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Justice and Revenge - Where does the balance lie?

Yesterday I switched on Foxtel and had a scan through the movie channels. I managed to come across the movie Harry Brown starring Michael Cain in the title role. The back-drop of the movie consists of Harry, an ex-military serviceman and widower, lives in a lower class area of London that is overrun with gangland youth crime. He lives out his days ignoring it, but his best friend Lenny isn’t as lucky. His days are spent in fear as youths vandalise his apartment and play pranks on him. One day, he is found murdered, which deeply affects Harry. Harry then sets out on a one-man war of vigilantism against the gangland crime in order to avenge his best friends’ death.

This brought me to a question that has been on my mind for a long time. 
What separates justice from vengeance?

Take the most famous of all stories, for example; Bruce Wayne. His parents were murdered and this inspired him to devote his life to a crusade of fighting injustice. In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan explores this further at the court hearing for Joe Chill:

“Maybe I should be thanking him?”
"You don’t mean that.”
“What if I do? My parents deserved justice.”
“You’re not talking about justice; you’re talking about revenge.”
“Sometimes they are the same thing.”
“No, justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better.”

Who is technically correct here? The dictionary definition of justice is:


the administering of deserved punishment or reward.

Does Joe Chill deserve to be killed? He took the lives of two innocent people and destroyed a young child’s. Surely two lives’ loss justify Chill losing his? In Nolan’s case, he spent 14 years in prison but was petitioning for an early parole in payment for assisting the police with Carmine Falcone. 14 years, in my opinion, is not nearly enough punishment for double homicide.

 Then we view Ra’s al Ghul’s vision of justice, which is very draconian. He believes in an ‘eye for an eye’.

“Justice is balance. You burned down my house and left me for dead ... consider us even.”

Would the world be better off with this sense of justice? Criminals do, as Ra’s says, mock society’s laws. Police are tied up in bureaucracy and criminals know this; that’s why they take their chances. In the case of Harry Brown, the youths aren’t afraid of the police. They know that, ideally, they are untouchable. Harry takes the law into his own hand and murders each and every one of them who are connected to his best friends’ death.

 I personally have no tolerance for injustice. Harry Brown was a difficult movie for me to watch as it has some very despicable scenes of assaults on innocents (which, sadly, occurs in the world) and it almost made me wish we had a vigilante prowling streets like that. In my opinion, if a man takes someone else’s life; then he himself should be paid back in full. I don’t believe in execution, but I do believe in a life-long imprisonment.

 However, say I had a wife and she was murdered. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone would act in that situation, but I know damn well that I would want to track the person down. Yet, I was watching Quantum of Solace and Bond states something that touched me.

 “The dead don’t care about vengeance.”

 That’s true. I can’t deny that. Would it be honouring to the dead loved one to kill that person, and in turn destroy my own life by going to prison? No.

Justice is balance, but revenge is personal. Crime should be punished, but the way in which the punishment is carried out is where the real question lies.

This is a blog entry written by Lucas (aka RainEffect). Feel free to respond with your own opinions.