The movie a criminal was sentenced to watch in prison

The movie a criminal was sentenced to watch in prison

(Credits: Far Out / Eric Terrade / Dex Ezekie)


In the more bizarre corners of legal and judicial history, it seems courtrooms occasionally dabble in the fine art of film critique. While some of us may have received movie recommendations from friends, family, or that one particularly passionate co-worker, a select few have garnered their watchlist straight from the judge’s bench. It makes one wonder: can cinema really deliver justice?

The transformative power of cinema has historically permeated even the walls of prisons. In the mid-20th century, prison cinemas became a staple in many US and European correctional facilities. While some films were shown to inmates for pure entertainment, others were utilised for rehabilitation purposes. The idea was that certain films could offer moral lessons or insights that could aid in an inmate’s personal growth.

Flashback to 2016: in a curious Virginia case, a judge felt particularly inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. So much so that he ordered a teenager to give it a watch. Why? The youngster had committed a racially charged crime against an Asian classmate. Gran Torino, for those who haven’t seen it, delves into racial prejudices, with Eastwood’s character forming an unexpected bond with a Hmong teenager. The message from the judge was loud and clear: sit, watch, and hopefully, learn a thing or two about tolerance.

Now, as if judges turning into film critics wasn’t amusing enough, 2018 saw a Missouri judge delve deep into the Disney vault for an inspired sentence. David Berry Jr caught in one of the state’s largest poaching fiascos, not only got a ticket to a year behind bars but was also bestowed the monthly ‘pleasure’ of watching Bambi.

Yes, that Bambi – the 1942 animated classic that features a particularly tragic scene where the young deer’s mother meets a hunter’s bullet. Judge Robert George likely hoped that Berry would have a little heartstring tugged at the senseless waste of his poaching activities with every viewing. Perhaps the haunting refrain of “Mother? Mother?!” would echo enough to inspire change.

Given the nature of Berry’s crimes of decapitating deer and leaving the carcasses behind, it’s hard to deny that there is a certain brilliance in the judge’s choice. And it’s hard not to smirk when picturing this grown man, involved in a major poaching ring, being served regular doses of animated deer drama. So, as we celebrate the unlikely intersections of film and justice, it’s clear that the justice system sometimes sees cinema as more than escapism.

It can be a poignant (if slightly humorous) mirror, especially when the reflection is a wide-eyed cartoon deer. The real question, though, remains: after all those monthly screenings, did Berry come out with a tear in his eye and a changed heart, or merely an enhanced critique of Disney’s early animation techniques? Perhaps, if the cartoon didn’t adequately stir him, an upcoming revisionist version that sees the deer on a bloodthirsty tale of revenge might sway him differently.

Bambi (1942) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers


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