A time to kill - themes

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  • 1. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)1Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry)This film is not about whether a father should kill his daughters’ rapists. It is about whether a blackman should ever be allowed to kill a white man, under any circumstances. The issue is not murderbut bigotry, and it is compounded by the fact that this is primarily a white country.Set in the Deep South of America, specifically northern Mississippi, in the early ‘80s, probably 1982(this was when the book was set but the actual film was set in the 1990s). No setting could provide amore perfect area for the battle between blacks and whites as it emerges far beyond the days of thecivil rights movement. Placing the story in this time and place is the most natural unearthing ofburied hatchets and the most subtle revelation of festering wounds and double standards.The music at the start of the film links in with connotations of the Deep South this is furthercompounded when we see Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard (James Louis "Pete" Willard) driving thepickup truck with the confederate flag hanging in side – a perfect picture of stereotypical rednecks.Their confrontation with the black shop keeper signals the racial divide in Canton – they talk down tohim in derogatory terms and the use of racial epithets. The setting (mise-en-scene) of the blackowned store also represents the economic deprivation of the area but the fact that Billy and Peteare shopping there shows that they too are of a low social standing. This setting is in stark contrastto when we first meet Jake and we are presented with an immaculate almost historical lookinghouse with a white picket fence and his friend (Harry Rex) who comes to pick him up in a convertiblecar. – Racial inequality is signalled through the representation of ‘haves’ and ‘have not’(economically)A sense of time moving on is signalled through the presence of a black sheriff, who was voted in in atown where the majority vote is white. But tensions are still shown when Sheriff Ozzie Walls arrestsBilly and Pete. Words are exchanged such ‘nigger’ and ‘red neck’. Walls arrests them in a bar that isclearly ‘white’ and racist – confederate flag seen again.We are made aware that there is still racial segregation in the town – because when Sheriff Wallsfetches Cobb and Willard from the jail he says ‘if I get any trouble out of any of you I’m going tointegrate this jail’In the town racism is signalled though the fact that both Jake and Buckley know that for there to bea fair trial there needs to be change of venue. Buckley and his team - discuss that Jake will file for achange of venue ‘he’d be a fool if he didn’t’. If the trial stays in Clanton it will be an all-white jury forsure – meaning no sympathy vote and more chance of prejudice. ‘Without blacks on the jury Haileyhasn’t got a chance in hell’Key perpetrators of racially associated violence are Freddie Lee Cobb and his friends. Freddie: ’10years ago that nigger would be hanging by the end of a rope with is balls in his mouth, you tell mewhat’s wrong with this country?’ - Friend (Winston) talks about ‘good God fearing Klan’. GrandDragon of Mississippi meets with Freddie and tells him he was right to call ‘deliver God’s justice’He tells Freddie that he needs to get a few more people then he can have his own ‘section’.Cobb: ‘Boys I’m very proud to invite you to become soldiers in the war to protect a Christian homesand families, to resurrect our country from the fires of racial degradation, and to make white peoplethe sole masters of our nations destiny. What I’m saying fellas it’s time a for a nigger to pay’
  • 2. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)2No change of venue meant that Carl wasn’t trialled by a jury of his peers. Buckley - ‘Without blackson the jury Hailey hasn’t got a chance in hell.’ Jakes application for change of venue is thwarted atevery chance.The firm struggles as a result of Jake taking on Carl Lee’s caes - Ethel and Jake talk about the lack ofmoney and cases coming in – it shows that Jake is being rejected and that the town in turning onhim. Ethel says that Jake is obsessed and that she has been getting calls at home and that shedoesn’t think her husband can survive a third stroke.Hastings stops Ellen so that they (KKK) can beat her up a and hang her from a tree as an exampleFreddie: ‘You can’t blame a nigger for being a nigger, no more than you can blame a dog for being adog, but a hoar like you comingling with mongrels betraying your own, that makes you worse thanbeing a nigger. So I tell you want I’m going to do I’m going to leave you tied up here naked, first itwill just bebugs eating at you, then in a day may be two that suns going to be cooking you, then animal they’regoing to pick up your stink, they’re going to be looking for something to eat’Justice and the LawCarl Lee’s act at the set up through the use of film language makes you question what is justice – seeMORAL COURAGE/ BRAVERY and EXTRA NOTES. Also the fact that we can see the confederate flag inthe court house makes you think that justice would not have been fair – this is a town stuck in theirways and the continual presence of the confederate flag signals this.No change of venue meant that Carl wasn’t trialled by a jury of his peers. Buckley - ‘Without blackson the jury Hailey hasn’t got a chance in hell’Can a white jury possibly acquit a black man who has killed two of their own? The most importantmatter in jury selection then is simply skin colour.Lucien says that Carl is guilty under their legal system but he also says ‘You can win this case andjustice will prevail, but lose and justice will also prevail, now that’s a strange case’Jakes application for change of venue is thwarted at every chanceJakes attitudes toward his cases exemplify the American adversarial system of justice. Unlike someEuropean systems in which trial participants sift evidence before a panel of judges, the trialprocedure in America pits two sides against each other in a contest in which strategies often mattermore than the unbiased presentation of evidence. The lawyers become advocates, champions, evenservants of their respective sides rather than to the truth or to justice.The contestants in the adversarial system seldom mention justice except as a means ofgrandstanding. Jake and Rufus, and the other lawyers as well, essentially want to win specificoutcomes, which they call justice. They do operate under some basic principles.
