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Thoughts about “12 Angry Men”

In the film 12 Angry Men, you follow 12 jurors as they decide the fate of an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father. What starts as a showing of raucous support for the boy’s obvious guilt ultimately leads to a unanimous vote for his possible innocence at the end of the film. This decision was brought about due to the inclusion of doubt. One juror expressed his doubt with some of the evidence brought forward during the multi-day trial. He did not express any ideas against the possibility of this evidence being correct only that it was possible it could be incorrect. This was a perspective that was not immediately shared by his peers at the start of the film. They had disregarded the importance of doubt in the trial process.

The jurors brought with them into that room outside views, feelings, prejudices and obligations that were influencing their thinking process. There was no room for doubt in their minds. Doubt requires the juror to think through what they observed, heard and felt during the trial. Doubt is needed to make the trial process fair. It allows one side to carry its weight against the other and it allows decisions to be validated due to the burden of proof not being reached. In Death and the Maiden there was no room for doubt. In another, albeit unorthodox, life or death trial, Paulina has already made up her mind as to what she is going to do to Roberto. She allows no room to doubt the possibility of her being wrong. Due mainly to her own “testimony” and eyewitness account as the victim in the trial. All the doubt seems to be in the mind of Gerardo, however he possesses no real power to affect the fate of Roberto. This is different from 12 Angry Men. The jury gives time to each juror to work through the baggage they brought in with them until they ultimately find facts/evidence they can possibly refute.

This outside baggage that is brought in with the jury varies. One juror wanted to make it on-time to a baseball game. Another juror wanted to end the decision quickly based mainly on his views regarding the boy’s race. This raises the question as to whether a jury has nothing to gain or lose from the verdict in a trial. In the Furies, the jury may have to face the wrath of godly forces/ a higher authority. In Death and the Maiden, Paulina, who acts as the judge, jury and executioner, faces the possibility of never receiving closure on an event that affected her and many from her country. The results of a trial could have personal stakes for the jury regardless of the ethical nature of that claim. It could also have wide-ranging effects for many outside parties as well. One of the jurors in 12 Angry Men seemed to have personal claim regarding the decision as the film went on. He was adamant that the boy was guilty regardless of the evidence brought up for his possible innocence, some even proven by his own actions. The reason he felt strongly about this decision regarding the boy stemmed from his own personal problems. We learned early on how this juror had a falling out with his son. It came across in the film as though he was trying to find some form of catharsis by punishing this boy in the place of the son that he felt had spurned him. This juror carried a goal with him that could jeopardized someone’s life. This situation could happen all the time in trials and we simply don’t know or don’t consider/care if they do. To a degree this even happens in Death and the Maiden. Paulina, despite how valid her anger and pain is, may have decided to end the life of an innocent man. Her motive for punishing Roberto, not his guilt is the aspect of importance here. She wanted revenge against the man who raped her. She seemingly willing to come to a conclusion about Roberto before the ploy with the testimony. This can even be seen to an extent in the Furies. The Furies seek to not have their godly position belittled and womanhood be besmirched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The questions it raised regarding the spectacle nature of a trial and the responsibility of the jury are fascinating to consider. It also left me with a sense of emptiness/uneasiness over the idea of never really knowing the truth in a trial. Doubt is always present regardless of the decision that is made. It has left me with a new perspective on trials and the jury process altogether.

11 Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men is a film about twelve men sitting at a table. They are on jury duty in a murder case, in which an eighteen year old boy allegedly killed his father. After hearing the trial, the jury is moved into a small room to discuss their verdict. The fan in the corner does not turn on so the room is hot, and when they open the windows, one man mentions that it is supposed to be the hottest day of the year. Some of the men have tickets for a baseball game starting later that night and are anxious to get voting over with. My favorite part of the movie is that through the whole film, no names are given until the very last scene. It enhances the movie because it reflects a real jury. With a name comes an association and in a jury, it is important that the jurors keep that emotional distance. The jury’s decision has to be unanimous either guilty or not guilty in order to move through with the prosecution or not. The result of the first vote they take is 11-1 guilty. This sends everyone into a fury. When the rest of the men asked the single man why he voted not guilty, he said he just wasn’t sure. He brings up that the only piece of evidence is the murder weapon that is a “rare” pocket knife that had no finger prints. The boy on trial admitted to owning the knife but did not use it to kill his father. The man talking pulls out the same knife placing it next to the murder weapon saying he bought it at a pawn shop near the boys house. He suggests the boy’s knife might have gotten lost and someone used a similar one to kill his father. While others deny it, he claims that it is possible. One of the men says “It may be possible but it’s not probable.” The man believes that they can’t send this boy to the death sentence if there is probable doubt. Before they know it the vote is 8-4 guilty. 

The men in favor of ‘not guilty’ run through each piece of suspicion and disprove it. There are two witnesses on the case, a lady who saw the murder from across the street, and a man who lived downstairs. The witness who lived downstairs said it took him 15 seconds from hearing the thud of the dead victim, to opening his door and seeing the boy run down the stairs. However, the oldest man on the jury relates to the old man and points out that he is an old man with a limp. He says it would have taken him more than 15 seconds to get to the door so the jury is able to disprove the fact that he saw the boy and claim that he assumed he heard the boy coming down the stairs. During the next vote, it’s 6-6. Then it becomes 9-3 not guilty. 

