Film / The Life of David Gale

The Life of David Gale is a 2003 thriller film directed by Alan Parker, starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, and Laura Linney.

David Gale (Spacey) is a Texas death row inmate, former philosophy professor and anti-death penalty activist. Bitsey Bloom (Winslet) is the reporter he requests to conduct an interview in the last week of his life, before his execution for the rape and murder of his friend, colleague, and fellow activist Constance Harraway (Linney). About half of the film is a flashback as Gale describes the events leading up to his conviction, starting with a rape accusation by one of his students (Rhona Mitra), and claims his innocence. With the help of her intern Zack (Gabriel Mann), Bloom must figure out what really happened and whether Gale can—and should—be saved.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acquitted Too Late: Gale's allies are trying to prevent this. At least, Bitsey Bloom is, but fails. His real plan is to cause this to happen as a political act to discourage the death penalty.
  • All for Nothing: The governor had promised that if evidence of an innocent person executed ever surfaced he'd call a moratorium on capital punishment. Gale's death is set up as exactly this. However, the governor refuses to call a moratorium, saying the state can't be blamed for a plot by someone else.
  • Clear Their Name: David Gale's intention with the interview. Zig-Zagged in the end; his and his compatriots' actual plan is for Bloom to fail to clear his name until after his execution.
  • Clueless Aesop: The film is very clearly against death penalty, by trying to show that innocent person can be executed. The problem is rather than showing innocent person who is victim of circumstances or frame-up it shows victim actually wanting to get executed, and both him and the murder victim actively trying to make it happen, at which point it's not really an innocent victim of death penalty as assisted suicide.
  • Death Row
  • False Rape Accusation: One of the reasons David loses his job. It also makes him more plausible as a rapist and murderer later than otherwise he might be.
  • Fan Disservice: Laura Linney has an extended nude scene. In which, as part of the whole plan to make her suicide look like murder, she undresses completely, ties a bag over her head, cuffs her wrists behind her back and duly suffocates to death. Her character's suffering from cancer at the time too, so her body is covered with unsightly red blotches.
  • The Joy of X
  • Karma Houdini: All of the people involved in Gale's/Constance's plot. They'd probably all claim I Did What I Had to Do, but it comes off more as Principles Zealot.
  • Off the Record: Gale makes some comments during his interview that Bloom promises are off the record. Later, the final tape explaining the complete scheme to her is marked this way, implying that the knowledge may never reach the public.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: Linney's character, terminally ill, kills herself while making it look like murder as a part of the plan.
  • Thanatos Gambit: A double, in fact.
  • You Know Who Said That: The film invokes Godwin's Law with this. The film revolves around a university teacher and political activist who is firmly against capital punishment. During a political debate, he baits his opponent like this:
    David Gale: So, basically, you feel, to choose another quote, 'society must be cleansed of elements which represent its own death.'
    Governor Hardin: Well, yes. I'd have to agree. Did I say that too?
    David Gale: No, that was Hitler.