THEME: Vigilante Justice
1.0 HYPOTHESISMovies involving violent crime often position the viewer to sympathise with the victim who enacts the revenge by killing, thus establishing the premise that revenge killing is justified.
2.0 SYNOPSIS2.1 The way society views vigilante justice and the ideology that it is acceptable are the primary issues in three of the following American films, A Time To Kill, Sleepers and Eye For An Eye. These three films were tested in comparison with the hypothesis that states that the viewer is positioned to accept the revenge killing, thus establishing a premise that vigilante activity is justified. In A Time To Kill, a black father Carl Lee Hailey, is put on trial after murdering the two white men who brutally attacked and raped his daughter. Hailey’s lawyer, Jake Brigance, through his incredible “story telling” ability, is able to convince the jury to reach a “not guilty” verdict. This outcome seems to support the idea that the murders are acceptable, therefore insinuating a sense of justice, when in reality yet another injustice has occurred.
2.2 The killing of Sean Nokes in Sleepers is a perfect example of revenge being carried out in cold-blooded murder. The movie unfolds the dreadful story of four boys’ lives and the abuse they incurred at the Wilkinson Home for boys under Sean Nokes command. Now men, and at the crossroads of life, two of them murder the guard in a bar, promoting the act of revenge killing as being equitable.
2.3 Eye For An Eye is a film that establishes the premise that the legal system often fails, which consequently creates a situation that implores justice to be served in an illegal manner. Perhaps, it could be considered the most disturbing example of vigilante justice as both the sociopathic killer and victim’s vengeful mum are engaged in a dangerous game of provocation, intimidation and retaliation.
2.4 The issue of vigilantism in each of the three movies has proven the hypothesis to be true, with each of the films positioning the viewer to accept the killing and to sympathise with the victim as if they are the only wronged party. The philosophy that says revenge killing is a form of justice is constantly depicted to society through films such as the above. However, in essence the film makers carry an unseen responsibility to the viewer to unveil the moral issues that arise in modern films. A greater effort at presenting the moral problems faced by parties in films that deal with vigilantism would create a more genuine assessment and capture the seriousness faced in real life situations. Yet apart from this, it seems that film makers have neglected to show the real pain and suffering the surrounding family members and the person that enacts the revenge killing experience. Therefore, a greater emphasis should be placed on the issues encompassing the killing to portray a more realistic view.
3.0 INTRODUCTION3.1 Vigilantism is often a sign of public frustration in society today. This indicates to the vast majority, that the police and courts have failed to deliver security and justice and therefore perhaps cannot be relied upon in the public’s mind. This is the reason certain people groups in society choose to place their trust in vigilantism. Yet, these are often the same people who are in favour of democracy and strive to achieve a greater sense of equality among all. Eradicating vigilante movements once they are established is never easy, however it seems that films and film makers are doing little to hinder the growing movement by advocating the idea that revenge killing is acceptable, instead of encouraging society to trust the judicial system.
3.2 The hypothesis, ” movies involving violent crime often position the viewer to sympathise with the victim who enacts the revenge by killing, thus establishing the premise that revenge killing is justified” was examined against three modern and fairy successful films. A Time To Kill, Sleepers and Eye For An Eye all confront the issue of revenge killing, which encourages society to question the legal system and place the mantel of justice solely on the individual.
4.0 FILM A Time To Kill4.1 A Time To Kill, based on the novel by John Grisham, is directed by Joel Schumacher and produced by Warner Bros. America. Set in a southern Mississippi town where racial tension runs high throughout community, A Time To Kill defines its perspective in bold strokes and without subtlety. The audience is immediately drawn into the story by the graphic presentation of two scofflaws joy-riding in their pickup truck, drunk and out of control. They harass employees at a black country store and then attack a ten-year old girl and brutally rape, beat and leave her to die. The girl’s father Carl Lee Hailey (played by Samuel L. Jackson), takes justice into his own hands and in an act of calculated rage guns down the culprits in full view of dozens of witnesses in the courthouse where they are to be arraigned for the crime.
