Kieslowski’s film opens with a scene of brutal inhumanity. It’s not ‘Horror’ and it’s not an action movie sequence, in fact The Killing which Kieslowski depicts couldn’t be more different to the ‘action film’ style murder sequences which we see on our screens almost daily and have learned to emotionally tune out or ignore. This killing is bleak and occurs in real-time (it’s slow). Lit by a cold grey light, the scene is, we imagine, utterly realistic. Also so completely devoid of empathy that, of course, the viewer’s own fellow-feeling is never more present.
Spoiler alert: Later we must look on as the state enacts the same cold, clinical murder via the death penalty. We see there is little difference, at the very end, between these two killings. Life holds on and struggles for life and it is intensely painful to watch this. Just as, Kieslowski might argue, it is supposed to be. But Kieslowski chooses to save us, the viewer: As the young lawyer grieves for the client on death row, whose life he has failed to save, Kieslowski bathes the final scenes in a warm, gold light. We are returned at last to the empathic world the young lawyer inhabits, which we see now with new eyes, a new gratitude. We were never more happy to come home to some humanity, warmth. (Interesting that in the film-maker’s home country, Poland, the death penalty was rescinded soon after this film came out.)