The film opens with a truck raging down an open dirt road. Two sweaty, drunk, racist, and violent white men are inside, pushing the truck to its weak limits of speed and shock absorption. The reason why I mention their race, is the fact that they are driving in a low income African American neighborhood. As they fly down this road, they make numerous stops at local houses and shops. At each stop they become increasingly drunk and then violent towards all of the neighborhood’s people. It is made clear that these drunken men are on the “bad” side, and the neighborhood’s people have done nothing wrong to cause such consequences.
It is in this scene where I believe the film is trying to invoke an apparent sense of empathy. Not only that, but it is trying to invoke a sense of anger and frustration among the audience. I can infer this because the rest of the film is dedicated to showing serving “justice” for Carl Lee. I say justice in quotes because it is a highly debatable topic whether the ending is in fact justice. In order for the viewer to justify this brutal murder, the film was designed for the audience to sympathize with Carl Lee. What might feel like empathy, is not. Empathy in this case is not true empathy, as it simply puts you in Carl Lee’s corner, rather than actually experiencing the event yourself. Therefore, the emotion that the audience feels is not empathy, as they cannot relate based upon experience.
I believe that this emotion of “sympathy “is, at its core, truly anger. The rawness of the opening scene is astounding. There are a lot of close headshots of the Carl Lee’s neighbors when the truck rages down the streets, and in their faces lies anger. The film also choses to exclude music from the rape scene, allowing the scene to feel incredibly real and tense. I felt myself hating these men with every increasing second of the scene. Therefore, I was following the design of the scene, the reason for its existence. Throughout the rest of the film, the I could only imagine the rape when they were in the shop, making it harder to side with their end of the case and convict Carl Lee.
I think that after the initial crime, there is mostly, if not exclusively, all logos in the courtroom. Mr. Brigance doesn’t really recognize that empathy is the key to his argument until his final statement. In fact, I believe there really is no empathy at all in the film until the end of the film when Mr. Brigance presents his closing speech. He opens this speech asking the jurors to close their eyes and “listen to me, listen to yourselves.” (TK) During this moving speech, he asks the jury to imagine them in Carl Lee’s position, and even brings some jurors to tears. It is at this moment that truly secures the jury to his side. Anger begins the film, and empathy concludes it. Although empathy does play a large role in the film “A Time to Kill”, it has no presence in the opening scene depicting the crime.
A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacy. Regency Enterprises, 1996. DVD.