Road to Perdition is a crime drama released in July 2002 following the life of a father and son during the winter of 1931. The movie begins with Michael Sullivan Jr. witnessing his father, Michael Sullivan, commit murder as an enforcer while working under the mob boss John Rooney. Connor Rooney, son of John Rooney, then murders Sullivan’s wife and youngest child Peter thinking he is Michael Jr. as Conner believes the son will not keep the killing he witnessed a secret. Sullivan is furious and wants revenge on both of the Rooneys but he must take his son Michael to Chicago for help.
He seeks out Al Capone’s underboss, Frank Nitti, for assistance with his task on finding Connor but unfortunately Nitti refuses to help him. Nitti then informs John Rooney, who is waiting in the next room, of their meeting and they come to a conclusion that Sullivan must be stopped. John Rooney has the utmost respect for Sullivan but his own son’s safety is more important. As a result, Rooney and Nitti agree to hire Harlen Maguire to assassinate Sullivan. The remainder of the story unfolds with Sullivan and his son on their journey to Perdition while avoiding Maguire who is determined on completing his orders.
Harlen Maguire is introduced as a crime scene photographer and is shown with his camera equipment multiple times throughout the film. He is first shown photographing at a crime scene with a Speed Graphic 4×5 view camera. On arrival the recently stabbed victim is still alive, after suffocating the man Maguire then makes his photograph of the dead man. Maguire spends a short time developing prints in a darkroom and then hanging those prints to dry, then shown admiring framed prints of all the dead victims he has photographed.
It is quickly realized there is more to Maguire and his job as crime scene photographer as he is clearly fascinated by the deaths he witnesses. While in the diner he is shown loading a camera with medium format film; while talking to Sullivan he says with a grin “I shoot the dead. ”Maguire has a resemblance to the famous street photographer Arthur Fellig, also known as Weegee, who was obsessed with photographing crime. Weegee worked as a freelance photojournalist for numerous newspapers from 1936 through 1947 in New York City.
He is known for his grim photographs of crime scenes while usually photographing at night with infrared film and a flash. When making a photograph he would examine the scene and consider the expressions and gestures of his subjects which helped to create a stronger image. For much of his career he said he was “spellbound by the mystery of murder. ” It was rumored that he was able to arrive with his camera at a crime scene as the police arrived or sometimes even before. After Sullivan realizes Maguire’s true intentions, Maguire immediately attempts to kill the Sullivans and murders a police officer in the process.
Sullivan manages to escape and cut Maguire’s tire before continuing their travels to Perdition. After these few key scenes throughout the film, it is apparent Maguire is a troubled man with no respect for human life. While not working as a crime scene photographer, Maguire is an assassin working for the crime bosses of the city hired to complete horrible tasks. It is then made known he also likes to photograph his own victims. From the time he was first introduced halfway through the film, Maguire has a sinister appearance with pale skin, long nails, and yellow teeth. He truly is a terrible person who enjoys what he does.
As the plot unfolds we begin to see that each character has secrets about themselves waiting to be revealed. Specifically Maguire, as his destructive actions are contradictory and defeats the purpose of photography. When a photograph is made at the release of the shutter, the life and essence of that subject is forever captured in that point in time. This has been stated by the well known painter and street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in his book The Decisive Moment. He writes “I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life – to preserve life in the act of living.
Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. ” It is a photographers job to preserve these moments and ultimately tell the story of some subject to its full potential. It is capturing the beauty of everyday things and ordinary moments and transforming those moments into something more. Through his evil actions Maguire shows no respect for life. When he completes these disturbing endeavors he is ultimately ending that persons story they tell through living.
Perdition is defined as a state of eternal punishment and damnation into which a sinful and unforgiving person passes after death. The film focuses on moral outlook; man must live with the consequences for his actions throughout life. This was mainly highlighted through the relationship between Sullivan and his son as he does not want Michael to follow in his path of destruction and immoral decisions. After the horrible events Michael experienced, in the closing of the film he reveals he has never held a gun again as he understands the ending of a life is the ultimate tragedy.