The movie “A Time to Kill” by Joel Schumacher is a masterpiece of moviemaking that evokes the feeling of empathy and justice towards African-American people. In the movie, Carl Lee Hailey, black father of his ten year old daughter Tonya, avenges the raping of her daughter, by killing two white men accused of the crime as they are walking into the courtroom. The lawyer of Carl Lee is Jake Brigance, a young, talented lawyer, is empathetic towards black people and Carl Lee as a person. While watching the movie, the viewer feels an overwhelming mix of emotions, with the most prominent emotion being empathy. The movie utilizes feelings of empathy in every possible way – by making one character invoke empathy in another character and by invoking empathy straight from the viewer.
The conversation between Carl Lee and Jake the night before final day of the trial is an exceptional paradigm of one character invoking empathy in another one. “It’s how you was raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-American, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them” (TK). This excerpt from the movie by Carl Lee underlines the limitations of the society and tries to invoke the empathy towards black people in Jake. Carl Lee displays to his lawyer that no matter how hard he tries, he will always regard Carl as a black man and that is the reality that black people around the county lived in. In the conversation, Carl Lee asks for empathy from Jake by saying “Now if it was you on trial”, to make Jake feel what he feels and what he has to go through (TK). The empathy displayed in this part of the movie is real and not in any way apparent, as is the result: Jake delivers the exceptional closing speech and proves Carl Lee to be innocent.
One of the most memorable moments from the movie, when Carl Lee comes back to his home to see his daughter, invokes the empathy from even the most callous viewer. After getting the call to inform him about Tonya’s rape, Carl Lee comes back home and see his daughter sodomized, beaten and battered, falls on his knees and tells her “Come here, baby. Daddy’s here” (TK). This scene invokes the empathy, because it displays the pain that our family members have to overcome, when we are hurt, a feeling that is familiar to all of us. Moreover, the scene where Tonya apologizes to his father for dropping the groceries, arises the feeling of real empathy towards the black people and conditions they had to live in.
The final scene, where Jake Brigance delivers the closing argument, is a perfect example of one character invoking empathy in another character, and the scene, as a whole, invoking empathy in the viewer. In his closing argument, Jake makes every person sitting in the courtroom to close their eyes and follow his story, a story about a little girl. By telling the story as all of us were in there, when the crime occurred, he invokes empathy in the white jurors and all white people seating in the courtroom. “Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her?” (TK). These words invoke empathy not only in the people in the courtroom, but also make us, the people outside the story, the viewers, to feel empathy towards Carl Lee and his family, by displaying the whining eyes of the spectators, including mother of one of the young man accused of raping Tonya. Seeing the spectators whining eyes and hearing the story of terrible crime, makes all of us to feel empathetic towards Carl Lee and black people in general, for the harsh condition they had to live in and for injustice they had to overcome. Moreover, the empathy displayed in this episode is real and is the same empathy that played the huge role in historical cases like Brown and Row v. Wade.
A Time to Kill. Directed by Joel Schumacher.
Warner Bros. 1996.