Much of the intrigue in this case comes not from the facts, but from the manner in which Pistorius is giving his evidence. His emotion has made the court quite the theatre.
It is human nature to read the emotions of others. In the 1960s Dr. Paul Ekman began his famous studies on the importance of interpreting facial expression, a deeply ingrained evolutionary necessity. Furthermore, it’s just interesting.
David Bain’s detached and passive manner raised eyebrows. Just think for a second: if you were accused of killing your family and didn’t do it, wouldn’t you be screaming that at every opportunity? The fact Bain doesn’t (the one time he spoke unrehearsed – at his first trial – he was convicted) may lead one to conclude that he has a terrible secret to hide.
If a somewhat indifferent manner leads people to question innocence, though, the reverse can also be true. Take the uncontrollable blubbering of Mark Lundy whose grief appeared to affect his balance to such a degree that he had to be half carried around the funeral of his wife and child. Later he would be accused of silencing them with the long arching blows of an axe.
Lundy’s manner seemed all rather faux and turned on, a pathetic attempt to garner sympathy. The public whispered that he must be guilty.
Pistorius is a little different for a couple of reasons. Firstly, unlike Bain and Lundy the basic facts of the matter are unchallenged. Pistorius pulled out a gun. He shot through the bathroom door. His girlfriend was killed. Simple. This is not a classic whodunit. It’s only a question of why.
The other reason this case is a bit different is that the emotion of Pistorius is less and less being questioned. On Radio New Zealand a UK journalist saying she had argued with her editor over the authenticity of the Blade Runner’s tears. The journalist said she was among many at the court who were convinced Pistorius’ emotion was real. It has been reported, too, that the judge has looked moved at times. Yesterday, the first person on the scene, a neighbor Pistorius calls ‘uncle’, testified that Pistorius’ begging, screaming and praying after the killing was not put on.
The man who has spent his life overcoming disability is either as good an actor as he is an athlete, or his grief is very real. I suspect the latter.
One of the curiosities of love in fractious relationships is that it can turn to hate and then back again so quickly. If, in a fit of rage, Pistorius purposefully shot his girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he can’t regret it. In an instant of red mist when he squeezed that trigger he wanted her gone and in every single second since he has wanted her back. Pistorius could have murdered his girlfriend and still love her.
In looking at Pistorius’ face, then, we may very well be seeing the grief of loss. The loss of a loved one and also the terror of knowing that in all likelihood he will pay for what he did by losing his liberty.
Yeah, there’s no doubt his emotion is real.