One boy’s eternal fate is determined by a group of gentlemen during a court case. His life depends on their decision of judgement on his guilt or innocence. The boy is charged with the murder of his own father. All of this happens in the film “12 Angry Men” starring Henry Fonda. The film shares the enduring legacy of democracy in the American court room.
Henry Fonda plays the protagonist, Davis, in the movie. Eleven other members of the jury are ready to judge the boy guilty. Davis is willing to judge the boy either way, but first he wants to talk about the decision. During the film, he leads his peers to critically assess the situation.
The right to free speech is a key point of the film. Nobody is forced to choose one side or the other. The jury members, except for Davis, take their right of speech for granted at first. They are not interested in discussing the decision. It can go either way. They choose guilty at first.
Dismissing the chance to discuss a decision is ignorant. That is what the jury members decide to do at first. Davis becomes a hero when he opens the table for argument. He does not necessarily stand up for the boy, yet he gives democracy a chance to happen. Voting blindly is foolish. There needs to be argument and consensus. The room is convinced of that, so the jury’s decision is delayed.
Several methods of consensus-reaching are tried in the film. The head juror leads the round-table discussion. He acts as the foreman for the group. Reluctantly, he shows leadership. Some of them men act as his followers, so he does not give up out of frustration.
Once leadership is acknowledged, the jury decides how to reach a consensus. They must unanimously decide if the boy is guilty or not. Reaching a unanimous vote for any choice is a big challenge. A simple method is used to get the talk started. They go around the table, and give their opinions one at a time.
Opinions are formed soon after the talk gets underway. At the start, none of the men had a thoughtful opinion. They were ready to choose guilty, but only based on their gut instinct. The situation gets more complex, because there are two distinct factions in the argument. Before it was only one-sided against Davis. The debate evolves.
Students learn how to debate in school. It prepares them for real world situations like this one. Stuck in a court room, adults must decide the fate of their peers. The 12 jury members could debate, yet they had to be reminded by Davis before that could happen. Some of the men later exhibit shame over their ignorance, for they were quick to give up their opportunity to debate.
An Enduring Legacy
Similar to voting in public elections, sometimes people need to be reminded of their rights. They can vote, debate and defend themselves. It takes men like Davis to remind them.
Until the end, the characters remain nameless. The ambiguity allows the audience to imagine themselves in those roles. The experience is more believable and memorable that way.
The film “12 Angry Men” lasts as a reminder to use the right of free speech. This is especially important in matters of law and justice. The law and truth cannot be stood up for if no one is willing to do so. Davis inspires the audience to uphold the tradition of debate, especially in the courtroom.
This piece was composed by Ronald Wellington, a freelance writer and blogger who often writes on law, legal education, law and media, and other related topics; to further one’s interest, and to acquire legal assistance, it may be beneficial to view an attorney in the bay area.
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