Blog Assignment 3: Empathy, Real or Apparent

A Time to Kill is focused on the actions of Carl Lee Hailey in response to the rape of his daughter. The movie begins with two men raping Carl Lee’s ten year old daughter. Carl Lee then killed the two men and injured a police officer, putting him on trial for murder. The movie then follows the trial of Carl Lee and the life of his lawyer, Jake Brigance. This movie was filmed in a way to invoke empathy in the audience. The portrayal of the characters leads to an empathic response. This movie also had a character, Jake Brigance, try to invoke empathy in other characters, the jury.

This movie began with a young black girl picking up groceries for her family. It then showed two white, racist men, destroying the store and driving around in a truck with a confederate flag. As the girl, Tonya, walked home the movie showed the two men beat and rape her. This first scene showed what a terrible thing that Tonya had been through. It was meant to create an initial feeling of empathy in the audience. If that scene had not been depicted and the movie had just started with Carl Lee killing the two men due to her rape, the reality of what had happened to Tonya would not have been as jarring as it was actually seeing it happen. This scene was meant to create a strong feeling of empathy in the audience for Tonya and her family.

This movie depicts Carl Lee not as a murderer, but as a father. He killed those men because of what they did to his daughter. The audience saw what Carl Lee saw and this allowed them to identify with him. It showed how much rage Carl Lee felt that lead him to kill those two men. A Time to Kill was specifically filmed this way so that an emotional response would be evoked. This was a real invocation of empathy because the audience has seen all of what has happened. Nothing was skipped, no parts were glossed over. Most people (likely all people) would feel empathy for a rape victim.

A Time to Kill also used Jake Brigance to invoke empathy in the jury. Throughout the movie the jury had taken illegal “votes” to see where they were at in deciding Carl Lee’s case. At the last “vote” before the real vote, every single person voted to convict Carl Lee. However, after they heard Jake’s closing argument, they switched to vote to acquit. Jake’s argument invoked a feeling of empathy that they had not previously had. He had them close their eyes and listen to exactly what had happened to her. He had the jury in tears. He was able to invoke an emotional response from the jury that they had not previously had because they were now seeing why Carl Lee did what he did. This feeling was real empathy because the jury finally heard what really happened to Tonya. This movie managed to invoke empathy in both the audience and the jury in a very real, very intense form.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Film.                          

One thought on “Blog Assignment 3: Empathy, Real or Apparent

  1. I agree with your interoperation of the opening scene in the movie. The graphic depiction of the rape of Tonya was disturbing and did evoke real empathy in the audience.
    I believe that the framing of this scene is a big player in the invocation of empathy. The way they do close up of her limbs as she is bound. The way that the directors of the scene showed the audience the rape from the point of view of Tonya as if it was the viewers own body that was being violated. The way they show the blur of the sky and the trees above as if the viewer were Tonya looking up at the sky as she is violated. The way they show her legs dangling as she is hung, the way they show her bloody feet lose a shoe as she is pulled from the truck. All of these matter. The framing of the enhances the empathic response that is created by the scene because either the viewer sees themselves as Tonya or they feel very close to her. The view of her shoes and her hands are so close that it makes it seem like they are there with her. If this scene were shot from a wide angle it would be easier for the viewers to distance themselves and the empathy would be more apparent than real. Since the viewer is placed in the scene so closely it causes a more genuine empathic response.

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