Sixty-one years have passed since the debut of Twelve Angry Men and yet this black and white film still captures audience’s attention to this day. The American court system has developed around the key belief that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. It is far worse to convict an innocent person than let a guilty one go.
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The trial of the young man isn’t portrayed within the film; rather the details of the crime and trial are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. It is the responsibility of the jury to determine, based on the evidence provided in court, if an individual is guilty of the crime committed. The verdict of the jury must be unanimous. If the young man is found guilty, he will be charged with premeditated first-degree murder and will be sentenced to the electric chair. The intense debate within the jury about the guilt or innocence of this young man forces the audience to reflect on the psychological elements of stereotypes, belief bias, memory, belief perseverance, and groupthink, and how they play a role in the attitudes and interactions of the jurors.
The film portrays a variety of prejudices and stereotypes, which play a significant role in the debate, and sense of justice within the jury. A stereotype is an over generalized assumption about a particular group or person. Some of the Juror’s preconceived notions are so embedded into their own opinions that they make illogical conclusions to uphold them. They hold a powerful grip over the debate in the group because of their overconfidence. One man in particular, Juror 10, stands out throughout the film because of his apparent prejudice towards the accused, or kid as the group calls them. It is the background that sets the kid apart and juror ten exclaims, And lemme tell ya: they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone, either!…We’re… This kid on trial here… his type, well, don’t you know about them? There’s a, there’s a danger here. These people are dangerous. They’re wild. Listen to me. Listen!(__site pls!____) His prejudice is based on the belief that poverty or status of an individual also determines their moral compass. The perspective of the camera helps create an atmosphere of pressure so that the audience feels like they are within the room, part of the group, and can feel the impact of the outburst. This outburst has a direct consequence as most of the men leave the table and turn their backs to juror ten. This body language has a profound effect on the juror. He doesn’t express remorse but stays silent and separate from that moment on. It’s the conviction of the man in the white suit portrayed by Henry Fonda who reshapes the outcome of the entire film. Despite the pressure upon him he resists conformity and prevents social loafing by remaining firm in his belief, this man deserves a fair trial and I won’t put a man to death without examining the facts. The group goes from majority believing that the accused is completely guilty to all twelve voting not guilty due to reasonable doubt. This initial perspective is due to each of the juror creating shallow arguments rooted in prejudice or stereotypes to support their ideas.
Memory is another element that plays a key role in the behaviors of the jurors throughout the film. Memory in this film grows in an organic way because the group added their memories of the trial together. This collective memory is stronger than the individuals because it changed the group perspective of the trial. An example of this was the evidence found at the crime scene; the lack of fingerprints on the knife indicated the mental state of the killer. The killer must have possessed a clarity and calm mind to have the foresight to wipe away damning evidence. Another example of how the collective memory proved stronger than the individual is the examination of witness testimonies. Both witnesses had gaps in the details of their descriptions of the crime that were not doubted by the any of the individual memories of the jurors (save Juror 8). Collectively however, the Jury was able to analyze the discrepancies between the witness accounts. For instance, Juror 8 suggests that the old man couldn’t have heard the murder happen if the woman saw it through the window of a loud, passing train. Some of the other jurors support this detail with stories of their own experience with loud trains, and Juror 9 even proposes that the old man convinced himself he heard the murder take place simply because he wanted to feel important. Together, the group gained new perspectives about the witnesses and the details of the case, which led them to conclude that there was reasonable doubt due to lack of details. Memory changed the way the discussion flowed even when emotions ran high. Recalling specific evidence gave the men fresh insight. This changed the attitudes about the way the defense was presented based on specific recollections individuals provided.
The audience’s perspective on the conversations gains them insight in the deeper traits of each character including key beliefs, personal backgrounds and unconscious motives. Within this film the intensity of all the arguments, debates and the conclusion of the trial centers on finding truth. Some of the characters beliefs evolve and others remain unshakeable through the timeline of the film. Belief perseverance refers to our tendency to maintain a belief even after the evidence we used to form the belief is contradicted. The belief of innocence or guilt of the accused swayed back and forth during the film with nearly all the characters but, none so much as the third juror. His persistent belief that the young man was guilty despite the over whelming evidence contrasting what he holds to be true. The third juror couldn’t shift his attitude or perspective until the very end in a climatic soliloquy in which he finally understands the full scope of his own belief. The implications and background behind the implicit prejudice, was a projection of this man’s own history. He had a subconscious prejudice against the accused boy due to the history of his own estranged son. At the end, the third juror understands that the motive behind his belief is his projection of his own son unto the young man accused of murder. At that moment, the truth weighs heavily upon him and he collapses unto a chair declaring, not guilty between sobs.
The groupthink theory in psychology is the pressure to conform; unwavering beliefs, the desire for unification, and strength of leadership override individualism, free will, and even rational thought. Groupthink is clearly illustrated in the very first vote of the film, as some of the jurors hesitantly look around before raising their own hands for a guilty verdict. The confidence of the more vocal jurors with statements like it’s an open and shut case, dominate the initial group dynamic, and persuade the more timid jurors to fall in line. Discussion from the beginning only serves to uphold one belief. This action prevented the group of men to pass judgment without considering the ethics behind their actions. As Juror 2 puts it I can’t really explain it, I just think he’s guilty is all. The audience gets to see the change within the group as Juror 8 advocates for a new approach to the problem. The man in the white suit played by Henry Fonda prevents groupthink by challenging the dominant belief in the room at that time. A practical and logical heuristic approach to problem solving gained Fonda allies within the group, which turned the debate and outcome of the film. Independent thinking; skepticism and dissatisfaction of the trial prevented the jury from immediately falling in conformity.
Knowledge about people, interactions of society and behavior something about how the knowledge of psychology is a valuable tool for the future no matter who you choose to be. This knowledge can guide through life and the movies also serves a warning to those who pay attention, conformity is a dangerous act being deviant from mob mentality prevents evil.
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