  • 3. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)3No characters express faith in the justice system.Although Jake knows that racial intolerance will hinder his case he still holds on to a small bit of hopeeverything we see him through the news cameras he tries to validate the justice system by sayingthings like ‘justice is and will be colour blind’ and ‘Some folks think that a black man cannot receive afair trial in the South, …look past colour and see the truth’Think about Hastings the corrupt police officer – in cahoots with the KKKWe see him getting initiated into the KKKMembers of the jury discuss the case over dinner, which is something they shouldn’t be doing. Theytake a vote to see who thinks Carl is guilty or not, one person votes for not guilty. The ‘main man’says ‘That niggers dead ya’ll’– RACISMWhen Carl is announced not guilty – outside the courthouse he hugs his daughter and the Americanflag ins in the frame with them does that signal that justice reigned?The film unsettles the audience in its depiction of the "justice" system at work; it offers an equallychallenging portrait of race relations in the supposedly enlightened South of the 1980s.Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes)Tonya’s rape for the most part is filmed through point of view camera use, placing the audience inher shoes and allows you experiencefirst-hand the atrocity of the act. This is intensifiedby the soundher calling out for her father. Ironically this act of being able to emphasise with the victim is nottouched on again until the end of the film – Jake’s summationCarl visits Jake “You got a daughter, Jake. What would you do?” By this moment of the film, althoughthe two men are different on racial and social levels, they are bound by their fatherhood.1After Carl visits Jake and alludes to his plan - We see Jake at home putting his daughter to bed – linkscan be created to the previous conversation with Carl as Jake tries to empathise by looking at hisown daughter. He tells his wife about the conversation with Carl, she says that he should call SheriffWalls (Ozzie Walls) – but Jake doesn’t can this link to ETHICS? And does he only take on Carl’s caseout of guilt?Deputy Duane Looney takes the witness stand (The police officer Carl shot), he explains how he losthis leg. He says that he didn’t get a good look with the man with the gun, but that ‘Mr Hailey didpersonally apologise for shooting me’Carl tells Jake to ask Duane if Carl should go to jail, Duane says Carl should not be punished forshooting him.Duane: ‘I hold no ill will towards the man he did what I would’ve done… I don’t blame him for whathe did; those boys raped his little girl… I got a little, anybody rapes her he’s a dead dog, I’ll blow himaway just like Carl Lee Hailey did… He’s a hero you turn him loose, YOU TURN HIM LOOSE! TURNHIM LOOSE!’Jake has taken to sleeping at the office (probably due to the house being g burnt down) his wifecomes to visit him.
