When a boy is on the last day of trial for killing his father in the heat of domestic arguments, twelve jury men are forced to present a verdict. If guilty, it is the one way ticket to the electric chair for the boy. When the jury men decides to quickly end the discussion and raise their hands to find out who thinks the boy is guilty, only one jury man (Henry Fonda) doesn’t put his hand up.
Trial and Character revelations, doubts, and possibilities follow.12 Angry Men is an American drama film produced in 1957 by first time director Sidney Lumet based on the play 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose. The ensemble cast includes Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, John Fiedler, E.
G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, George Voskovec, Robert Webber, and Joseph Sweeney (his last appearance in motion pictures). In 2007, 12 Angry Men was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
A critically important film in a world swayed by emotion, 12 Angry Men makes its point that only reason and fact have a place in the courtroom blindingly clear.
The term reasonable doubt becomes crystal clear with a room full of fallible, prejudiced and ultimately unsure men. The whole spectrum of humanity is represented, from the foul and poisonous prejudice of Juror-10 to the equally unpleasant disturbing logic of Juror-4. While this set-up is somewhat convenient, director Sidney Lumet doesn’t make the mistake of portraying a clear battle between intelligence and ignorance. He doesn’t even provide the juror’s names in order to avoid hampering of any gratification through identification.
Instead anyone can be wrong.The film is notable for its use of a single set: with the exception of three minutes of screen-time split between the beginning and the end and two short scenes in an adjoining washroom. The entire movie takes place in the jury room.We shall compare & contrast the protagonist/antagonist’s relationship with each other and the other jurors in the movie.
The minor changes made in making the movie adaptation produces a different picture than what one imagines when reading the drama in the form of a play. We shall also discuss the management of conflicts, evaluation of evidence and the fallacies observed in the movie.Juror-8- the protagonist of the play and Juror 3- the antagonist as being perhaps 30-ish or so are spirited and vibrant in their arguments. While somewhat vibrant, their age made them seem to come across as being more stubborn and grumpy than lively.
Even Juror 2- the meek, weak and timid-spoken one, is portrayed as such a man but balding and smoking a pipe. His voice, however, fit nicely to its role. The conflicts in the movie did match up essentially.One of the film’s most dramatic moments is when Juror-8 argues: “.
..It’s possible the boy lost his knife and somebody else stabbed his father with a similar knife. It’s just possible.
..I’m just saying a coincidence is possible.” He confounds the other jurors by introducing a new piece of evidence that he has acquired.
He draws up a knife from his pocket which is identical to the one with which the boy allegedly stabbed his father, and sticks it in the wooden table next to the other switchblade. He tells the dubious jurors that someone else could have bought an identical $6 knife at a little pawn shop in the boy’s neighborhood just two blocks from the boy’s house, and used it to kill the boy’s father. He exclaims: “IT’S POSSIBLE.” The perfunctory Juror-4 responds: “BUT NOT VERY PROBABLE.
“The other conflict is of the one within them. All of the jury members at first vouched for the young boy to be judged guilty. Surprisingly, one of them does not agree to it since their reason was not based upon facts. This let to the other members to sit and weigh the evidence.
Their insight reasoning begins to tick and soon they experience the inner conflict. But each one of them is not shown to denounce the defendant of either innocent or guilty but keeps the audience a platform of consideration and thought.Another conflict incident is when the unconvinced, impatient and increasingly hostile Juror-10 accuses Juror-8 of trying to stubbornly “hang” the jury: “You’re not gonna change anybody’s mind.” While Juror-7 is concerned that he’ll miss his ball-game if they have a prolonged stale-mate.
Since Juror-8 realizes that he is the “only one” holding up the others, he makes a risky gamble and proposes another vote with secret ballots (while he abstains himself): “I’m gonna call for another vote. I want you eleven men to vote by secret written ballot. I’ll abstain. If there are eleven votes for guilty, I won’t stand alone.
We’ll take in a guilty verdict to the judge right now. But if anyone votes not guilty, we stay here and talk it out.”In analyzing the differences in the antagonist’s and protagonist’s relationship with each other and the other jurors, it brings to light each juror’s moral alignment and personality. For instance, the director with his poetic license makes a very obvious change only hinted at subtly earlier on and the impact it has on the audience’s conclusions at the end of the movie.