4.2 With the help of his white lawyer Jake Brigance (played by Matthew McConaughey), Hailey is found “not guilty” because of Jake’s emotional, theatrical performance. The little girl’s horrendous plight is described in detail in the first moment of the defenses’ summation, however it is only at the end of the speech that Brigance suggests that colour may have something to do with the impending verdict. Although this is hardly the traditional summation, since it has little to do with the evidence presented at the trial, it clearly demonstrates the objectives of the film makers who are deliberately increasing the dramatic pressure so that the audience has no choice but to cheer for the verdict of “not guilty” at the end.
4.3 A Time To Kill is a perfect example where the viewer is positioned to accept the murders of the two white boys as being totally in line with justice. Enhanced by the graphic and fast-flicking cinematography at the beginning of the film, the rape of Tanya Hailey is magnified to penetrate the natural human desire that sympathises with a victim of sexual abuse; especially a ten year old girl. The effect of these images is to position the audience to accept the ideology that vigilante justice is more effective than court procedures even though any rational person would not choose such a social order over the judicial system.
4.4 The film covers a vast array of characters ranging from the chauvinistic rapists to the exemplary and almost perfect Jake Brigance. While most of the characters are nicely etched out and the audience feels apart of their lives, the movie seems to present issues to the audience without actually resolving them. For example, there are frightening KKK scenes that bring out the powerful weirdness and danger of racism, but that do not seem to amount to much in the conclusion. Relationship problems between characters were not dealt with, rather left ‘hanging’ or they culminate in a way that can only be described as surreal.
4.5 While A Time To Kill may not convince an audience well versed in the verbal maneuvering of a David Kelley drama series, however director Joel Schumacher successfully achieved the idea that revenge killing is justified. Although this premise does not seem just or rational, A Time To Kill on an emotive level advocates this, thus establishing a relationship between justice and murder that in the subconscious may seem acceptable though is not deemed so in modern society.
5.0 FILM Sleepers5.1 Adapted from the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Sleepers is a 1996 film produced by PolyGram/ Propaganda Films/ Baltimore Pictures and directed by Barry Levinson. Sleepers unfolds a dark, real-life fairy tale about friendship and how the human soul deals with torture and traumatic experiences. Set in the mid 60’s, Hell’s Kitchen was the home and playground of four teenage friends; Lorenzo, Michael, Tommy and John. When and innocent prank goes drastically wrong they unwittingly become the prime culprits and are sentenced to 9-18 months at the Wilkinson Home for boys. Yet the boys soon discover that their tough upbringing and streetwise characteristics will not save them from the physical and emotional abuse they face in the boys’ home. Thirteen years later they are able to get their revenge when Tommy and John spot the sadistic leader Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon) in a bar and gun him down in cold blood.
5.2 However, with the help of Lorenzo (Jason Patric), a newspaper writer and Michael the prosecuting attorney (Brad Pitt) who belies his professional responsibilities and arranges to manipulate both sides of the trial, the case against their childhood buddies is lost, so they can get revenge against Nokes and the guards who sodomised and beat them when they were imprisoned.
5.3 What is most unbelievable and perhaps distressing is that the audience does not seem to care about the judicial system or the legal process. As in A Time To Kill, the audience is asked to accept the injustice of revenge killing as if it were the proper resolution to the abuse that these four boys were subjected to during their stay in the reform school. In order for the viewer to neglect what seems right, director Barry Levinson has achieved excellent use of the soundtrack and total control of scene visualisation, letting the viewer become immersed in the story without focusing on what is actually just.
5.4 Told in the form of flashbacks and narration (by Lorenzo), Sleepers is well choreographed, balanced and showcases some very good acting. Levinson makes use of numerous camera techniques, however the use of close-ups during the trial enables the viewer to see the pain and life-long scars of the four boys. This only reiterates the idea that the murder of Sean Nokes is completely justified.
5.5 Throughout Sleepers, shots of a train are constantly seen. Whether it be a motif that signifies the upcoming events, or simply a symbolic representation, this constant visual illustration creates a sense of urgency. The fact that Michael and Lorenzo’s fraud may crumble to pieces, is always prevalent in all throughout the end of the movie.