  • 4. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)4Wife: The truth is I’ve been blaming you for what happened, but it’s not your fault, you didn’t killthose boys, you were trying to make things right, I know that now, I thought you took this casebecause you wanted to prove to everybody what a big time lawyer you were, but I was wrong. Youtook this case because of those boys had hurt Hannah the way that they hurt Tonya, you would havekilled, them yourself… I love you Jake.’Jake visits Carl he says that they are going to lose the case, but Carl says that he can’t go to prison.Jake says the jury needs to identify with the defendant – PERSPECTIVE –Carl: ‘You white and I’m black. See Jake you think just like them that’s why I picked you, you one ofthem don’t you see? Oh you think you ain’t ‘cause you eat in Claude’s and you out there tryin’ to getme off, on TV talking about black and white, but the fact is you just like all the rest of them. Whenyou look at me you don’t see a man, you see a black man… we ain’t no friend Jake, we on differentside of the line, I ain’t never seen you in my part of town, I bet’cha you don’t even know where I live.Our daughters Jake they ain’tnoever going to play together… America is a war and you on the otherside, how’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jurybox? My life in white hands, you Jake that’s how you my secret weapon ‘cause you one of the badguys, you don’t mean to be, but you are, that’s how you were raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-American no matter how you see me you see me as different, you see me how that jury sees me,you are them. Now throw out your points of law Jake, if you was on that Jury what would it take toconvince you? That’s how you’ll save my arse, that’s how you’ll save us both. – LINKS TO RACISMMoral Courage/ BraveryConnotations of bravery are attributed to Carls vigilant act. The mise-en-scene and use of camerasimultaneously sets up his act as premeditated (and so brings in the theme of ETHICS) and brave, italso brings question to the theme of JUSTICE. This is done through the use of the emblem on thefloor of the court house which we are made privy to though the use of an aerial shot.Aerial shot is used to show him walking across the painting on the floor – an eagle, the US flag andthe motto of Mississippi "Virtute et Armis"This Mississippi state motto is a Latin motto and in English it means “By Valor and Arms”. "Valor"may be interpreted as courage and the intended meaning of "arms" may be strength.Interestingly, the Mississippi motto may have its roots and inspiration from another motto with asubtle, but somewhat different message. This motto created by Lord Gray De Wilton: "Virtute NonArmis Fido" (I trust in virtue not arms). http://www.inspirational-quotes-short-funny-stuff.com/mississippi-state-motto.htmlThe use of film language to draw attention the mise-en-scene in this way almost makes his act seemright.Is Jake really brave or just a guilty man? See ETHICSAlthough Jake knows that racial intolerance will hinder his case he still holds on to a small bit of hopeeverything we see him through the news cameras he tries to validate the justice system by sayingthings like ‘justice is and will be colour blind’ and ‘Some folks think that a black man cannot receive afair trial in the South, …look past colour and see the truth’. He continues to fight Carl’s case even
  • 5. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)5though he receives threats from the KKK. Threats via phone made to Jake ‘Brigance you nigger lovin’son of a bitch, you won’t live if the nigger walks’, burning crosses on his lawn and finally burningdown his house.Wife is upset – Jake tries to reassure her and he says sorryWife: ‘About what? That you weren’t home when some practically burned our house down? Thatyou missed supper and didn’t bother to call? Or that lately you have become much more interestedin getting g your face on the news than what’s going with your family? Or that Hannah comes homebawling because of other kids calling her nigger lover? What exactly are you sorry about Jake?!’ –links to RACISM‘Mickey Mouse’ shown to have bravery he calls Jake’s house to warn him of the KKK attack andreturns to rescue Ellen after the KKK attack her.When Jake along with the police catch a KKK member trying to bomb his house Jake says ‘Ain’tnothing g more dangerous in this world than a fool with a cause’ – could this not in an ironic kind ofway also apply to Jake, as he has managed to single handily ostracise the town and his loved ones.Jake decides that it’s time for his family to get away – to keep them safeWife: ‘You said you’d withdraw if it got too dangerous’Jake: ‘I can’t quit now you know that… that man is counting on me’Jake visits Judge Noose at home, the old south still apparent e.g. domestic house workers are BlackJudge has denied the motion to change venue and has covered all bases so that Jake can’t appeal, healludesto the fact that if Jake carries on with this case he will be throwing his career awayAfter Jake’s house is burned to the ground - Rex: ‘Your marriage is on the rocks, you’re about to havean affair, your career is in ruins if your luck and if not your dead, don’t get me wrong me friend whatyou put into this case you even