TO WITNESS THE procedure of law is to see the destiny of civilization enacted upon a stage. The symbols of our emotional longing to improve our universal condition, to become gentler and kinder and more understanding beings, are flayed open to the probing embrace of the civic consciousness; they either survive and move us closer to God or fail and remind us of our wretched, mysterious, opaque humanity.

No civil society can currently offer a better, stage upon which to enact the rituals of law than South Africa. Long Night's Journey into Day takes a staggeringly clear-eyed look at the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). The TRC is a unique civic entity. Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the committee's goal is to dispense "restorative, as opposed to retributive justice" by allowing the perpetrators of heinous crimes to seek public amnesty. It is a brutal method--killers must confront the families of those they killed; victims are asked forthrightly if they will forgive. Requests are heard onstage in halls crowded with people, and little by little, the truth--the brutal, awful truth--is outed and reconciled to the flawed past.

The film follows several cases of the TRC: a Boer ex-policeman seeks amnesty for his murder of four rural resistance organizers; a black activist seeks redress for his murder of an American woman; a black policeman asks amnesty for the murders of seven black youths. Throughout, the bloody ogre of apartheid crouches almost visibly on everybody's shoulders. Most powerful is militant Robert McBride's request to be granted amnesty for his bombing of a Durban bar. In his eloquent confrontation with the relatives of those he killed, it becomes sadly apparent that, while reconciliation may be possible, there are also memories and attitudes of apartheid that will only disappear when those who contain them perish. Nevertheless, Long Night's Journey offers the inarguable truth that in the meantime, we must together enter the civic space, summon the full strength of our humanity, and push ourselves ever forward.

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