The woman across the street said that when she rolled over in her bed in the middle of the night, she saw the murder through a passing train. The jurors point out that she wears glasses and it’s unlikely that she put her glasses on in that moment. Therefore, her eyesight is questionable. She may have witnessed a murder but it is likely that it was a blur and she did not identify the boy. The men who want to prosecute the boy say that because she is a witness, her statement has to be true. From the beginning of the film, the same men claim that they can’t believe the suspect’s story because he’s “one of them.” The one man who has been fighting for the boy all along asks, “Why do you believe her story but not his? She’s one of them too isn’t she?” This is when it clicked for me what “them” meant. They don’t explicitly say this in the movie, but based on the fact that it was produced in 1957, we can confidently assume that the suspect is a man of color and when they refer to “them” in the movie they are talking about people of color. This is the implicit reason behind many of the men’s original vote to convict the boy. This reveals they actually dont care about the witness they just want to prosecute him. The first man who keeps pushing for “not guilty,” calls the others out, saying “Prejudice always skews the truth.” He reminds me a lot of Atticus in the way that he is fighting for this man that everyone else looks down on by logically disproving the evidence and simply having sympathy. And similar to To Kill A Mockingbird, no matter what facts were disproved, some men still found him guilty because of his skin color. 

The next vote 11-1 not guilty. Throughout the film there is a man who is strongly committed to his guilty vote. When the rest of the men asked him why he still voted guilty, he said he didn’t know and started crying. Then he changes his vote “not guilty.” As he continues to sob, everyone else leaves. The first man who voted “not guilty” stays behind and grabs the crying man’s jacket for him (a very Atticus move). Then the movie is over. Probably the most exciting part of the movie is in the last scene when the first two men to vote ‘not guilty’ introduce themselves. Their names are Davis and Mccardle.

12 Angry Men

I chose to watch 12 Angry Men for this blog post. Besides reading the synopsis, I had no idea what I was about to watch. However, I am very happy with my decision to watch this. I was able to draw two connections from this movie to readings from class. One is to Death and the Maiden and the other is To Kill A Mockingbird.

The first connections I made happened right after the preliminary vote of whether the boy was guilty or not. I made this connection to Death and the Maiden. When the jurors were asked if the boy was guilty, 11 of the men raised their hands before moving to the not guilty vote. But, not all 11 men immediately raised their hands. A few of them were hesitant, as if they were looking to see how many other people voted guilty, or like they didn’t believe he was guilty, before they decided to vote. This reminded me of the scene in Death and the Maiden when the Gerardo was asking Paulina if Roberto is really the person, she thinks he is. Was he really the person responsible or was he just someone that she could place the blame on, that just so happened to fit the description she remembered?

This is the same question that juror 8 was asking, especially when it came to the witness that was an old man. The witness said he heard the boy yelling at his father right before the father’s body dropped to the ground, dead. Then after a few moments, he saw the boy running down the stairs. This is when juror 8 began to question the man’s recount of events. As I mentioned earlier the witness is an old man, who also happens to have a limp that makes it hard for him to walk. After a quick recreation of the man’s account to get to his door to see the boy run down, he questions whether the witness saw the boy run down the stairs or, at this point, if he even saw anyone run down the stairs. Which goes back to the question Gerardo has. Did the boy do it or is he someone that the blame has fallen on? As the men began to change their votes, this possibility gets stronger.

I found a couple connections between this movie and To Kill A Mockingbird. The first is the idea that one group of people is worse than another. In To Kill A Mockingbird, the trial was between a white family and a black man. In the book, the Tom Robinson, the black man, had a white man to vouch for him and say that he was not like what people thought of black men, even though he was not on trial or called as a witness. In 12 Angry Men, the trial was between two people in the slums. While deliberating, one of the jurors was trying to say that because he was from the slums, killing was something “those people” always did. However, one of the jurors also lived in the slums at one point in time, and he vouched for the boy saying that just because he was from the slums doesn’t necessarily mean he is a bad child and a killer. This juror was explaining that even though most of the time it was usually someone from the slums committing similar crimes, it is not always someone from the slums. It could very well be someone from what society would call “good people”, and that he should look at the facts of the case and base his vote on that and not on where the boy is from.

The second connection between these two happens during the cross-examination by Atticus of Mayella in To Kill A Mockingbird and during the discussion of the old male witness between juror 8 and juror 3. During the cross-examination of Mayella, Atticus started asking her questions that evoked answers that pointed away from Tom Robinson, and more towards her father as the real perpetrator. In other words, she almost let the truth out, that Tom was not guilty of raping her, but her father was guilty of it. The same thing happened right after juror 8 made is point about the old witness being an unreliable when it comes to him having seen the boy running down the stairs. Even though no question was asked, and I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it caused juror 3 to respond, “half the time, the old man was confused” or something of that nature. Juror 3 almost let his true feelings out, that he didn’t believe the boy was guilty.

Determining guilt is very important when someone’s life is on the line. All three of these works shows different ways guilt could be determined. One by witness, one by prejudice, and one by refusing to be truthful. All of which could lead to a false verdict of guilt. Luckily, in the end of this film, one juror was able to convince the other 11 that the boy was not guilty.