12 Angry Men

“I don’t know.” – words more profound than anything in the average Hollywood script.

The film, 12 Angry Men, captures pertinent issues with the legal system – issues that you never observe in any modern Hollywood film. Issues of bias, challenging the assumptions of the court, of the credibility of testimony, of the credibility of prosecuting attorneys and police, and issues of social stature were displayed in a rather entertaining and well-developed exchange. It was not without its inaccuracies regarding how jurors are allowed to interpret evidence – such as the invented scenario regarding the testimony of the old man who could only drag his foot or how the elderly juror presumed to know the handicapped old man’s character. There was a bias on the part of all jurors who believed in guilt and innocence. Moreover, one has to question what good suppositions about knife fighting would be without a juror who had experience growing up in the slums.

This film, more than the other films – except perhaps Breaker Morant, captures the issue of legality at its core. It is interpretation meant to define what is permissible and impermissible – but it is largely interpretation; both prosecution and defense lawyers will use human bias to gain favor to win a trial. It is never about “justice” and ironically some philosophers have argued that “justice” is just a softer word for revenge. Put it this way, if a man murders another man and is then put in prison for life then that is “justice” but why is it justice? To punish the man and create a sense of fairness – to gain vengeance for the cruel deed inflicted upon the prosecuting party. It is easier to understand why war is caused when we understand that many of these crazed vigilantes sought “justice” through legal means but were given an unequal system that punished them collectively. Thus, they began war campaigns.

A personal issue that I couldn’t really overlook was the fact that this film had largely intelligent and three-dimensional characters; most films today have boring static characters and there seems to be an awful dumbing down of the quality of Hollywood films. It seems mass produced quantity with largely the same terrible “hero’s journey” script has overshadowed intelligent filmmaking in today’s culture. I shudder to think just how stupid the average movie audience has to be nowadays to enjoy garbage like Transformers and Avengers. It seems explosions and a few chuckles have overtaken intelligent and emotional characters, interesting plots, and the ability to think.

Perhaps someday, we scholars will gain a more cultured and intelligent film industry suited to our intellectual stimulation instead of the morass suited for the ignorant masses. Consider this metaphor: Films are like toilets; Hollywood is a public toilet for everybody and thus is filled with the most foul refuse and excretion that is never properly sanitized. Thus, we need private bathrooms for ourselves, that is well maintained: similar to college bathrooms versus bathrooms in retail stores. Nobody likes public bathrooms, right?

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