inspired me, and I’m uninspriable, do everyone a favour though,drop the case.’Jake: ‘… I quit now and all of this is for nothing.’Ethel on her way to her husband’s funeralEthel (to Jake): ‘I know you didn’t want any of this to happen, but it happened all the same youwagered all of our lives on this you just went ahead and did what you felt you had to do no matterwhat the cost. Some folks think that’s brave, not me Jake, now you may win but I think we’ve all losthere.’Ethics (knowing right from wrong)Carl clearly knows right from wrong and this is why he visits Jake. He talks about a crime similar tohis daughters where the perpetrators got off – Carl eludes to the fact that he is going to take mattersinto his own hands – making Jake aware that he may be in need of his defenceCarl: Jake if I was in a jam you’d help me out… you got a daughter Jake what would you do?’Carl knows that in the eyes of the law what he has done is wrong this is why he alludes to his plansto Jakes and why he walks freely to the police car when they come to arrest him. But he is hopingthat in the eyes of the people he will be innocent. Carl: ‘… I figured there’s a lot of people out there
  • 6. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)6tired of all the raping, killing, they’d be sympathetic to a man who took the law into his own handseven if he is black’Both prosecution and defence use underhanded tactics to help their case. Buckley and his teamusebribery to convince the judge to keep the case in Clanton – send him gifts and ask governmentofficials to call him. They get the jury list in advance even though it’s supposed to be confidential andBuckley states this publically.LINKS TO JUSTICE TOO - As both lawyers desperately want to win, both readily use tactics thatstretch taste and ethics. Both sides get early access to the list of potential jurors (this is the case inthe book but does Jake do this in the film?). Both sides employ psychiatrists who will say in courtwhatever the case demands regardless of the real mental condition of the defendant.Think about Hastings the corrupt police officer – in cahoots with the KKKWe see him getting initiated into the KKKThe actions of the NAACP are brought in to question – do they really have Carl Lee’s best intersts atheart or do they see his case as a way of advancing their cuase? The NAACPvisit the reverend ofCarl’s church. They say ‘the black community our concerned that Mr Hailey’s attorney is notsensitive to the needs of the movement, the NAACP wishes to provide him with a new lawyer’ –corruption- as they convince him to raise money through the congregation and say basically that hewill get a cut ‘obviously we would expect you to take a modest administration fee for your troubles’NAACP: ‘Mr Brigance let me be frank, Mr Hailey’s case has far reaching implications, Carl Lee’sacquittal for the killings of two white men will do for the black people of Mississippi than any evensince we integrated the schools. His conviction on the other hand will be a slap at us a symbol ofdeep seated racism perhaps enough to ignite nation. See how important this case is?’Is Jake really brave or just a guilty man?He admits to his wife that he didn’t call the Sheriff when she told him to, she is upset and blameshim for the whole situation as he could have prevented it.‘…it’s not just Carl Lee I’m trying to get off’Jake feel guity for not calling the Sheriff when his wife told him to.KKK attack Ethel and her husbandBoth prosecution and defence use underhanded tactics to discredit each other’s psychiatristsEXTRA NOTESGospel song played when Carl shoots Cobb and Willard ‘Take my Hand, Precious Lord’ also playedagain at the end of the film. This was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s favourite song and was often sung atcivil rights rallies – which places certain connotations on Carl Lee’s act. Could it be said that he wasacting on just cause because in the light of Mississippi racial history justice would not be served anyother way?The fact that this songs plays when Carl Lee is committing a crime also links with the use of mise-en-scene but this time the soundtrack is making it seem as if he is carrying out Gods work – whichin some way makes his act equal to those of the KKK as in the film they speak of ‘good God fearingKlan’
  • 7. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes),Moral Courage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)7LyricsPrecious Lord, take my handLead me on, let me standI am tired, I am weak, I am wornThrough the storm, through the nightLead me on to the lightTake my hand precious Lord, lead me homeWhen my way grows drearPrecious Lord linger nearWhen my life is almost goneHear my cry, hear my callHold my hand lest I fallTake my hand precious Lord, lead me homeWhen the darkness appearsAnd the night draws nearAnd the day is past and goneAt the river I standGuide my feet, hold my handTake my hand precious Lord, lead me homePrecious Lord, take my handLead me on, let me standIm tired, Im weak, Im loneThrough the storm, through the nightLead me on to the lightTake my hand precious Lord, lead me homeOmniscient NarrativeOmniscient narrative provide the audience with a God-like perspective, allowing us to see much morethan the main character/s. We see events that they