In hot stuffy room, twelve men decide matters of life and death. Only one decision is to be maid whether a Puerto Rican teenager accused of murdering his father has to live or to die. One decision, one death and one protest. In the room, there is a man who is not afraid or busy to ask what if he is wrong what if his mistake leads to an innocent person death? What if our prejudice obscures the truth? It is quite scary to understand that your destiny may be determined by simple people who are greatly affected by weather conditions, uncomfortable room, personal appointments, other people, or even their unwillingness to spare some time to study all the evidence which may contain flaws.
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Sidney Lumet puts twelve rather different personalities in a room and he succeeds to find enough room for every one of them. All the characters are well chosen – they all have different social status, occupations, manners, and education. We do not know their names and there is no additional information about them during the film except their own words. It is the moment that important. The film allows us to illustrate fallacies in order to avoid them in a real-life situation.
First of all I charge this film with the fallacy of ad populum as I believe that some of the jurors raise their hands more because everybody else do than owing to their personal believes. Of course, it is easier to plead the boy guilty than to spend some time thinking about it. What is more you just follow other people’s decision and you personally are not responsible for the boy’s life. But this is a delusion and everybody needs to remember that the responsibility lies on him.
The film can be charged with the fallacy of straw man too. The juror stands up for the boy and says that they should at least talk before starting to vote while everybody else does not understand why he wants to leave them in the stuffy room for so long. They simply ignore that juror’s actual position and misrepresent it.
I also charge this film with the fallacy of hyperbole as the juror who is does not want to miss his baseball game, uses unnecessary exaggerations such as “you can not change my mind even if we talk for a hundred years” or “supposing he is not guilty, supposing the whole building will fall down my head, you can suppose anything”. He overstates such a simple thing as his desire to go to the game but underestimates boy’s life. “Supposing he is not guilty” is just a waste of time for him. Supposing he is the defendant, next time. Will jury’s personal time be important for him or will the truth be the only important thing?
The next fallacy is the genetic fallacy: one of the jurors says, “You know them. They are born liars…” despite this, he believes in the witness’ words who is of the same nationality as the boy. In the room, another juror is bred in a slum just like the defendant. He hopes that his guilty vote will estrange him from his past. He does not want to be considered “them” by others but eventually he finds powers deep in his soul to stand up for the boy.
We can not judge a person by his origin. An old man tries to defend this idea by saying that only an ignorant person could say such a thing and here we come to another fallacy – fallacy of ad hominem tu quoque as one of the juror interrupts the old man instead of support. Young people often believe they know everything better than elderly people. They do not show necessary respect.
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Another important fallacy of the film is the fallacy of ad hominem abusive: one of the jurors is deeply affected by his life story and his complicated relations with his own son. He is confident that if the boy is guilty then all the sons in the world are guilty while he is right. He wants to win in the argument no matter what to justify his own actions and his view of life.
One juror illustrates the fallacy of argument from ignorance as he believes that the boy must be guilty, since “nobody proved otherwise”. According to the Law everything should be just the other way about. The boy should be considered not guilty. But it is easier for that juror to consider the defendant guilty as the boy’s innocence needs to be proven while his guilt is established in the court room.
I also charge this film with the fallacy of slippery slope as jurors vote against the defendant because they do not want “people of that kind” to have a possibility to kill without punishment. They think if they punish the boy they will stop a chain of similar events.
Another fallacy that should be pointed out is the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc because several jurors consider the boy guilty in murdering his father only as the killing is preceded by the big fight. Yet later we get to know that the defendant and his father used to fight all the time. Why then this particular evening has led the boy to the murder.
As a result I also can charge this film with the fallacy of appeal to emotion as the jurors support their decisions by negative emotions merely. They all have plans for the night and do not want to spend time in the small and stuffy room. They all have different backgrounds and different believes that effect their emotions and actions.
Twelve angry men have house cleaner a long journey to their decision. For me however film’s happy end remains eclipsed by the cruel real life where hundreds or may be thousands of honest people can be convicted to prison or even to death because of the other people’s indifference, prejudices, and emotional tilts. I personally think that people need to have reasonable doubt when it comes to life and death question. Sometimes it may be very easy to give way to temptation to end the matter quickly but is it possible for you to live with that decision?
“Twelve angry men” is an eternal film which has left one room bounds long ago.