Monday, July 11, 2011

A Man Who Feels Could Save Your Life

“It was kinda like a Greek tragedy”
is how I described 12Angry Men to a friend.
(because it all takes place in about the course of one day, and it all mostly takes place in just one room, and there aren’t really any elaborate special effects or nothing, so…)
It’s true – except it’s maybe not as sad.
That is, it has a happy ending.
I mean, it is after all a film of Henry Fonda.

The basic gist – as a Jeff would read it :
It’s good to feel. It’s good to have feelings; it’s good to feel for others; it’s good to feel a sensitivity to other people’s feelings. It’s good to feel.

Plot-wise (just so we’re all up to speed)
There’s this trial going on when we start 12 Angry Men (1957)
And the jury has just been given the chance to decide whether or not the accused is guilty of the crime he’s accused of committing.
The judge has this dull deadpan, matter-of-fact, this-is-just-business-and-I’m-practically-reading-from-a-script way about him – a little like the way some priests (not all) administer the Eucharist, but anyway…
So there are twelve men, from various walks of life, and they’re all in a room. It’s a really hot day – and no air-conditioning – and they all just want to get home as soon as they can. Or so it seems. Some admittedly are happy to get off work; some want to make it to a baseball game; some see it as an easy open-shut case; but at least one isn’t so sure. He’d like to talk it out. And because they need an unanimous vote – whether the boy accused of knifing his father is guilty or not guilty – they do talk.
And we hear various folks’ biases: A few think that anybody from the “bad part of town” is therefore more likely to commit crimes – that just because the boy is poor and was beaten around a bit by his father, that he’d therefore “naturally” want his father dead, that he’d mean it if he said it (though admittedly we’re all often guilty of saying things we don’t mean, no matter how rich or poor we are). And there are some who find it easier to believe the testimony of the two alleged witnesses (a woman on a train and an old man in his bedroom) than that of the accused boy. And there are some who don’t really care – who like sharing ideas or like making jokes or going to ballgames, but who aren’t really in the habit of caring about the various situations and concerns of other people – and so they (just out of convenience’s sake) at first declare the boy guilty too.
But one man is brave or bold or stubborn enough to admit he’s not so sure – and he sticks to that – because he wants to understand better. He wants his decision to be well-informed.
So the evidence is trotted out – what the two witnesses said (that a woman without her glasses on could see it all happen while passing in a moving L train, and that an old man slow of foot had managed to hear a sound and see the boy flee, looking guilty), and what the boy had said (that he’d gone to the movies and lost his switchblade on the way to the showing and had come home to his dad dead), and the knife itself (which ends up looking almost identical to another knife bought at a nearby convenience store, though it was earlier said to be rather unique).
And the one brave (stubborn?) man, though patient and kind in his speech, takes his time being decisive – and so appears very (too?) argumentative. (The man I later realized is played by Henry Fonda.)
But by his unrelenting questions, and his evident ability to empathize, eventually (and I mean, the movie is an hour and a half long, so that’s a big “eventually”) the rest of the jurymen are won over, and the boy’s declared “Not guilty.” Which is what you knew would happen all along. But you just needed to see the film to feel it.

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