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.

The Development of the Idea of Testimony

For my double blog post, I watched the classic film 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. The movie is a simple one, but not everybody has a taste for classic cinema, so to sum up, it takes place almost entirely in a single small room with 12 men who are jurors in a case. The trial is over and they now have to decide what to do with the defendant, a boy accused of stabbing his father to death. 11 Men initially are completely convinced of his guilt, and one man refuses to say that he is guilty. Because the jury’s decision must be unanimous, a debate ensues and over time the jurors are slowly, one by one, convinced that the boy cannot be declared guilty. The film ends with the unanimous decision of Not Guilty.

I love the movie and think it’s fantastically acted and written, but it’s also deeply tied to the themes we have been discussing in this class. First off, it seems to bear most resemblance among the texts we’ve talked about, with Aeschylus’ The Furies. Both center around murder trials and contain a jury, testimonies, a judge, and other elements we associate with a trial. 

However, our information of the actual trial comes from the reminiscences of the jurors. We don’t actually see it ourselves. We only see their debate. The most debated about subject that we get, by far, is that of the testimonies given. Testimony is something we have talked about a lot in this class, and 12 Angry Men deals with it in interesting ways. 

We see testimonies given in The Furies, and those testimonies are never doubted or even really examined. Everything that everyone says is the truth and we are never given reason to believe otherwise. We dealt again with the issue of testimony in Death and The Maiden, where testimonies are now in doubt because people’s intentions are now severely in doubt. because of severe emotional stress and having a vested interest in one outcome of the case or another, we can never really be sure wether to believe the two testimonies given about the torture and rape that is being discussed. The witnesses may be lying to get vengeance, or to protect their own hide. We see testimony again crop up as a subject in all of our studies about South Africa and the TRC. In exchange for testimony of the truth of past events, amnesty is granted to those who perpetrated terrible crimes, but we see in Country of My Skull that testimonies often conflict even among people who participated in the exact same event. Testimony is unreliable because people have different perceptions and memory itself is often unreliable. 

12 Angry Men takes this a step further. Testimony again is viewed as being unreliable, but for various reasons. The testimony of the boy, saying that he was at the movies when the murder occurred, is instantly doubted for the same reason testimony was doubted in Death and the Maiden, He could potentially be lying simply to save his own skin. The testimony of the woman who ‘witnessed’ the murder from her apartment across the way is in doubt for the same reason testimony was doubted in one of the events of Country of My Skull, the reliability of her perception and memory was in doubt. 

The man who lived on the floor below the murder has his testimony doubted for an entirely new reason all together. When it becomes apparent from the facts that it is EXTREMELY improbable that the man could possibly have heard or seen what he claims to have heard or seen, the question arises of why? Why is this false testimony being given? It is speculated that the man simply is taking his chance to be important. He has no vested interest in this case, one way or another. He stands to gain or lose nothing by either conviction or acquittal. It would seem that this is the ideal situation from which to expect truthful and unbiased testimony. But 12 Angry Men points out to us that even in such a case, testimony is unreliable. 12 Angry Men is a film that repeatedly makes the point that you simply cannot trust testimony as unchallengeable.

This is is a very troubling and disturbing thing when testimony is such a foundational part of our legal system, and even seems to have its roots as far back as the Greeks and Aeschylus. In that text, testimony was never in question. but the class has slowly built on this idea of testimony as evidence until now, in 12 Angry Men, we get a very similar situation played back to us with a lot more nuance. Logical deduction and reasoning take the place of testimony as the way truth is determined. The testimonies are shown to be unreliable by a process of debate and logical conclusion such as “The old man could not possibly have heard the murder because there was a train passing by that would have covered up the sound.” or “The woman could not have seen the murder because it was dark and she was not wearing her glasses.” 

The unreliability of testimony is a central theme in this movie and I think it is interesting how the idea has developed progressively through the texts we have examined in class. 

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.

Paulina and Schubert

In “The Death and the Maiden,” Paulina takes it upon herself and Gerado to try Roberto in a household trial. The goal of this trial is justice and closure for Paulina, who seeks to get Roberto to confess to his crimes. Yet, the trial is unique in that it is occurring privately rather than publicly, making me question how this distinction impacts the effect it has on Paulina. One way I think we can see how it impacted her is through the symbolism of Schubert’s orquestra. In the end, I believe we can see that Paulina does receive some justice and/or closure (I’m not sure they are the same and how to draw the line between them in this instance) for the crimes committed against her.

While she was trying Roberto, she explained how she could not listen to Schubert’s quartet because it was played by Roberto while she was raped. Paulina says. “And now, I’ll be able to listen to my Schubert again.” (21). This hope of Paulina’s after trying Roberto becomes true. In the last scene, Paulina and Gerado are at a concert hall to hear the orquestra of Death and the Maiden. This action is symbolic and I read it as her receiving some sort of feeling of closure/justice as she now has the power to listen to Schubert again, a power taken by Roberto predating his trial. Yet, during the concert it is clear that there is still a gap in her satisfaction of the trial’s result: “Paulina does not applaud” unlike the rest of the audience (66). This makes me wonder what would it have taken for her to clap, which to me would have signified her feelings of complete and total justice/closure. Would it have been for Roberto’s crimes and name to be public? Would it have been for him to be punished under law? Or perhaps, is this as far as justice can reach for Paulina, and Roberto’s crimes will always slightly stain her appreciation for Schubert?

Gender in The Furies

The role of gender varies in The Furies Works of literature written during this time period typically are reflective of the way women were viewed and seen as during the time and this is not any different. A lot of gender stereotypes are upheld in this play. On the other hand, a woman does have the most power in the courtroom and was able to speak up. 

Clytemnestra is portrayed as a crazy woman set on revenge. She is frantic and determined to get the Furies help in making sure that Orestes pays for what he did. Agamemnon is painted as a saint and that him being murdered is the worst thing that could happen. No one seems to side or even try to understand Clytemnestra and where she is coming from. Her husband sacrificed their daughter and the only one people are blaming is Clytemnestra because she retaliated. Agamemnon did not die in battle but died at the hands of the woman and that is a sin. Apollo nor Orestes have any respect for the Furies, who are older women goddesses. Apollo describes them in harsh words and even takes a stab at their virginity, which is not relevant in any sense. He questions their authority, though they are older and just as powerful. When the Furies were questioning Orestes in court, Orestes seemed to respond with surprise that he shared blood with his mother. It is apparent to Orestes, Apollo, and even Athena that being a mother does not even begin to compare to being a father. Apollo claims that there is only one parent and it is the father,  “the one named mother is not the child’s true parent but the nurturer of the newly sown seed” (Aeschylus 145). Motherhood is downgraded time and time again. Even Athena says she is a child of her father and not her mother. 

Orestes turned to Apollo for help and he sent him Athena’s way. Athena has the ultimate power when it comes to Orestes case. She is essentially the judge. Her vote is the one that broke the tie after the jurors voted so in the end, Orestes’ fate rested in her hands and she sided with him, “I cannot give precedence to the woman’s death” she murdered her husband, the guardian of the House’ if the vote is split Orestes will be the winner” (Aeschylus 148). Athena also offered the Furies a position of power, in which they would be worshipped and in return, be expected to do good things. Though Athena was the woman of power in the courtroom, she did say that this case was too much for her to decide so she chose her finest men to be the jurors and preside in the case. 

Ultimately gender norms are more or less prevalent in this play. Athena may be a woman of power, but that is the only case in which there is any respect for women by men in the play. Even Athena has misogynist ways and in the end, men are seen as the superior gender.