He tells us that Juror-3 was an abusive and uncaring father who, because he caused him to run away, has not seen his son (very similar to the defendant) in over 2 years. Hence, past negative experiences with his son, the rebellious nature of which justifies the execution of the defendant. Yet at the very end of the movie one sympathizes with Juror-3 just as with the defendant. We see his brutish, sadistic demeanor is just a facade, and at one point he too was an innocent father who simply made wrong choices.
Persistently and persuasively, Juror-8 forces the other men to slowly reconsider and review the shaky case (and eyewitness testimony) against the endangered defendant. He also chastises the system for giving the unfortunate defendant an inept ‘court-appointed’ public defense lawyer who “resented being appointed” – a case with “no money, no glory, not even much chance of winning” – and who inadequately cross-examined the witnesses. Heated discussions, the formation of alliances, the frequent re-evaluation and changing of opinions, votes and certainties, and the revelation of personal experiences, insults and outbursts fill the jury room. The value of conflict pays off in uncovering ideas and new information.
The fallacies depicted are of:Pathos that is shown in the fear and anger of the jury members and the pity showed by Juror-8.Ethos, of presenting oneself as honest, reliable and thoughtful.Logos, of rationality, careful deliberation, comparing, contrasting and reviewing. These are all shown when the jury sits and discusses the issue that is in their hands.
As they weigh the evidence and the probable situations, they are seen fighting upon the truth and the law.Propaganda, them against us. Here it’s about the entire eleven jurors’ against one, Juror-8.Rationalization.
It takes place at the end of the movie with the resolved trial. It also clarified Juror-3’s motives greatly.The film maybe not overtly critical of the fact that the juror’s personal baggage is not checked at the door. The jury system works against justice because a jury is not trained to distance itself from a case in the same way that a lawyer or judge is trained to do.
This gives us a platform to question,However, how is it possible for human beings to check their lived experience at the door?Is it necessarily “bad” that jurors scrutinize the evidence through the unique filters with which they view the world?Aren’t they called upon to speak on behalf of the diverse community in which we live?These are key questions the movie begs us to ask. Juror-8’s character is used as a vehicle to expose a serious flaw in the system. Sometimes jurors completely abandon reason. Many critics advance the rational argument that the power of a juror to decide one way or another for no apparent reason cannot possibly work to achieve justice.
Distinctively, the film also exposes us to those jurors in the room who openly express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings about the case. This juxtaposition of characters in the jury room is ultimately consistent with the fact that the room should reflect the diverse community in which we live.Again, when the jury doesn’t understand the legal definition of murder, we see that the jury is motivated by the facts and their own sense of drama. Ultimately, they reach a consensus based on a combination of the facts and their own personal baggage.
Thus, the film raises yet another thought-provoking question:Does the power of the jury to go its own way and guarantee abandoning the system altogether?Twelve Angry Men is often shown in university classes in law school, in business school, and in philosophy and film classes. Its depiction of the interplay between public responsibility and private emotions provides fertile ground for discussions about the law, about the jury system, justice, social relations, human motivation, group dynamics, persuasive techniques, ethics, personal courage and conviction, rationality and human fallibility.This discussion could end in the way Mark Munez expresses in his article “Twelve Angry Men”.“Maybe we’re supposed to walk away from Twelve Angry Men with a better understanding of how unrealistic it is to expect the human element to remain completely independent from the rule of law.
Perhaps we leave the film with ideas for jury reform to make the system less imperfect. Maybe some of us think jurors should be paid a decent salary so as to motivate them to dutifully fulfill their civic duty. Maybe some of us think that a jury should consist of a panel of judges, a group of distinguished citizens, or hybrids (judges with lay people). Maybe some would like to afford a jury with the services of a lawyer ex-officio to help the jury figure out the meaning of the law.
In the end, however, the system remains.”Works citedPhoebe C. Ellsworth. “Twelve Angry Men,” Michigan Law Review, May 2003 v101 i6 p1387 (21) (online at Infotrac), in depth analysis compared with research on actual jury behavior.
The New York Times, April 15, 1957, “12 Angry Men”, review by A. H. Weiler.“Twelve Angry Men,” Mark Nunez, April 2002, feature article (www.usfca.edu);;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
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