A 19 year old boy on trial for murder. 12 Angry men that represent not a jury of his peers, but a nameless tribune elected to be arbiters to the damned. [clip Juror #7 ball game] These men are all more than content to send the defendant to his grave when unexpectedly, breaking from the general consensus of the room, Juror #8 raises his hand, a vote for not guilty, and it’s this single action which serves as the proverbial spark that lights the powder keg. What we go onto witness over the course of the next 84 minutes in an overly hot New York county courthouse is a suffocating experience that comments not just on the temperature of the room but the temperature of its individuals as well. As the simple question of guilty or not guilty is enough to make men sweat. [clip]
This movie’s free flowing approach to depicting emotion through conversation is immediately made apparent. It hangs over the jury’s every word and action, with a dynamism that's claustrophobic. It’s the reason why its so difficult to determine where one scene ends and another begins. There’s this constant energy radiating throughout the members of the jury that flows from a bold gesture, to a raised voice (building raised voice clip) that works in both capturing our attention as audience members and detailing truths central to their relationship as jurors on the case. In fact we learn about the facts of the case entirely through the jurors. A 19 year old impoverished boy, a strained relationship with his father; the victim, and overheard violent threats corroborated by various neighbors. The evidence is presented so damningly that we might feel like a juror ourselves, just as ready to give into the automatic mental processes of assigning guilt in a way that 11 other men are initially so eager to stomach. It’s not until Juror #8 retorts, throwing the concept of swift justice out of balance that the unyielding truth is revealed from the pretense of falsehood. The truth that we are an unreliable juror, that we as the audience haven’t sat through court deliberations or heard the facts of the case from an unbiased 3rd party, if such a thing even exists. Because of this we are at the whims of the emotions in the room and the personal biases that these men have spent years embodying within their character. What does this do? Well it reframes the courtroom drama as something we are no longer active participants in, asking us not to be a juror ourselves, but to attempt to understand the nuance to the perspectives of these 12 angry men in wicked concert with the framework of the law.
We quickly notice how different these men are from their own personal biases. Take Juror 10 whose initial sly remarks at the defendant’s upbringing turn to racist vitriol in a later explosive turning point, or juror 3 whose strained relationship with his son informs his biases against the one on trial. From men who see a little bit of themselves in the defendant to men who couldn’t be bothered with the case either way [ball game] many of these jurors occupy a space of not truly seeking justice or truth, as their elected position has called upon them to do, but instead are men hellbent on vehemently defending their positions in response to their character. Unable or at the very least untrained to separate that which is personal from what under the letter of the law should be an entirely impersonal verdict. that speaks on how the legal framework of the court becomes a spectacle.
We see it too often in courtroom dramas, judges calling for order (gavel sound) an audience rowdy at revelatory truths brought forth by hollering lawyers, even our obsession with true crime. In 12 angry men the same sort of spectacle, the same sort of gamification of the law and those who fall victim to it is entirely present. In a room of flip flopping positions, and ball games to get to, and teams made up of individuals whose biases fuel one anothers we’re constantly bombarded with this notion that the case is simple, its open and shut, it's a waste of our time, when Juror 8 continues to reveal it’s anything but.
The reveal begins slowly. The switchblade used in the crime, first lauded for its supposed uniqueness as a muder weapon begins to lose it’s ironclad-ness, becoming brittle as Juror#8 is able to reproduce an identical switchblade from his pocket in dramatic fashion. (reaction) Juror #9, respecting Juror 8’s motives towards continual discussion of the case past the surface facts joins his quickly growing chorus of not guilty pleas. A passing train at the scene of the crime once re-referenced by the jurors destroys the fabric of one witness’ testimony. The question of infrequent eyeglasses use dismantles another. All this broiling tension of unreliable witnesses, and 15 seconds is too short, and our faulty recollection of events is overwhelming enough to make a man say
[I’ll kill you!]
Words that don’t comment on true intent but internalized unbridled rage, that so often extends from our personal lives into the impersonal impossible task of judging a man. The mantra of beyond reasonable doubt looms over our legal strictures heavily but what's reasonable? When the matter you’re discussing is life and death? For many to consider what’s reasonable is to ensure the death of coincidence but our life is filled with coincidence. That extends from the mundane to extraordinary events that change and shape our existence forever. And when thrown at the mercy of strangers we can only hope that there’s someone, anyone that views our human life as valuable enough to atleast be worth discussing for more than 5 minutes.
Mind Theater is a solo effort produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as my other content follow mindtheaterpod on twitter, IG, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support the ko-fi link is in the shownotes. Thanks for listening, i'll catch ya next time.