"Prejudice always obscures the truth."
|"We need a few more minutes, fella."|
If the opportunity to view the classic 1957 movie Twelve Angry Men has somehow passed you by, I recommend popping into one of the few remaining HMV stores and picking up a copy. It is one of my personal favourites. The film is set in a jurors deliberation room, as a dozen nameless men decide the fate of a young boy, over the apparent murder of his Father. It is a simple premise; twelve men, one life, and one decision; set within one small room, on one humid day. What follows is an intricate screenplay handled by exemplary actors, as Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) attempts to convince his eleven peers how - against all odds, the possibility of reasonable doubt to the boy's guilt exists; at least enough to save him from execution.
Over the course of the next ninety minutes; the movie plays in real-time, as each member's vote changes one-by-one, from guilty to not-guilty. Varying degrees of logic, pragmatism, emotion, even just going with the majority come into play, as each separate mindset is exposed to an idea of possible innocence, yet allowed to come to this conclusion using free will. It takes much conjecture and reasoning, but Juror #8's eventual success is built upon growing layers of earned respect, not force; in this situation, being all strangers and in a court of law, force is impossible.
The beauty of this film lies in the varying personalities of each character, and how each one needs differing ideas in order to convince themselves. For example, Juror #2 (Joseph Sweeney) is old and wise, yet never considered the possibility of a street kid suffering through the lazy defense of a careless lawyer. Juror 4# (E.G Marshall) is unflappable and analytical, needing enough logic to switch his decision. Much like a game of Chess, each Juror allows Henry Fonda the chance to convince them - with only one exception; Juror 3# - played with effortless bitterness, by Lee J.Cobb.
From the offset, Juror #3 insists on the boy’s unquestionable guilt. He is an opinionated, judgemental character, who has no intention of listening to reason; only wishing to pierce holes in the truth – in order to keep the constructs of his deluded hate alive. At the beginning his beliefs are strong, as numbers are on his side. Slowly, however, as logic takes over, and Juror #8 earns enough respect to attain a control built by cold-hard facts and the instinct felt for his genuine character, the ignorance of Juror #3 is no-longer hidden in plain sight. His fantasy view-point as the dominant Alpha male replaced, with the reality of a sad, lonely, bitter Beta; trying to force his internal personal hatred - born from his failure as a father, to spew onto every other person in the room.While only a movie, it is powerful to know how hatred and ignorance could have taken a life, while selfless consideration, ultimately saves it.
Possibly the most profound scene in the movie, takes place at the very end. As Juror #3 stands alone as the last remaining guilty man. Cobb’s character - knowing he has lost all power to bully and manipulate the others, angrily stands to run through how each point of innocence is stupid, and that Juror# 8 has worked them in a manner he no longer can. As he throws his wallet down, a picture of him and his estranged son - the same age as the accused, falls onto the table; exposing his real reasons for a guilty vote. Eventually, all that is left is one sad little man, preaching to himself; devoid of weapons, manipulation, and bullshit. Time, logic, and doubt have defeated him. Moments later he breaks down, changes his vote, and the truth breaks through prejudice.
In my view, Twelve Angry Men sums up how nothing in life is ever black and white. That once you expose a bully, they have nothing. And how a single seed of doubt unveils entire webs of lies and misdirection. It shows how even smart people can over-think or fool themselves from the truth, as well as being a wonderful message of pragmatism and rational thinking; and how they are vital tools for a mature, logical society. For every Demolition Man; which teaches us to solve problems by blowing them up, there are Twelve Angry Men; defined by internal reason, not by external ignorance...