5.6 The underlying message in Sleepers is that Tommy and John are still ‘good boys’. This is also emphasised by the involvement of Father Robert Carello. Father Bobby is strategically placed in the movie not only to provide the boys with an alibi on the night of the murder, but to associate all four boys with a spiritual icon; the church. This association convinces the viewer that they are not merely hoodlums, but decent citizens who are educated in the sanctity of the catholic religion.
5.7 The characters and situations in Sleepers appeal to man’s primal sense of justice an it is inevitable that the audience sides with the Hells Kitchen boys and despises Nokes and his sidekicks, for the injustice’s served against these four teenagers. The story is both compelling and disturbing in itself forcing the viewer to challenge their view on justice.
6.0 FILM Eye For An Eye6.1 Eye For An Eye, directed by John Schelsinger is a fast moving film that confronts issues such as revenge killing and female empowerment. After a suburban mum, Karen McCann (played by Sally Field) overhears the horrifying attack and death of her 17 year old daughter, Field ultimately takes justice into her own hands and in a clever provocation that entices the killer to enter her own idyllic home, she murders him in the name of self defense.
6.2 After Robert Doob, the rapist and killer of her own daughter, is set free due to a legal loophole, both Karen and her husband must come to terms with the death. However, the blatant injustice sends Karen on a full-throttle, self-empowerment regime that includes pistol lessons, self defense and karate classes while giving healthy cause for ethical bewilderment, Eye For An Eye focuses directly on revenge killing a means of justice
6.3 Throughout the film and especially in the rape and murder scenes, Schlesinger makes use of fast flicking camera angles that focus on individual objects rather than the whole scene. Coupled with the intense music and sound effects, the director has created a visual display of moving images that enhances the frightful scene. This in turn enables the viewer to later on accept the murder of Robert Doob because of his seemingly psychopathic and cruel nature.
6.4 Eye For An Eye is an ideal example that relates directly to the hypothesis. With the addition of the theme that the judicial system seems to sometimes fail in its plight to achieve justice, the audience is confronted and forced to analyse their own views on vigilante justice.
6.5 By the end of the film, the viewer cannot help but feel relieved that Doob is now dead, as his actions seem to relate almost personally to the audience. Director John Schlesinger by presenting such challenging issues creates a real life effect forcing the audiences to associate the circumstances with their own lives. Field’s role in Eye For An Eye strongly portrays and confronts the issue of revenge killing while positioning the audience to accept the murder by means of film techniques and a simple twist of the law.
7.0 CONCLUSION7.1 By viewing and analysing the three films A Time To Kill, Sleepers and Eye For An Eye the issue of revenge killing as being justified has been revealed to be a disturbing idea the plagues the media especially. All three films satisfied the hypothesis and furthermore delved even deeper into the mastermind behind vigilantism. This can be said only to have an adverse effect on society rather than a positive step in achieving a greater sense of equality among all.
7.2 Intertwined with the premise that the judicial system often fails because of unaccounted for loopholes and that legal gymnastics can often conquer fact, movies produced by modern society advocate killing and exploit revenge as a justification for murder. While in the media this is relatively harmless, this type of action in the real world can only lead to chaos and lawlessness. Reel justice is not a viable substitute for deliberative debate and a jury system no matter what the flaws in this process are.
7.3 Films provide lasting images and portraits, while the facts of history books fade into the past as soon as they have been regurgitated on a final exam or test. Films recreate reality for many reasons, primarily as a means of engaging the audience so that they will buy another ticket or induce someone else to purchase one. If this is the case, then the mantel of responsibility to depict a moral and just view of any issue rests solely on the film industry. By advocating vigilante activity and positioning the viewer to accept this idea in films, society cannot be expected to trust the judicial system, instead they may resort to violence and even murder as if it were the proper resolution to crime.
8.0 RECOMMENDATIONS8.1 A greater effort at presenting the moral dilemma and ethical bewilderment faced by parties in films that deal with vigilantism is needed. This would create a more genuine assessment and capture the seriousness faced in many real life situations rather than simply simulating a specific situation.
8.2 Filmmakers need to establish a greater awareness of other relationships within modern films. Therefore, delving into the idea that revenge killing does not produce a purely idealistic result, but many times increases the pain and prolongs the healing process of family members and friends associated with the victim.