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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Review: In ‘Apprentice,’ Teaching the Fine Art of Execution

Wan Hanafi Su in “Apprentice,” directed by Boo Junfeng.
This article was originally published by the New York Times in March 2017.

“The trick is to place the knot just behind the left ear and above the jaw.” Those instructions on how to carry out a “humane” hanging are given early in the Singaporean film “Apprentice” by Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), the chief executioner at a high-security prison, to his new assistant, Aiman (Fir Rahman). 

Rahim takes enormous pride in his work, which he has been doing for 30 years, and he, at least outwardly, exhibits no qualms about his profession. 

When their time comes, he boasts, the death-row prisoners feel no pain because they die instantly. Rahim assures one man before he’s hanged that he is being sent to “a better place.”

The tricky mentor-protégé relationship between Rahim and Aiman, who’s 28, is the heart of this moderately gripping film, directed by Boo Junfeng, that by its end tells you more than you want to know about this form of capital punishment.

(SPOILER WARNING) The two appear to bond early, as when Aiman guides Rahim to a store from which he can replenish his dwindling supply of rope. By then, we’ve learned that Aiman, a polite, handsome Malay, is the son of a killer executed by Rahim years earlier.






A former army officer who was involved in gang violence when he was younger but has since changed his ways, Aiman lives with his older sister Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad), with whom he has a tense relationship. 

The dour Suhaila, who raised her brother almost single-handedly, is about to leave Singapore to marry her Australian fiancé and is critical of her Aiman’s new job.

At first “Apprentice” seems to be a basic revenge film in which Aiman stalks the man who killed his father. But it becomes psychologically more complex as it reveals Rahim’s buried rage and guilt over his occupation and Aiman’s ambivalence when offered the chance to step into his new boss’s shoes. 

“Apprentice” largely skirts the issue of capital punishment while letting it be known that most of the other guards don’t want the job. Killing a fellow human being is not easy.

Apprentice: Director: Junfeng Boo. Writer: Junfeng Boo. Stars: Firdaus Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad, Boon Pin Koh, Nickson Cheng. Running Time: 1h 55m. Genre: Drama. In Malay with English subtitles.

Source: The New York Times, Stephen Holden, March 2, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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