Contrast Between Personal and Humanitarian Justice

William Tradd Stover

Long Night’s Journey Into Day explores South Africa’s implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and tells four separate stories that piece together to form a rather emotional, complex narrative. Of the four stories, I was struck most by the first one about the Biehl family.

This story sort of introduces to the viewer what the TRC is and what it is meant to accomplish. The film as a whole forces its audience to think about life from all different perspectives, as there are many diverse backgrounds and experiences in South Africa. In this case, Amy Biehl is killed because of pure anger that the activists had for white people. At the time, they did not much care who this white person was, they only knew that they despised the horrors and prejudices of the Apartheid and needed to make themselves known. Little did they know, Amy was fighting for the same change that they were.

Amy’s parents’ response to the killing of their daughter is shocking and beautiful in a way. I would like to think that most people would be enraged if their child was murdered, especially while trying to do something good for others. Her parents, instead, chose to understand where that anger came from and react in the way that their daughter might have preferred. This plays into the complexity of how crimes are perceived in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Obviously, this murder was a crime onto the Biehl family, but the perpetrators’ entire lives had been filled with crimes committed against them by the system. Does that fact justify an act like this? I do not think there is really an answer to that question, and the movie shows this. The Biehls wanted amnesty for the people who took their daughter’s life. They chose to look at the bigger picture and to carry on Amy’s wish for change in South Africa. It could be understood, however, how the victim’s family in another case could want to deny the men’s amnesty.

I was surprised by this first ‘chapter’ of the film because of the nature and victim of the crime. I expected to see only the crimes that those affiliated with the Apartheid committed against those who they deemed lesser. We got those stories as well, but this one was the most effective for me. It alludes to the idea that many, not only those in South Africa, were ready to rid of the apartheid’s oppression. Overall, I see this film as wildly complex because of the nature of each individual circumstance. Can we blame an officer for doing his duty? Can we blame Amy Biehl’s killers for being red-eyed and violent? It is always difficult to ponder questions that have no direct answer.

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