Humans are vengeful in nature. It is natural, instinctive, something that simply comes naturally for us. From small conflicts to great wars that ultimately cause harm or lead to the death of people, it can be rooted from different reasons but in most cases, it is for revenge or vengeance. But there’s always a reason, a catalyst that will instigate this desire for vengeance. There is even a saying “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” which simply means giving back what was given to you or getting even. But at present times where the society is ruled by a justice system, this kind of thinking simply won’t do.
In the movie “Law Abiding Citizen,” two prominent forms of justice were shown. One being the legal process the suspects, namely Clarence James Darby and Rupert Ames had undergone after the crime they committed and the second one, Clyde Shelton exacting revenge to the suspects and to those who were involved in the case, may it be directly or indirectly. The first one can be labeled under legalized revenge. It is a form of retribution permitted by the law and the laws limit the powers of those who apprehend and punish criminals.
The neutral party will serve as the intermediary between the victim and the transgressor. By using an impartial body and removing personal biases, appropriate punishment would be given and would exact the revenge for the victim thus preventing escalation. As it is, in the movie, it didn’t stop there. By relying on the justice system, Shelton put his belief that the suspects would be put behind the bars. Yes, it used an impartial body and punishment was given but the problem lies on the different arithmetic perceived by Shelton and the prosecutor, Nick Rice.
Rice struck a deal with Darby that if he testifies against Ames he would receive a lesser charge while Ames would get the death row. For Rice, convicting at least one of them is enough while the other served his shortened sentence but Shelton felt betrayed by Nick’s actions and pleaded to at least try to convict both of them for Darby is the primary suspect and Ames was merely an accomplice. This series of events lead to Shelton losing his trust to the justice system and putting matters into his own hands. After ten years, Shelton put his plan into action starting on Ames then on Darby and Darby’s attorney, Bill Reynolds.
He also didn’t pass up Rice’s daughter by sending a snuff film of Darby’s death. Fueled by his desire for revenge and the collapse of the corrupt justice system, Shelton left numerous deaths on his wake. Shelton’s desire for revenge was brought forth by the inability of the justice system to sustain his pleads for justice. By failing to do this, the justice system’s goal to prevent escalation of the situation was not met. Through Shelton’s direct involvement and without the use of impartial body, it is no longer a legalized revenge but only mere revenge.
It can be labeled under this for Shelton’s intentions are personal and arbitrary. His actions were ruled by passion and his desire for revenge for what happened to his wife and daughter. This can be seen through his premeditated murders. After killing Ames and Darby, he still continued to kill innocent people. After killing his family’s killers he sought to bring down the corrupt justice system by planning to bomb the city hall where the leaders were having a meeting. He was emotionally-driven to do this after what happened to him and his family.
Shelton’s inability to forgive and forget was also shown in the movie. Despite receiving the sentences of his family’s killers, over the years he still aim to exact revenge on Darby and Ames on his own personal way. The time and money consumed can be clearly seen by how intricate and meticulous his murders were. Large amount of money and time would be needed to gather the materials, chemicals, machinery, etc. he used for his murders. “Remembrance is unquestionably a form of revenge,” according to Jacoby. After ten years, instead of moving on he planned for the demise of his enemies.
Quoting Susan Jacoby, “Laws may, of course, be unjust even though they are not founded on personal enmity. ” This implies that there are cases where situations like this are simply inevitable. By failing to convict a suspect the justice system fails to balance and equalize things as well as failing to nullify the effects of the crime. Just like what happened in the movie. By having his case under a corrupt criminal justice system and having his lawyer strike a deal with a criminal, Shelton’s action may not be unfounded though his numerous killings is certainly unnecessary.
From what Robert Solomon said, “Vengeance is the original meaning of justice. ” From the olden days and throughout most of the history, the focus of justice is more concerned with the punishment of crimes and balancing of the wrongs and also the concept of “getting even. ” Rooting from this, revenge is also a notion of justice. Though some of us have misconstrued ideas about revenge such as it being associated with words like bad, violent, irrational, etc. , it is not that different with retribution. They are virtually synonymous.
Retribution is the punishment given by the state or the government. It seeks to balance restraint and impulse. Retribution is similar to the concept of legalized revenge explained before. To put it simply when you break the law, the punishment given serves as the “revenge” of the state to the transgressor. Legalized revenge and mere revenge may be rooted from the same concept but the means to achieve their goal is different. Legalized revenge aims for the common good and the social order in the society.