don’t and might not be water of e.g. others plottingagainst them. Even though the film uses an omniscient narrativeit’s worth noting that much of thestory’s action is filtered throughJake. For example when Jake’s house burns to the ground, we view theevent more from Jake’s pint of view. Buckley may be a well-respected prosecutor but we are made tview him as Jake does - apompous, self-important and arrogant man.Jake’s SummationCovers themes of Justice & Law, Perspective and BigotryFrom the article – Burning Mississippi: Race, Fatherhood and the South in A Time To Kill (1996) byHelene CharleryThe close-ups on the grocery list that she attentively follows insist on the idea that she is not just achild, but somebody’s daughter. This cross-cutting effect is meant to bring a vivid contrast between theslow, quiet routine of the black characters and, on the other hand, the careless lifestyle and racistviolence of the two rednecks...PERSPECTIVE - The rape scene is depicted both through straight cuts and through a subjective camerashowing the event as they are lived by the black girl... Thus, the rape scene is graphically staged so thatthe audience is visually disgusted by the physical presence of the rednecks on the screen after the rape.JUSTICE – Because the “spectacle of racial redemption” implies the “expulsion of the lawless redneckfrom southern society *so that+ the moral purity of whiteness *...+ is affirmed”, the violent death of thefilm’s two rednecks is as much cinematically conventional as their irrational violence. So could itbe said that justice has been served?JUSTICE & MORAL COURAGE – Because the redneck figure encapsulates all the racial bigotry of theDeep South, he is to be either redeemed by acknowledging such racist views or be killed as punishment.On the other hand, the southern white lawyer will become the hero of this redemptive tale because hewill have the capacity to “*transcend+ the limits of *the southern+ tradition and *attain+ a liberal morallyrational racial viewpoint [...[, seen quintessentially American. It is through these characters that the
  • 8. A Time to Kill (Joel Schumacher, 1996)Racism/ Racial Intolerance/ Racial Inequality (Bigotry), Justice and the Law, Perspective (Being in someone else’s shoes), MoralCourage/ Bravery, Ethics (knowing right from wrong)8Country’s white community will eventually *accept+ responsibility for racism” Thus, both figures servethe same purpose of satisfying and reassuring a national movie audience on the film’s message.RACE – During the first scenes, the still shot on Jake Brigance’s house in the middle class neighbourhoodinvites the viewers to notice the contrast with the distanced houses of the black inhabitants... (see pg 5of the article 4thparagraph)RACISM - ...the racial violence that erupts after the double manslaughter in the movie A Time To Kill isindividualised... Through close ups on the faces of Klan members, Klan membership is then estrangedfrom a white supremacist ideology that could be shared by the white inhabitants of the Country.Instead, it is associated to characters that are either mere idioticfollowers or motivated by criminalrevenge. – Therefore the message being that this isn’t the consensus of the majority but a minority ofpeople and on the whole Americans don’t think like they doWhat matters in A Tim To Kill is not whether Carl Lee Hailey will be acquitted, but how Jake Brigrancewill win this acquittal. Thus the later is at the centre of the plot’s development and conclusion.RACE &JUSTICE – The movie concludes on an unquestioned colour-conscious jury and justice system, asthe only strategy that prevails is the fact that the jury can only individually feel sorry for the victimbecause they’re imagining her being white.Jake – By asking the jurors to imagine a white girl being raped, he simultaneously racialises andderacialises Tonya: he reminds the jury 9and the audience) that she is African American and that therape was racist, but he also insists that the violation of a man’s child goes beyond race and racism, is amoral crime (against the father as much as against the daughter) that calls for the rapists death (at thehands of the father.The white little girl is seen on screen whenever Jake Brigance’s decision to defend a an who committedtwo cold blooded murders is questioned by his wife and his family-in-law – to remind the audience thathe is a fatherThe movie constantly builds images of masculinity and male heroism around the strong moral values ofthe father figure – can this be said of TKKAM too?THE FILM ENDS - ...with the hopeful and politically correct image of the black and white mothersintroducing their daughters to each other, in the black part of town, meanwhile asserting that the racialdivide in the South can be bridged.At the end of the film, to Carl Lee’s astonishment Jake says the film’s final line “Just thought our kidscould play together, Carl Lee”. Though this line can be read a message of hope in racial integration inthe South, it is illustrating the cinematic victory of the two father figures, for it is the values offatherhood that victoriously restore peace and guarantee racial integration in the region.1From the article – Burning Mississippi: Race, Fatherhood and the South in A Time To Kill (1996) by Helene Charlery