizzitola 5). Nevertheless, death penalty was seen as an unfair and harsh sentence to offenders. The appropriate remedy was to respect life but to look a fair way of punishing offenders.
Divine justice presupposed the Divine goodness that embodied morals and highest principles which enhanced human life. “Ultimate justice was a divine justice that encompassed unconditional love; a love that did not seek to revenge but which embraced forgiveness” (Pizzitola 10). Unconditional love presupposed that the Divine being would be able pass judgment upon the offenders.
Justice as Law
According to Pizzitola:
Law was enacted to safeguard members of society from aggression; to institute the rules that would ensured community was united; to develop the community upon conditions raised by community members; to make certain that justice prevailed in the society; to prosecute offenders; and to sustain social order (13).
Justice was a scheme of law through which each individual got her or his due according to the stipulated regulation; it was a fair deal. However, some challenges was experienced when seeking justice; for example, legislatures frequently involved in complicated procedures that marred their committed to accomplish justice to every person.
There was a claim that “Justice delayed was justice denied” (Pizzitola 10); this was applicable to: burdensome and delayed processes in court proceedings, lack of appropriate court systems, and impediments toward achieving justice through involvement of worthless cases.
Lack of effective court system contributed to injustice cases in the Ironweed film; for instance, Phelan was a serial killer who escaped blamelessly without being arrested in jail. This reflected how the judicial system in Albany was ineffective. Pizzitola asserted that a just society could only be accomplished when judicial system in the State was committed to provide justice to every person in the society (10).
Pizzitola viewed that justice was a continuous and regular disposition that aimed to provide every person his or her due in the society (14). The purpose of justice was to render punishment and reward every individual according to his or her deeds.
Justice was meant to render each person what belonged to him or her in order to instill equality among people. “The rule of law was enacted to safeguard individual’s autonomy and life, and to offer protection against the illogical deficient actions in the State” (Pizzitola 17). Phelan could have conformed his will and actions according to the decree of law.
Nevertheless, “what messed up with Francis was that he was a bum and lazy person who depended on other people for survival means” (Pizzitola 18). In fact, to make the matter worse was a fact that Phelan misused little resources he had through alcoholism. Impacts of alcohol addiction interfered with Francis’ life plan; he was incapable to adhere to rules of law in the society.
Justice was a set of regulations enacted through legal institution. Pizzitola affirmed that laws were important because they shaped society’s politics and economic factors in many ways; therefore acted as a chief social arbitrator of relation among people (20). Criminal law provided means through which the State could put perpetrators on trial.
On the other hand, constitutional law safeguarded human rights for every person in the State. However, the judicial system in Albany was questionable whether was it actually committed to inculcate justice in the State (Pizzitola 16). In fact if the judicial institutions were dedicated, then perpetrators, like Phelan, could have been disciplined through the rule of law.
Pizzitola stated that laws were a system of rules that were foundation of all deeds and decisions in which governing institutions had to up hold (24). Various institutions in the community generated governing regulations; however such laws could be meaningless if such governing bodies did not enforced such laws. Judiciary was the legal governing body that obliged every person to follow laws.
The role of laws was to instill order and peace in the community. “Citizens in the society had to be more cautious when dealing with one another; any harm caused by any individual would be subjected to penalty as affirmed by law” (Pizzitola 23).
Judicial system was mandated to ensure that every individual conformed to the decree of legislation; those who were defiant to the law were dealt with according to the regulation. Pizzitola asserted that it was upon consent of the governing institution to support people who were irresponsible to moral accountability (16).
For instance, judicial system of Albany was the approval body that could support criminals, like Francis, in order to transform them into individuals who would be responsible for moral customs in the society. Pizzitola viewed that it was the accountability of judicial system to make certain that social order in the society were sustained and maintained (27).
Pizzitola claimed that laws were vital in order to make sure that justice was provided to every person regardless of individual status; every person was equal under rule of law of the society (25). In order to build a balance between good and evil in the society, the rule of law was required.
