Ethics in the Film “A Time to Kill” Analytical Essay

December 4, 2020 by Essay Writer

One of the main characters in the movie “A Time to Kill” is Carl (IMBD.com, 2013). Carl realizes that some goons have assaulted his daughter sexually, a few hours after it occurred (IMBD.com, 2013). He immediately runs home to rescue the young girl from the traumatizing experience. It is upon arriving home that he faces an ethical dilemma. He is stuck between dealing with the case individually and reporting the case to the courts.

After thinking carefully, Carl resolves to deal with the two suspects individually (IMBD.com, 2013). He reacts by killing the two suspects on the spot.

Carl decides to kill the two men when he recalls a case that had happened the previous year, whereby four white men raped a dark-skinned girl and the court dismissed the case (IMBD.com, 2013). According to Carl, the verdict reached by the court was unfair. As a result, Carl undermines the possibility of the courts doing justice to the two men this time round.

He views the actions of the two white men as a plan by white Americans to terrorize the African- American people. Therefore, he decides to take the law into his own hands (IMBD.com, 2013). By so doing, Carl hopes to protect all children of the African origin, including his own daughters and the entire black society from the injustices of the white men.

I choose to explain this action through the theory of utilitarianism. The principle of utilitarianism emphasizes on the need to rely on reason and not metaphysics. This principle originated from the ideas of John Stuart Mill that the correctness or fairness of an action can be recognized by examining its outcomes or consequences (West, 2004).

If the results are favorable, Mill considers an action or decision as moral. On the other hand, Mill considers an action or decision as immoral if the consequences are undesirable. Therefore, the theory of utilitarianism is a “teological principle or a consequential theory” (Carroll & Buchholtz, 2010, p.248).

The utilitarianism theory claims, “Our actions should always seek to produce the greatest ratio of good to evil for everybody” (West, 2004, p.169). A different manner of explaining utilitarianism is to state that one ought to do things that embody the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

This is what Mill calls the law of greatest happiness. According to this ideology, human beings seek to decrease pain and maximize happiness. Hence, an action that is correct morally must lead to the greatest possible pleasure.

The good thing with utilitarianism is that it leads the decision maker to consider the common good or general welfare. It offers a norm outside of egotism by which to evaluate the value of a certain action.

The utilitarianism theory applies to Carl’s action (killing the two men who raped his daughter) because he had to consider consequences that would follow.

By killing the two men, Carl would save other African-American children from the two rapists, but at the same time, there was a possibility that he would face murder charges and infuriate the entire white society. Therefore, to determine whether the action was moral or not, we can evaluate these consequences against the principles of the theory.

The first step in applying this theory is examining whether the consequences of the action are good, or bad. If the consequences seem favorable, then the action is morally right. On the other hand, if the consequences are unfavorable, the action is automatically immoral.

The second step entails examining whether the action represents the greatest good for the greatest number. Here, we examine the number of people that an action benefits. If an action benefits the majority, it becomes morally right and if it benefits only a small number, then it is immoral.

The third step entails examining whether the action leads to the greatest possible pleasure through decreasing pain and maximizing happiness. Actions that seem to decrease pain and maximize pleasure are morally right, while those that increase pain and minimize pleasure are immoral.

Based on these considerations, Carl’s action is both ethical and unethical. Carl’s action is ethical because Carl kills the two racist men so that they cannot assault more children of the African- American community. Therefore, the consequences of Carl’s action are desirable to the African- American community.

The action also produces the greatest good for the greatest number when we weigh the entire African-American community against the two white men. In addition, the action leads to the greatest possible pleasure because it reduces suffering among children of the African-American community. Therefore, Carl’s action meets the criteria of all the three rules discussed above, from this perspective.

On the other hand, Carl’s action is unethical because the entire white society experiences pain after the two men die. Therefore, the consequence is undesirable and does not represent the greatest good for the majority, considering that the African-American community is a minority group.

Again, the action does not maximize pleasure among the whites, since the loss of their members infuriates them. Therefore, Carl’s action does not meet the criteria of any of the three rules discussed above, from this perspective.

Therefore, we can say Carl’s action is ethical or unethical, depending on the perspective we take.


Carroll, A. B., & Buchholtz, A. K. (2010). Business and society: Ethics and stakeholder management. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

IMBD.com (2013). A time to kill: The internet movie database. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117913/

West, H. R. (2004). An introduction to Mill’s utilitarian ethics. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Read more