12 Angry Men Prejudice Vs Justice Essay

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Sources: 4
  • Subject: Film
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #86159123

Excerpt from Essay :

Lumet's filmed adaptation of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men focuses primarily on prejudice and the ways in which prejudice can obscure or distort one's sense of justice. The twelve jurors in the film all have their own personalities, their own backgrounds, their own histories, their own preoccupations: one wants to catch the ballgame and is willing to vote whichever way will get him out of the room sooner; another sees the defendant as nothing more than the representation of everything he hates about ungrateful youths; another looks not at the defendant nor at his watch but rather at the facts and attempts to discern through them the actuality of events as they most likely would have occurred: for this juror, the truth is his preoccupation -- and by way of a series of arguments, first with one, then with another, he manages to convince his peers that he is not mistaken in thinking there is a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. The film thus mixes logic, reason, argument, irrationality, emotion, pride, prejudice, claustrophobia (the jurors -- and the audience -- are confined to a small room for nearly all the film), justice, guilt, law, and the ultimate conflict between rightness and wrongness, truth and error to tell the story -- not of the young man whose fate depends upon the verdict of these twelve men -- but rather of the dynamic of the American system of justice and the minds, souls, hearts, and attitudes of those individuals tasked with the responsibility of administering it.

As Louis Gianneti observes, Lumet used technique to heighten the dramatic tension of the film -- the technique utilized was rooted in how the director framed the shots as the film progressed. From initially consisting of open, wider shots, the film increasingly gave the viewer tighter, more focused shots of the characters in the room, showing them sweating, fanning themselves, seeking fresh air from the windows, escape from the hot room where tempers, minds and passions were beginning to war with one another. By using the room as a kind of cage in which this match of intellects, will, and prejudice were dueling, Lumet was able to construct a film that was as powerful intellectually as it was emotionally gripping -- and that was because he managed to make the room in which the jurors sat seem increasingly smaller and tighter as the film went on. The jurors, seeking to do anything other than the work that they are there to do -- apply their reason to the case of a young man whose life is on the line -- want to make small talk, plan their days, get out of there as quickly as possible. They begin by taking a vote -- without really discussing anything. The vote shows that only one of the twelve has seriously thought about the evidence presented them. The others have only applied themselves superficially to the facts of the case. They are indifferent to that which they are meant to do -- which is deliver justice.

Lumet uses the four walls of the room to press home to these jurors the reality of their situation: they are not there as a mere formality, a legal process that will quickly be over and allow them all to go back to their own lives. They are confined for a reason: they are there to deliberate. They are there to examine the arguments of the prosecution and the defense and decide whether there remains a reasonable doubt about the accused. The shots that Lumet constructs from over Fonda's shoulder (Fonda plays the lone voice of reason that emerges in the beginning to sway the others one by one) emphasize the perspective of the righteous man and the alienation that he faces from the others who look at him with cock-eyed expressions, disdain, mistrust, anxiety and malevolence. Their faces express exasperation that he is daring to waste their time. That sense of time being lost is emphasized as jurors look at the clock or their watches, seeing the day pass out the window, the table in between seeming large and spacious at first but then seeming small and intimate by the end, as the characters appear to crowd around it, in one another's faces. The weapon that Fonda brandishes at the end brings them all together even more so, as their alarm at seeing a knife driven into the table (acting also as a metaphor for Fonda driving home the point of his argument) explodes on the screen and acts as the final wave of admission needed to reduce their stubborn pride and resentment to rubble.

Thus, Lumet is able to transform the simple room into an arena -- a kind of cage match where men use their brawn and their brains, their physical demeanors and their intellects to push and pull one another. The destination that they want to reach in the opening of the film…

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