Mis-En-Scene In A Time To Kill Essay, Research Paper
The use of mis-en-scene in A Time to Kill was most objectively utilized in the scenery, costumes and especially the lighting. The narrative compiles a majority of dark scenes with a careful use of low-key illumination and a variety of shadows. These low-light settings draw the viewer to express feelings toward the characters and their actions. The extensive close-up camera shots of the character’s faces reveal the emotions they are portraying, whether they are talking or making a statement through silence. The setting of the first few minutes of the film helps set the plot in motion and throws a gripping shot of mid-twentieth century human nature into the mind of the audience.
The setting lies in the deep south, in the state of Mississippi, where many people still believed in a superior, white race. Two drunken rednecks, who obviously followed the superiority belief, come upon a ten-year-old black girl, Tanya Haley, on her way home from the grocery store. After knocking the girl to the ground with a full beer can, each of these men continually raped the child, urinated on her, slammed more full beer cans on her, and then hanged her from a tree. After the tree branch snapped, the men through Tanya in the back of their pickup truck, and then 30 feet to the ground over the side of a bridge.
Director Joel Schumacher Involved the audience in the rape scene. The camera angle was portrayed from the viewpoint and through the eyes of Tanya. You could almost feel the fear, watching the two men jump on top of her, first one then the other. The camera turned to the ropes tied around her arms and legs, to the deep flesh wounds left by the thrown beer cans, to this little girl being heaved into the back of the truck motionless.
The plot thickens as the men are being taken to trial after Haley s shoe is found in the back of their truck. Carl Lee Haley (Samuel L. Jackson), Tanya s father, loses his grip with reality and is overtaken by the anger and hatred he feels towards the men that ruined his daughter s innocence, and any possibility of her ever giving birth. With the camera focused on the eyes of Carl Lee, he runs out from behind a wall in the courthouse with a gun and shoots and kills the two men that were on their way to trial for the rape of his daughter.
From this point on, much of the movie turns dark. There are many scenes with Carl Lee and his lawyer Jake Brigants (Matthew McConaughey) talking in jail, sometimes with both men in the cell and sometimes with Brigants on the outside looking in as the cast shadows of the bars lay on the face of Carl Lee. The low lighting and the shadows convey the emotion that Carl Lee is going through. He has a family with little money and he is facing life in prison or possibly the death penalty under a conviction.
To give an idea of the emotion of sadness and somewhat hopelessness that both of these men feel when they are in the cell, the background is mostly shadowed by the cast shadows from the two men. The use of the low-key lighting during these scenes helps the viewer focus on the faces of Brigants and Haley, and the attached shadows of their faces. Rarely was there a cut with both men involved. Instead, during conversation there was a headshot or bust shot of the character speaking.
The jail is not the only part of the movie that took a dark turn. The coming scenes after the murders took place also set the mood of despair, frustration, and not knowing what was going to happen next. Most scenes were shot at night, when only streetlights were on or when the characters were inside their homes or offices. Once again cast shadows from nearby objects such as lamps and houses played a big part depicting feeling and mood. Also once again, the focus of the characters was represented by attached shadows from their faces and hands. As these parts of mis-en-scene develop, so does the correlation between Carl Lee and Jake.
Carl Lee selected Brigants to be his lawyer for a specific reason and Brigants agreed to take the case for a specific reason. The director is setting up a relationship between these two that will develop as the film goes on. The relationship begins for a different purpose for each man, but eventually ends up in the same place. Brigants, a young, white, and inexperienced lawyer, has a young daughter of his own and feels he would have taken the same actions as Carl Lee did if he was in the same situation. He takes the case to stand up for what he believes is right. Carl Lee asks Brigants to be his lawyer because he thinks that the only way he may have a chance at getting a fair trial in the south is if he has a white lawyer. He doesn t see Jake as his friend, at first, but as one of the bad guys, because he believes Jake thinks the same way as the all-white jury and can somehow find a way to get him off the hook under an insanity plea.
Many times throughout the films darkest moments, some of the characters, including the judge, try to persuade Jake to drop the case because of its uselessness and impossibilities. The KKK played a large part in the characters persuasions. Once they found light of all of the people involved in the case and everyone that had a close relationship with Brigants, they began to act against them. Brigants house was burned to the ground, his secretary s husband was beaten, and a woman on his defense team was stripped and left in the woods tied to a post.
Even after all of this, after every obstacle had been passed, Brigants still refused to drop the case. There was no way he could back out. He had to try to win the case for Carl Lee and his family. He had to try to win the case because he wanted justice for what he believed was right.
Even as much as Jake wanted to win the case, on the final day of the trial he began having his doubts. There seemed to be no way to win. Brigants goes to jail to see Carl Lee and asks him to plea bargain with the state attorney and accept a life sentence in prison. But Carl Lee still has confidence in Jake and tells him that he picked him because he thinks just like the jury does, that Jake sees the world in black and white like the jury does. Carl Lee tells Jake that the way to save him is to put himself on the other side of the table and imagine that he was a member of the jury, instead of a lawyer, and decide what it would take to convince him that Haley should be set free.
Even though the jury members are not supposed to talk about the case among themselves, they take a vote anyway. Each member of the jury has decided to convict Haley of murder and sentence him to the death penalty.
Later in court, Brigants is ready to give his final speech to the jury. Jake tells the jury that he had a speech ready to read to them but he decided not to read it. Instead, his conversation with Carl Lee opened his eyes. He thought of something that may help set Carl Lee free.
This is the point in the movie where the darkness is gone and the close up facial shots focus on the faces and the emotions of the jury and there are less attached and cast shadows. This is the culmination of the plot of the story, and the use of mis-en-scene in A Time to Kill.
Brigants asks the jury to close their eyes because he wants to tell them a story. He deeply describes the events that happened on the day of Tanya s rape. He describes a very detailed picture for the jury to see in their minds as he talks. The camera focuses in on individual jury member s faces. Many of them are crying or trembling. Throughout the story, Jake never mentions the race of the girl he is describing because he knows they are all picturing a little black girl. He wanted them to picture her beaten and torn body. The final words of his story have the power to send goosebumps up the spine of the viewer. Can you see her, covered in their urine, covered in their semen, can you see her? Now imagine she s white.
A long dramatic pause follows with the camera focused on the separated sides of black and white people outside the courthouse waiting for the decision. Finally, the doors swing open and a boy runs out yelling innocent, he s innocent.
During the entire movie Jake saw Carl Lee as his friend and looked past the color of their skin, but it took until the end of Jake s speech for Carl Lee to see that Jake was his friend and not a man that saw him only for his color.