Movies to watch before you die - The excellence of 12 Angry Men
I recently had a very productive and sophisticated (bleh) talk with a friend of mine named Orestis. We had a passionate argument regarding what makes a movie good. The conversation went on and on (future podcast?) but there was one main highlight that could be called as controversial; his claim that his favourite movie is 12 Angry Men.
That really rustled my jimmies.
I was furious. I could not comprehend how a movie from 1956 was a youngster's favourite movie. I found it hypocritical and pseudointellectual. I admire old films. I respect them. They set the path for much better films that the upcoming spoiled generations can enjoy. I mean look at what we have, we have movies set in huge universes with complex plot lines directed with people who keep up by writing in boards.
That's a penis Christopher
Anyway, I was an asshole. I tried to alter the way someone enjoys art. And that is the first thing I should not do as a supposed movie critic. I have "reviews from a non snob-reviewer" on the homepage of this goddamn blog for gods sakes. That led me to decide to rewatch 12 Angry Men. I have watched this movie during a stakeout back in my army days and I remember enjoying it. However, back then, I did not find it as deep as Orestis described it. I was wrong. Things change and so does your mindset and appreciation. This is an analysis of how a 1952 movie broke the barriers of how dialogue can make something boring like a jury seem fascinating, depressing, uplifting and more in the span of just over one hour and thirty minutes.
Plot; Simplicity is key
We are talking about a movie that was made a few years after the second World War. We are talking about a film that was released before 2001: Space Odyssey and a film that had not many ideas to step on. Its plot is minimalistic and simple. It follows a jury of 12 men who just finished attending the court case of an 18 year-old who is judged for presumably killed his abusive father. The movie takes a bottle form which means that the majority of the film is in a single location; a non aircontidioned jury room that the 12 men have to reach a decision of the judge. If all of them decide that he is guilty, then he takes the chair, if not he is proven as innocent. Morevoer, the majority (11) of the men believe that the case is crystal clear, one of the juries believes otherwise. The plot then unfolds giving the viewer a perspective on multiple issues such as prejudices, racism, epistemological concerns and much more through beautiful performances and memorable quotes that can still be described as relevant.
The illusion of absolutes and the raise of epistemological concerns.
The first thing that the movie tackles is epistemology. I have seen many analisis of the movie and nobody talked about this so I will try and do it in the best of my limited ability. Epistemology is regarded as the study of the nature and scope of knowledge. More specifically, epistemogy sets to analyze the creation of knowledge and its justification. To simplify it, I would set it like this,
How much do we certainly know? Are we certain of their justification?
It can be claimed that the level of observational skills of humans is limited. We can never be certain about anything and that is why science constantly keeps being updated. You hear that you can eat this because it is healthy and another study says otherwise. Many (scientific) findings are contradicted. The main thing is; We can never be sure about anything. Nothing (or almost nothing) can be described as absolute.
From what has been mentioned in the case, the majority of the juries are convinced that this 18 year old is a monster that deserves the death penalty. The story that he provided is full of holes, and eye witnesses have placed him in the scene along with his voice. They do not set their critical thinking ahead. They just want to get this over with. Concerned with their own existence and their own lives, they do not seem to give much thought to what can be supposedly be described as one of the most important day of their lives. They are playing God. They have a young man's life in their hand and they only seem to care about baseball games and telling jokes.
They have taken the court's supposed evidence as absolute by making one simple mistake; they did not calculate the human factor. The human factor is where everything that we know of originates. Everything.
I am able to critically analyse a digital copy of a film that was released in 1957 on real film strips because a human (Charles Babbage) designed the first mechanical computer. That does not mean we are always innovative, genius or correct. Eye witnesses can make mistakes, lawyers can be iditiots and film critics can be pretentious douchebags (*cough cough*). The point is, the gift of the human species lies in our criticality and how we perceive it. When we put our mind in use, we can comprehend that we can be wrong. The movie perfectly showcases the inability of the modern man to perceive seriously something like the human life. This takes us onto my next point.
Playing God; the value of a human life:
In the beginning of the movie, we see all jurors being themselves and are not seemed to care about the importance of the task in hand. As mentioned, their job is playing God, with a life being in their hands. They take this lightly and decide to vote guilty without even thinking about the severity of their actions. This showcases how lightly they take the importance of their fellow man's life.
Note that this movie was filmed in USA in a period where technology was on the rise and everything flourished. This was a period of good ol' capitalism growth. Ethics and morals such as altruism were almost out of the window. In a potential alternate universe, if juror 8 did not raise his concerns, these animals would have let their fellow man die on evidence they have believed to be right just to get back to their businesses and everyday lives or even to satisfy their sadistic and xenophobic behaviours, generated by their interpersonal drama or rushed assumptions as seen by juror 3 and 10 who one can claim are the antagonists of the film.
This is seen perfectly in the change of the vote of juror 7, who got tired of waiting and decided to vote with the majority just for the sake of leaving. While his action could be considered right, the motives behind can be claimed to be plain wrong as his decision was not powered by altruistic intent, but instead of selfish behaviour. Check the scene to see my point exactly.
The voice of concern
Juror 8 can represent a voice of the voiceless. Juror 8 is what most of us wish that we could have; courage to voice our own opinion in the most intense environment in which everything and everyone is against us. The ability to use the gift of criticality and voice your potential concern is something can aid many of us in our jobs and everyday lives. But courage is something that we lack. We keep thinking, "What if I am wrong? I will look foolish". In that case my friends, we should follow Juror 8's way of thinking. The statement of your concern should not be made in a threatening or competitive way. He does not show certainty that the boy is innocent. Instead, he portrays that the truth is not something out in the open. He recognizes the inability of our species to be 100% accurate and right all the time. Sometimes, things can simply be manifested poorly and this can lead to a number of wrong assumptions. His ability to calmly state his opinion against 11 other men is a noteworthy feature of a character that we all should strive to follow.
Take for example the pictures that are followed. He is not saying he is certain that the kid is innocent and accepts that he may be wrong to take the boy's side.
Lastly, the movie's messages are outstanding. Especially if you remember that this movie was released in freaking 1957. Racism was everywhere, everyone was prejudiced and if you weren't white, your existence accumulated to nothing. But here we are. A movie that gave a voice to the voiceless before political correctness. It provided one of the wittiest and most memorable quotes that can be used for everyone who is little enough to still language as an excuse to justify racism.
And finally, you have this powerful scene. Just watch it at your own risk because it is a very climatic moment and it may ruin the experience if you do not watch the whole build up.
At the end of the day, it is almost crazy to think this came out back then. This would have never made it in the newer age of cinema, mostly because of the lack of CGI that attracts the short attention span of our generation.
If you have a nice evening to spend alone and you want to get rid of all distractions and focus on one thing, this movie is the perfect thing to watch. Just imagine the possibilities; you can watch an amazing film from the 1950s and you can act all pretentious to your friends that you are a film connoisseur (pretentious douchebag). For legal reasons, I have to state that this is a joke.
And I am joking. This movie can alter your perspective and give you a glimpse of hope in this cruel, cruel world we live in. It can give you a lot of messages and maybe even the courage to tell your boss that he or she should take your suggestions a bit more seriously or tell your mom that you do not like the crust on your sandwiches. I do not know how you will use this movie, but I am certain it will be in a good way.
Thank you for reading, I will see you in the next one.
At this moment, I have to admit that I was wrong. Okay Orestis, you can have this as your favourite movie. Hopefully, you did not even make it until the end of this post to read me admitting my mistake since I am fuming while writing this.