12 Angry Men, a gripping 1957 movie by Sidney Lumet and Reginald Rose makes much out of a simple situation and setting. The greatness of the film is its bringing together of twelve different men who have never known each other before. They are the jurors of the case wherein a boy is accused of murdering his father. Each of these men brings his own life experiences and background into the case.
We have the hesitant football coach as juror 1 (Martin Balsam), shy and uncertain bank clerk as juror 2 (John Fiedler), aggressive call company director as juror 3 (Lee J.Cobb), authoritative broker as juror 4 (E.G. Marshall ), self-conscious slum dweller as juror 5 (Jack Klugman), solid and dependable painter as juror 6 (Edward Binns), selfish salesman as juror 7 (Jack Warden), calm collected architect as juror 8 (Henry Fonda), thoughtful observant old man as juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney), racially, bigoted garage owner as juror 10 (Ed. Begley), East European watchmaker as juror 11 (George Voskovec) and the beefcake advertising agent as Juror 12 (Robert Webber).
While the juror 8 believes that the boy’s life should entail some discussion to eliminate any reasonable doubt the jurors might have, all the rest seem to be influenced by intricacies of human nature and other personality traits. Nevertheless, the verdict changes after due consideration and deliberation. The article delves into aspects that impact decision-making.
01. An eyewitness account becomes profoundly convincing unless there is another refuting it
The juror number ten states that if the testimony by the woman who lived across the street did not prove the case, then nothing else would. She had known the boy his whole life, his window was just opposite hers and she swore she had seen him do it. However, when the juror number eight points out that the witness claimed that she saw him commit the murder though the window of a passing train, he justifies saying that it has been proved that one can see through the window of a passing train at night. This juror has taken what the woman said verbatim, without looking further what might have been the truth in the situation. Moreover, it wasn’t that the witness wanted to be deceitful, she sincerely believed in the accuracy of what she said. But perceptions are erroneously affected over time, and unfortunately humans are not credited with remembering everything exactly as it happens. In judiciary, great credence is given to those who say that they have seen something with their own eyes, and this might unfortunately lead to wrongful convictions.
02. Attribution biases owing to certain stereotypes about certain group of people
The accused young man is hinted to be from an abysmally impoverished area. Majority of the jurors do not identify with this young man. At the beginning, we have the juror number four who explains as to why he thinks the boy is guilty based on the stereotype of people who live in that area. He claims that he knows well that the slums are breeding grounds for criminals. Similarly, towards the end, it is the juror number ten who rebukes the rest for voting against stating that if they don’t smack them down whenever they can, the slum dwellers are likely to breed them down out of existence. This shows that it is difficult to put aside the bias and stereotypes, and determine judgment based on facts alone.
03. Legal community’s intention of certain phrases
The judge instructs the jurors to bring in the verdict of ‘not guilty’ if only there is ‘reasonable doubt’ after ‘deliberating honestly and thoughtfully’. Ironically, eleven of the judges do not take seriously of the parlance ‘deliberate honestly and thoughtfully’, and jump into voting guilty at the very beginning. The juror number eleven points out their responsibility and tells it is imperative that they do not make it a personal thing. When one juror simply changes his vote from guilty to not guilty, the juror number eight chastises him by telling that his vote should be based on what he believes is right, and not on what he thinks is convenient.
04. Opinion presented convincingly and persistently in a self confident manner influences a group into accepting it
In most trials, the majority position at the beginning of the trial becomes the jury’s verdict. However, in ’12 Angry Men’ it is seen that even a minority can influence the decision by consistent and persistent projection of their opinion. The juror number eight shows great self-confidence from the very beginning. It certainly helps to influence the other jurors in changing their votes to acquit the young man.
05. Contents of the unconscious area can largely affect the decision-making process
The juror number three has sizeable unconscious area. The troubled relation he has with his son preoccupies his mind. He stares at the picture of him and his son many a times. He is unable to level with others, and is unreceptive to their feedback. It is likely that the effect this feeling has on his perception is unconscious to him. He accuses others of being crazy. Nonetheless, this emotional outburst slowly transforms into anger, then sadness and finally understanding. His defense begins to crumble when his unconscious emotions becomes visible to him. He realizes that his frustration with his son has been misdirected towards the accused.
06. Soliciting feedback and leveling makes all the difference
The juror number eight has an interpersonal style that is open-receptive. He levels with other jurors by openly admitting that he is not sure if the boy had killed his father. However, he solicits their feedback because he feels it is not right to send the boy to die without at least talking about it. Thus, he sets an example which encourages others to level and be open to feedback. This ultimately makes all the difference to the verdict.
07. Prevalence of double standard undermines the earlier stand of the jurors
It is interesting to note that the evidence here is the testimony provided by an old woman who is also a member of the slum the boy comes from. Yet, the boy is assumed to be a liar because he belongs to a slum. The juror number eight points out this double-standard. Likewise, the juror number five responds to negative comments by informing them that he too grew up in a ghetto and may be they can still smell the garbage on him. Pointing out these double standards undermines the jurors’ earlier votes that were based on prejudging.
08. Taking a critical look at one’s own beliefs
The jurors make an honest change towards the end. This is not just because they possess the ability to logically deduce something, but it is because they are flexible enough to change their mind, which becomes possible only if deep down they are able to look at themselves critically. Many of the jurors engage in self censorship. The juror number four is convinced that the female eyewitness has poor eyesight and therefore couldn’t make a positive identification. This can also be attributed to informational influence. Here, the juror had initially failed to notice that the female eyewitness had marks on her eyes that were caused by eyeglasses.
In a nutshell, the movie underscores the necessity to use cleaning agents to filter all those that shape our world view, and then see how our perceptions are likely to differ from the reality.