The film A Time To Kill relied greatly on the invocation of emotions in both the viewer and the movie characters. There are various scenes throughout the movie that rely greatly on the emotional pleas of the characters trying to create empathy in the viewers or the other characters in the movie. One could argue that the most important of these scenes is in the first few minutes of the movie. The graphic depiction of the rape, kidnapping, and assault of Tonya Hailey was shown to evoke empathy in the viewer of the film.
The brutal attack of this innocent young girl is disturbing to the viewers, as it is intended. There is a lot of difference between explaining a situation in words, and explaining it through a visual depiction. The directors of the film could have easily left out this scene and instead had one of the characters explain it. However, even if the character explaining it used graphic language, it still would not have had the same impact on the viewership. The viewers see the assault and feel empathy for Tonya and Carl Lee because they see the assault from Tonya’s perspective and feel the protective instincts that Carl Lee feels. People should feel upset that this innocent young girl was so brutally assaulted by these men. They should feel like maybe Carl Lee was justified in his actions.
The depiction of this assault in some ways clouds the definitive nature of the verdict in the eyes of the viewer. If the assault were not shown and merely described or assumed, then the filmmakers run the risk of the viewers not feeling empathy for Carl Lee and thus not understanding the point that the film was trying to make. It is an undeniable fact that Carl Lee did murder the two men who attacked his daughter. It is also apparent that the murders were pre-meditated and that Carl Lee was not insane when he committed the crime. With this information alone, the viewers might call out Carl Lee as guilty.
The empathy that this scene creates is real empathy. The viewer sees the depiction of such a brutal act carried out against a little girl, one of societies most innocent players. While this is something that a majority of the viewership has never experienced, they experience “empathic arousal” (Hoffman, 232). The empathic arousal that viewers experience is “perspective taking” (Hoffman, 233). While Hoffman describes perspective taking as putting oneself into the perspective of another and creating “mental images that evoke the same feeling in oneself” (Hoffman, 233), the viewer’s don’t have to imagine because the cinematography of the film puts the viewer in Tonya’s place. With feeling the empathy and anger from seeing the attack on Tonya the viewer also gains empathy for Carl Lee for wanting to protect his helpless daughter.
This movie examines a subject that is unfortunately not totally irrelevant to our society. Unfortunately our justice system is still not a perfect in allocating fair justice to all members of our society. Even though A Time To Kill is set in the 1980’s and society has improved race relations tremendously since then, it was not irrelevant in 1996 when the film was released, and it is not irrelevant today another twenty years later. Unfortunately this is something that we witness all too often. With the mass incarceration rates of Black Americans and the countless cases surfacing of Black Americans being killed without due cause, it is still a very relevant issue in today’s society. The film attempts to show the viewers this inequality that some people may not even be aware exists still in society. The point of the movie is to allow the audience a peak into a situation that they could never fully comprehend the impact of before.
A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.
Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.