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