Dredd 3D: Justice, Judgement and Repentance

October 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm, by

    “Eight hundred million people living in the ruin of the old world, only one thing fighting for the order and the chaos, the men and women of the hall of justice–judges.”

    -Judge Dredd

Thus opens Dredd 3D, the second attempt by moviemakers to capture the magic of one of the UK’s most iconic comic-book characters, Judge Dredd. Immediately, you know just what it is you’re getting – the ruins of our world, the chaos that has emerged from it, and those who fight for order, the Judges of Mega-City One.

Karl Urban plays Dredd, and, unlike a certain Sylvester Stallone, wisely does not remove his helmet the entire film. Why? Because as he tells the citizens of Peach Tree, he IS the law. The law as personified by Dredd is not partial, not motivated by revenge or anger, but just is. The law sees wrong-doing, judges and punishes, all in a single moment.

As Jews we have just finished the High Holy Days, the Yamim Noraim, when we profess that the entire world is judged. But sometimes I wish that God’s judgement was more like Dredd’s.

    “Attempted murder of a Judge, sentence: Death.”
    -Judge Dredd

You see, the Judges know you have committed a crime, you can be found guilty, sentenced and punished all by a single person, all within seconds of committing the act. We witness Dredd, together with his rookie, Andersen, dispensing summary acts of justice throughout the film, finding the ‘perps’ guilt, sentencing them to the Iso-Cubes or executing them on the spot.

But the High Holy Days are far from such instant justice. As we repeat throughout this season, “on Rosh Hashana our judgement is written down, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed” made final for the year to come. Now that Yom Kippur has been and gone, we seem to be imagining our sentence hanging over us, like the blade of a guillotine.

But why do we have this gap between the writing of the judgement and the sealing of it? And if we don’t believe that God literally ‘writes’ and ‘seals’ our fate for the year during these ten days of repentance, what does this idea hold for us?

    “Hit them with a little Slo-Mo first.”

The driving force behind the plot of Dredd is a new drug called Slo-Mo, which makes its user experience life at 1% of normal speed. Apart from leading to some beautiful cinematography, that makes seeing this movie in 3D worth the extra money, Slo-Mo reinforces just how fast this future world moves.

Bullets are fired, blood splatters across the screen as smoke drifts languidly to the ceiling. Mega-City One is violent, crazed and incredibly fast-moving. Only in such a world, where the Judges are only able to respond to 6% of crimes being committed, can a totalitarian police state like the Judges be understood, and even, perhaps, rooted for. Because justice must try to be as swift as the city, or else all law and order would be given up entirely.

Our world is all too fast, fads and technologies come and go faster than many of us can keep up with, and that speed seems only to be increasing. But the high holy days, with their delayed judgement, bucks this trend, slows down our lives, forces space for reflection and the opportunity to change.

“You can’t execute a guy on 99%.”
    -Judge Dredd

When Dredd delays punishment, as he does with the criminal he spends most of the movie carting around Peach Trees block, it’s because he isn’t sure. Despite Anderson’s telepathic abilities, and the 99% certainty that this man killed three people, Dredd withholds punishment.

But God has no such limitations, is never at only 99%. So why the delay?

The build up to Rosh Hashana is like waiting for a verdict, the ten days of repentance are when appeals can be brought.

I think that like many of us, I always work much better with a deadline, and having this period of appeal is a spiritually useful deadline to sort myself out, to do the work of teshuva, of repentance, even if I don’t think it is literally the case.

Between the judgement and the final seal of that decision, we are like the citizens of Nineveh from the book of Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur. When the reluctant prophet arrives in the city of evildoers, and tells them that “in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown” (a mere five words in Hebrew), they believe in God, repent from their sinful ways and are forgiven. The judgement itself is the cause of their transformation, the fact that it was written causes it not to be sealed.

If only we knew how God had judged us on Rosh Hashana, perhaps we would act the same.

And though we never can know God’s judgement, it’s good to believe that judgement and the seal of that judgement are separated – the space to appeal the decree, can make us worthy of earning that decree.

    “It’s all the deep end.”
        -Judge Dredd.
But why is there always a long gap between the sin and the decree being carried out? How do we deal with this gap that we find ourselves in now all the festivals are over?

In the Talmud (Shabbat 153a), we read:

    Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death. His disciples asked him, Does then one know on what day he will die? Then all the more reason that he repent to-day, he replied, lest he die to-morrow, and thus his whole life is spent in repentance.

Judge Dredd-style justice would be simple–you break the law, you’re judged, you’re punished. And this simplicity can sound really appealing, compared to the life we have, never knowing how we are being judged, or even whether we are sinning at all.

But this lack of clarity creates a powerful space in our lives–the space in which repentance can happen, in which we can take control of our lives and radically alter our destiny.

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