People who committed offense were supposed to be prosecuted according to what was stipulated under the law. Law was a regulation that was not permanent; laws could be changed depending on people’s needs, and its relevance according to the contemporary society (Pizzitola 20). The principle behind every law was to enhance social order that promoted equality and human rights for every person.
Justice as Cultural
According to Pizzitola, cultures are main systems that accomplish human needs. Cultural justice comprised of shared just principles among members of various cultural communities.
Nevertheless, Pizzitola viewed that there was debate about how the State could act justly to the minor cultures in the diversified cultural communities where major cultural customs were only reflected in constitution of the State (26). Actually, all justice aspects involved cultural conceptions; culture was the basis of traditions, beliefs and values of the society (Pizzitola 22).
Pizzitola asserted that people could oppose their culture’s principal traditions in order to devise alternative rules of justice; governing rules should be significant and relevant to people’s needs. Rules hence were susceptible to be modified (23). Besides that, culture should approve suitable visions for generating justice conceptions. According to Pizzitola, distributive justice was the best devise to use in order to ensure that resources, benefits and burdens were fairly and equally distributed to all cultures in the society (21).
Justice as Ethics
Ethics involved what was morally acceptable or unacceptable; on the other hand, justice concerned what was legally acceptable or unacceptable. “Justice was morally ethical; therefore performing what was morally ethical was legal” (Pizzitola 24). This showed how justice and ethics were related.
Pizzitola expressed that justice had the responsibility to perform restorative role; expecting an offender to restore an innocent sufferer to a situation where a sufferer was in before offense committed (27). Justices was a devise tool that was used to compensate people who were victimized by offenders. Restorative justice would ensure that Francis restored and compensated people he murdered, and his family members who suffered because Francis was not responsible enough to take care of them.
Pizzitola viewed that justice also was punitive in the sense that it penalized offenders who committed crime (29). Justice ensured that burdens and profits were distributed among people in the society in a manner which was just and fair to every person.
However, “in case institutions in the community distributed burdens and resources in an unjust manner, there was supposition that such institutions needed to be changed” (Pizzitola 32). Pizzitola stated that justice served as corrective measures in the society and to make certain that any form of punishment was just and fair to offenders (33).
It is important to note that the aim of punishment should be objective and impartial; should not be marred with prejudice and biasness. However, injustice acts still existed in judicial system of the State that was influenced by racism. It was questionable why Phelan could escape guiltlessly when Albany’s judicial system knew that he was dangerous criminal; this suggested that judicial institution in the State was inefficient to curb crimes.
The basis of justice was rooted on social stability, equality and individual autonomy. “The stability of the community relied on the manner citizens of the society were treated justly” (Pizzitola 34). If people were unequally treated; there would be social instability, strife and crimes in the society.
Pizzitola claimed that people depended on one another, and they would only maintain their social unity when their institutions practiced just principles (35). If people were unequally treated, their essential human dignity was dishonored. Justice generally controls moral values of a person in the society.
Justice was a notion that concerned duties and rights of people in the society. Justice was an interpersonal concept that sought to resolve conflict among people. Justice would ensure that: society members were safeguarded; offenders were punished due to committing unlawful actions; and victimized individuals were given restitution.
Absolute justice was not actually attainable because human beings were not perfect, but limited beings; however, they focused to achieve absolute justice. Justice was aimed to promote better interests in the society; nevertheless, this was not to claim that inferior interests should be suppressed.
Justice aimed to sustain and build right behaviors while judicial court was responsible to deliver judgment among peoples. Moreover, the remedy of court was an alternative resort that was exercised only when disputes happened. The judicial proceeding was intended to provide solutions toward existing disputes. Court was responsible to handle injustice cases that had already happened in the society and reassure the mass of fairness and accountability.
Pizzitola, Louis. Hearst over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Print.