A Portrait of Crime
In 1957, Sidney Lumet directed a black-and-white film in which there was almost no action. In addition, it takes place in a locked room, thus creating a chilling portrait of the disclosure of crime in society. Constant vigilance can unleash the bad forms of terrorism and crime. 12 Angry Men offers an exploration of the evil of indifference, far more pervasive yet powerful than the common monster crimes in movies but rare in real life.
The portrayal of the jury’s deliberations is very high and is known for its good ensemble cast, including Henry Fonda. However, what people don’t know is that there is a focus on depicting everyday actions by ordinary people. People can potentially lead to crimes that other people can’t tell. Lumet made a study about pain with its setting, namely the community’s legal system. It shows a representation of indifference that, through both bias and haste, individuals can easily enable the state machine to “kill” boys.
On the other hand, it is about how an individual’s sense of responsibility can prevent such a crime. Therefore, the entire setting of the film is one striking room.
Lumet opens 12 Angry Men with the jury receiving final instructions from the jury before being escorted by the jury to confiscate them into the jury room. In the room, the judges will stay for the rest of the film and engage in intense deliberations. One of the important features of the jury room, as well as its rigidity, consists of a large rectangular table with an ashtray. Sheets of paper, pencils, twelve chairs around the table, three windows, a cupboard with hangers, a clock, a water cooler, a fan that initially didn’t work, and the adjoining bathroom filled the atmosphere of the setting.
It resulted in nudity in the room where the judges would have little distraction or distraction. Each jury also has little choice but to focus on the task at hand: deciding whether a young man is innocent or guilty of the murder of his father. Therefore, the emptiness of the room increases the physical discomfort of the judges. New York City is experiencing a scorching summer day. The windows of the room were hard to open, the fan didn’t work at first, and the judges were constantly wiping their brows, complaining about the heat.
The judges’ physical discomfort contributed to their desire. They want to complete their assignment as quickly as possible.
When the bailiff left the jury, he locked the jury room door. It became another important key to the jury room, separating the jury from the rest of society and the courthouse in general. The only way the jury can communicate with the outside world is through a request or note from the foreman to the bailiff. The bailiff stood guard outside the jury room, stating that one of the jurors was unaware that the door would be locked.
Apart from being an ordinary room, it served as a jury room. Indeed, the door was locked until the stifling heat gave the competing judges the impression that they had entered “purgatory.” The state has asked them to determine, through their discretion, whether a young man is guilty or not, charged with the murder of his father. As for the common people, the twelve who had entered had been there for the sake of serving in an official capacity as jurors.
The death penalty is mandatory in the case of 12 Angry Men. If the jury finds the young man guilty, the state will sentence him to death.
In such cases, it is followed according to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. The death penalty acts as the toughest punishment that humans can inflict on each other. The procedure has been set up as well. As almost all jurors, including defense attorneys and judges, do, it is too easy to give in to indifference to the accused. Like jurors, judges, and defense attorneys, there are guards in place.
On the other hand, men play all the institutional roles, blinded by each other’s interests. In ordinary reality, the cumulative effect has the potential to lead to the highest crime. Despite the seemingly insignificant actions of an indifferent individual, the murder of a boy who was not proven guilty by the state on behalf of the state could occur. Cut off from the rest of society but with a tough task weighing on them, the jury must decide how to exercise their judgment.
The jury acts as a microcosm of society in 12 Angry Men, as is the practice in most courtrooms. Relevantly too, the judges gave them very little guidance on deliberation based on the theory that jury deliberations are within the jury’s territory to be structured even today.
As the jury engages in deliberation, it becomes clear that haste is not the only way. The jury expressed their indifference to the defendant’s plight. As a result, the jurors’ petty self-interest allowed them to guide, regardless of the defendant’s circumstances. For example, Juror #10 suffered from a bias against Puerto Ricans, unable to view the accused as human. However, he is only a Puerto Rican and only one of them.
In such cases, bias undermines the capacity of the jury to judge cases against certain defendants. He quickly expressed his views, despite his dislike of Puerto Ricans. On the other hand, Juror #3 suffers from a bias against young men because they remind him of his son, with whom he hasn’t spoken in two years. Simply put, Juror #10 described Puerto Ricans as having no respect for human life.
They are unable, to tell the truth. However, he was willing to sentence the defendant to death and not based on what he heard at trial. What the jury believes is true of all Puerto Ricans. How the jury survived the jurors’ questions in screening them cannot be impartial or has never been explained. The jury knew everything they needed to know about the defendant as soon as he identified himself as Puerto Rican.
The presence of Juror #10, not recognizing his own bias, was less surprising. Despite the defense attorney and the judge’s boredom with such cases, the other jurors recognized him and tried to challenge the jury’s biased views. However, he did not hear their message. Other jurors responded the masse after he engaged in a lengthy condemnation of Puerto Rico. They turned their backs on him and stood, finally having only one jury left for them to handle.
At such a point, he finally understands his reasons and alienation. Juror #8 offers words about the need to fight group bias. Apart from Juror #10, Juror #3 also has a bias against the defendant due to his own failed relationship with his son. It takes longer to understand that he convicted the defendant. The reason was not because of anything he heard at the trial, but rather because of his feelings for his son.
