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. This tension culminates during the rape scene, which is raw and brutally portrayed. This is where the film first uses empathy. Designed to have viewers hate the rapists, the film successfully made me believe something I know do not. During the film “A Time to Kill”, no justice exists for Carl Lee or Mr. Cobb and Mr. Willard. If the case is viewed in its purest form without race being a factor, both sides have committed terrible crimes. The only way for justice truly to be served is for both sides to be punished.
The issue of race has always been an issue in court, especially within recent years. Events like the shooting of Michael Brown, the death of Erick Garner, and even the beating of Rodney King have sparked great separation within society. It seems now that a day does not go by without seeing some form of race conflict in the papers. However, the film does not take place now. The film takes place when the KKK was still active in the south and when income directly correlated with race. This said, race was more intense during the time period the film was set in. The jury was completely impartial to begin with. Not only entirely white, but some even were set upon convicting Carl Lee before he set foot in the courtroom. How can justice possibly exist in the courtroom if the jury is unchanged by evidence?
Nussbaum would argue that the jury needed to be occupied by “judicious spectators”. These ideal jurors will not “have such emotions and thoughts as relate to his own personal safety and happiness; in that sense he is without bias and surveys the scene before him with a certain sort of detachment” (Nussbaum 73). Judicious spectators in the jury box would disregard the added complication of race in the case, and see the case for what it really is. When it is finally seen as a trial between two people of equal social standing, there will be justice. Hoffman too sees justice in court is sometimes skewed due to bias. However, Hoffman believes that it is impossible to avoid, so it must simply be adjusted for. Mr. Brigance had a similar idea when proposing a change in court location. He knew that the bias of the jury would eliminate his chance of winning the case. But had MR. Brigance successfully changed the court location, the racial bias would still be the same, just in an opposite direction. This would not change the level of unfairness as the court as there is still bias. The ideal court scenario would consist of judicious spectators who would put their own personal biases aside and see the case in its pure form, and no longer perceiving it as a trial solely about race.
The final closing speech Jake Brigance makes is incredibly emotional and well delivered. This, I believe. However, the final jury’s decision based on this speech I do not believe. As a final appeal to the jury, he decides to attack them on the only front he has left exposed and unused: empathy. The racism and difference in social class between the defendant and the plaintiff has left the jury unconvinced of his arguments, so Mr. Brigance attacks on the final front. “Now, it is incumbent upon us lawyers not to just talk about the truth, but to actually seek it, to find it, to live it” (TK). As Jake begins to list off the numerous terrible crimes that Tanya suffered, the jury becomes more and more and more emotional. The amount of empathic distress is so intense that the whole jury changes their stance on the case. As much as I want to believe that justice is served from this decision, I cannot. In the eyes of a fair, non-biased court jury this would have been observed as a two awful crimes. The first being two first degree murders, the other a rape and assault. If the murders were a result of the rape and assault, then the murderer must be punished.
I believe that the final ending and verdict of the trial in the film is unjust. The concluding speech made by Mr. Brigance was put in a light to make it seem like the right thing to do, like the just thing to do. In fact, not only the end, but the entire film was focused on justifying the killing of Pete Willard and Billy Ray Cobb, which created a very biased viewpoint for the viewers. The film does in fact not push us to think as a judicious spectator. Instead, we are filled with the anger at the racism, rape and abuse that his daughter suffered. This leads us to connect as many dots as we can to justify the brutal murder of Willard and Cobb. Empathy does not promote justice in the film.
A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacy. Regency Enterprises, 1996. DVD.