Forgiveness, Remorse, and Justice in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

The film Long Night’s Journey Into Day features four stories of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from those seeking amnesty for the crimes they have committed during apartheid in South Africa. Amnesty would be considered in exchange for the truth. Granting such pardons requires forgiveness, which is a main theme throughout the film.

The first story featured in the film greatly exemplifies the theme of forgiveness. This story in particular made headlines around the world: American exchange student, Amy Biehl, was killed in a mob by three South African men. The men claimed to be motivated by the political tensions that were undergoing in the township at the time. The killing of her “exposed both our anger and the conditions under which we lived. Because if we had been living reasonably we would not have killed her.” When is it permissible to justify murder with anger? It is still wrong. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that they would consider granting amnesty to those who tell the truth, and the men do provide the truth.

The men and their families continued to express their remorse and to request amnesty for the murder of Biehl. What was extremely significant about this case was that the parents of the victim reached out and provided support to the mother of one of the murderers. After expressing her remorse to the victim’s grieving family, the mother was visited by Biehl’s parents, who ensured her that they would not oppose her son’s application to be freed from jail. Is it fair that offering remorse can allow someone to be forgiven and pardoned for their crimes?

The parents of Amy Biehl are unique in the way that they are so forgiving despite the major pain and suffering they had to experience. The story of her murder reveals that remorse and forgiveness have the ability to impact the outcome of a legal case.

2 thoughts on “Forgiveness, Remorse, and Justice in Long Night’s Journey Into Day”

  1. Your post brings up a number of important issues, not least of which is the way that a number of different actors are involved in the story of Amy Biehl’s case as it plays out through the TRC. I’d encourage you to think about the choices the filmmakers made in constructing the story the way they did. How and where do the parents’ stories take on significance? How and in what context are we asked to listen to the story the perpetrators tell about what they did? What are the stakes of forgiveness for these different sets of individuals? (What about for the mothers and family members of the perpetrators?) We’ll be getting into this in class, for sure.

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  2. The quote you cite from the movie regarding Amy’s murder (Her killers explained how it “exposed both our anger and the conditions under which we lived. Because if we had been living reasonably we would not have killed her.”) is one I was going to discuss as well. This to me helped to highlight the inequality of victimhood and how it relates to race. Some of those upholding the Apartheid committed murder and so did these men, yet they differ in their motive behind their crimes. Those upholding the Apartheid murdered as a means to continue oppressing, while Amy’s killers committed murder as a means to try an escape it. While they assert it exposed their living conditions, it also exposed the inequality of victimhood and the news coverage it yields. Amy was a victim because of her skin color, similar to blacks under the Apartheid. Yet, while their oppression did not warrant news coverage (or if it did, it was frequently lied about), Amy’s murder is known globally.

    In addition to this inequality in victimhood linked to systematic racism, another statistic which caught my eye is that while the Apartheid was upheld by whites, 80 percent of the applicants to the TRC for amnesty were black. This brings up another racial inequality linked to being the perpetrator (if we can/should call those fighting to escape oppression perpetrators) rather than being their victim. Although some of the crimes committed by both blacks and whites were the same (such as murder) they differed in their motives and objectives; whether it is justified or not, committing murder to enact oppression versus committing murder to try to escape oppression are not crimes that I think should be viewed and evaluated the same way. Despite this difference though, blacks that suffered from Apartheid law made up the majority of those applying for amnesty. This to me brings up a new perspective, the racial inequality of perpetrators, and leads me to wonder why those oppressed were more likely to ask for amnesty and to show remorse compared to whites and the impact this has on the justice received from the TRC. While reconciliation is powerful and necessary, I wonder the extent it is achieved, given those coming forward with the truth and remorse is disproportionate racially. This creates another racial inequality within the TRC itself, showing the continuation of this inequality due to previous law even after it is no longer in practice.

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