At the film’s climax, he becomes the final jury to prosecute a guilty vote, knowing that he has every right to stand firm on his conviction. At the last breath, he changed his voice to innocence, both because it was difficult to stay afloat before the eleven other jurors who believed in their innocent voices and because he had begun to understand that he had judged his verdict of guilty based on his anger and own revenge against his son.
In the end, he changed Juror #3 by changing his voice by ripping out his wallet-sized photo of his son and himself. On the other hand, Juror #7 had tickets to a baseball game that night, being a Yankees fan, so his main concern was not to miss the game. He was sure they could get out of there in no time when he told a few of the other judges before they started playing. From here, the audience can judge that he is not a very critical or wise person.
He believed everything the prosecutor said about the defendant, and there was nothing more that people could say on behalf of the accused. He wanted the jury to vote and carry out the task immediately, even though the trial had lasted six days, and the new baseball game was about to start in the evening. Without being full of wishful thinking, he was willing to sentence the defendant to death to reach the baseball game on time.
In the context of determining the fate of a boy, his desire to attend a baseball game doesn’t seem too strange either. The thing expresses a sense of misplaced priorities, taking away the usual everyday cravings of attending a baseball game. Thus, 12 Angry Men reveals how easy it is to let everyday people’s worries lead to acts of crime and violence that no one else has ever said or done.
Except for Juror #8, the other judges were not as immune to haste as Juror #7. Mandatory, Juror #1 indicates that they can discuss the case first, voting right away to see where everyone stands. On the other hand, Juror #4 suggests that preliminary voting is customary. Before any discussion took place, the other jurors had already agreed. As the camera moves across the table, one juror’s hand is raised in a guilty voice.
By acting as a public voter, the judge will instruct the jurors to remain open-minded. They should refrain from giving an opinion until they share their views as judges. When they entered the jury room, it was clear that the judges were forming opinions other than Juror #8. Despite other judges excluding Juror #8 because his voice was different from the others, Juror #10 lamented that there was always one jury slowing down the proceedings.
Juror #8 explained to the others that before they sent the boys to die, they owed a little to be able to pass the vote.
Each jury had little choice but to agree because their decision had to be unanimous. In addition to the judges’ agreeing to go around the table, they asked each juror to explain how Juror #8 reached their verdict in an attempt to show Juror #8 why his vote was wrong. In short, the jury is not the only protection afforded to defendants. Additionally, a fair trial should also include an impartial judge and representation by a passionate advocate.
Both the judge and the defense were frustrated or bored with the case; both seemed indifferent to the defendant’s case. 12 Angry Men focuses on one courtroom after opening images of courthouse activity in which a bored judge gives final instructions to a jury. The judge sent the jury into the jury room to begin their deliberations after delivering the instructions in an even voice. Before he did that, his expression and voice clearly showed the jury that he was bored with the case.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the jury is willing to vote without any consideration, regardless of the guilty vote, which will impose the death penalty on the defendant. The message the jury took from the judge’s body language was that there was nothing for people to pay attention to in the case.
The judge has conveyed his boredom to both the case and the jury, becoming an authority figure in the courtroom, either intentionally or unintentionally. The audience saw how the judges had made the jurors have the same tendencies, never saw the defense attorney, but learned from the jury that the defense attorney had done a poor job representing the defendant. The court may have assigned Juror #8 to the case.
It could also be because he hates the judge. He speculates that the defense attorney was also negligent because he saw no chance of winning the case. A proper defense will take time, but without adequate rewards, he doesn’t want to invest time. It could also be that he just views the case as an unfavorable one. As a result, he did not try to poke the prosecutor’s defense of the case against the defendant.
Regardless, it was his duty to do that. Instead, the task fell to Judge #8 and the other judges. After Juror #8 convinced them that the defense attorney had failed and it was up to the jury to do the work of the defense, the other jurors refused and took the defense attorney’s indifference to his role as a signal to be equally indifferent to them.
The Unsung Hero
If the defendant’s attorney does not believe in the defendant, Juror #8 can persuade the other eleven jurors to choose not guilty. In such a case, the defendant will also be free. Of course, optimism and good will triumph over evil, which is one of the strong interpretations at the end of 12 Angry Men. However, people like Juror #8 are very rare or difficult to find on the surface or in society. In the way the film manifests the role, people can guard against their indifference either from habit or point of view.
In reality, the interpretation is so relevant to people’s lives that there are many safeguards built into the jury system. The public can take the requirements of unanimity, the deliberation process, as well as the apparatus’ instructions in handling such cases. However, the film suggests that such protections are only as good as those who participate in the process. While one interpretation of the ending is that society can rely on a jury like a Juror #8 for good to triumph over evil, in another interpretation, everyone must play the role of Juror #8.
It is merely a mere coincidence whether individuals like Juror #8 will be present. In the second interpretation, he might play a role of chance in changing his presence from the dead to alive.
- Cunningham, F. R. (2001). Sidney Lumet: Film and literary vision. University Press of Kentucky.
- Lumet, S., Fonda, H., & Klugman, J. (1957). 12 angry men. MGM Home Entertainment.
- McCambridge, J. (2003). 12 Angry Men: A study in dialogue. Journal of Management Education, 27(3), 384-401.
- Sunstein, C. R. (2007). Group polarization and 12 angry men. Negotiation Journal, 23(4), 443-447.