Doubting With Certainty
The set-up is one of the simplest I’ve seen. Twelve strangers are assembled in a room and they can’t get out until they unanimously decide on either a guilty or not guilty verdict. They have the power to send a slum-raised and uneducated teenager to the electric chair for murdering his father. In a preliminary vote, all are convinced the kid is guilty, except for one man: the numerically identified Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). The trial, which is heard secondhand from the jurors, sounds like an “open and shut” case. There are damning evidences. There are two eyewitnesses. One woman purports to have seen the actual murder from her window. The old man, who lived under, heard the body fall on the floor and saw the boy running downstairs afterwards. The murder weapon, a “very unusual” knife, was purchased by the defendant. He later tells the police he had lost the knife through a hole in his pocket. His alibi at the time of the murder is that he went to the movies. But he couldn’t remember the names of the movies and who played in them. Uh-oh.
It is no surprise that lone Juror #8, who embodies decency and reason, is the one the movie sides with. He’s not entirely sure of the kid’s innocence, but all he has to do is to reasonably cast doubt on the supposed facts. Sooner or later, he’d sway some jurors to his side and create an “angry” atmosphere. It would be too easy for the viewer to simply pick sides. In a way, the film offers the viewer the role of a juror and the movie’s jury members act as defense and the prosecution. So you have the power to think for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Don’t be so easily convinced. Be as skeptic as you like. To watch this way is to test the movie’s credibility. There’s nothing like a movie which can win you over by its own merits.
You can also be a voyeur and be engrossed by the drama. A large ensemble is hard to pull off. It’s not just about the issue of giving characters enough screen time and depth; it’s also about making them fit into the story. All twelve men are sufficiently utilized. Their distinguishing personalities are crucial to the way they vote. A person’s background (age, race, work, economic status, etc.) can heavily taint a person’s fair assessment. This is why these men are easily angered. They think what they stand for and believe are also on trial.
The movie made me realize that the way we judge people tells so much about ourselves. Who are we to judge anyway? Do we even need to judge? It seems like a hobby for those who like to condescend and restrict people in stereotypes. But we unconsciously do it, don’t we? We have our opinions of people we don’t really know. Maybe we still stick to our prejudices because life is detailed with doubts. We’d love to believe we’re sure of certain certainties.