12 Angry Men
The film ’12 Angry Men’ is a short film that depicts trial deliberations among 12 men with different personalities. They have been selected as the jurors in a case whereby an 18 year old is accused of stabbing his father. There are two witnesses, an elderly man, and a middle-aged woman across the street. Based on the witness accounts, the boy is guilty of stabbing his father to death. The judge asks the jury of 12 men to retire to a private room and deliberate on whether there is any reasonable doubt that the boy killed his father. The judge also informs them that if they come back with a guilty verdict then the boy will be automatically sentenced to death. At the beginning, 11 of the jurors believe that the boy is guilty but at the end of the film, they have all changed their verdict and believe that there is reasonable doubt.
Social Psychology Principles
There are several Social Psychology principles that we can derive from the film ’12 Angry Men.’ These principles include schemas and/or stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, aggression, persuasion, and problems with eyewitness testimony.
1. Schemas and/or Stereotypes
There are several stereotypes in this story. For starters, there is a strong stereotype about people who dwell in slums. All the jurors enter into the deliberation room already believing that the boy is already guilty because of where he hails from. Juror 10 believes that people who are from slum dwellings are liars, and that they are dangerous and wild. He goes into a diatribe describing how people from the slum are like wild animals who kill each other out of pure pleasure.
2. Prejudice and Discrimination
There is a strong prejudice against the boy because he comes from the slum. Juror 3 has a personal prejudice against slum children. This prejudice is behind his outright annoyance against Juror 5 when the former believes that the latter is the one who changed his vote at the secret ballot. Juror 3 believes that Juror 5 changed his vote out of sympathy for children in the slum for Juror 5 had once been a slum dweller.
Juror 3 also has a personal prejudice against children it seems. He is the only remaining juror holding on to a guilty verdict after everyone else finds reasonable doubt with the prosecution’s case. Juror 8 sees his personal prejudice and claims that he is a sadist and self-appointed public avenger. This is after Juror 3 breaks into a rant and demands that the boy has to burn and that the deliberations are allowing the defendant to slip through their fingers.
During the latter stages of deliberation, Juror 3 loses his temper and tears up a photo that he had taken with his son. This demonstrates that his persistence on the guilt of the defendant is based on his own prejudice against his own son and the belief that all children are ‘rotten kids’. Once he realizes this, he breaks down crying and finally changes his vote to not guilty.
There is a lot of aggression in this film that is exhibited primarily by Juror 3 and Juror 10. Juror 3 becomes irritated with Juror 8 for his attempt to debunk the case. He lunges towards Juror 8 and threatens to kill him as a result. Later on, he breaks into a rant as to how rotten all children are, which explains why he is so adamant that the child defendant is guilty.
There is also aggression between Juror 7, 3, and 11. Juror 7 changes his vote to not guilty hoping that the deliberations would end so that he may attend his game. Juror 11 is angered by the way the juror has used his vote frivolously while Juror 3 is mad at the juror for changing sides so quickly.
Juror 8 also explains why the defendant claims that he cannot remember the movie he had watched that night. Juror 4 does not believe the boy’s alibi that he was at the movies with his friends during the night in question because he cannot remember the movie he watched. Juror 8 explains that the boy was under emotional stress when questioned about his whereabouts and that is why he could not recall the movie he had watched. The juror also conducted an experiment by making juror 4 try to remember all the events of the previous 4 days. The juror recalled some events with great difficulty even though he was not under any emotional stress. Juror 8 explained that if he were under emotional stress, he would not be able to remember most of the events thereby explaining the boy’s difficulty in remembering the movie he watched that night.
Juror 11 manages to persuade the other jurors that it would not have been possible for the defendant to flee the scene and return to clean the switchblade that was on his father’s body. It seemed implausible that the boy could have ran away then come back to wipe his fingerprints from the switchblade and then return three hours later to retrieve the murder weapon. The timeline did not fit and it seemed illogical for the boy to have done so.
The jurors also conducted an experiment to determine whether the elderly man would have made it to his front door in 15 seconds to see the defendant running away. They were persuaded that the man must have merely assumed that it was the boy running because he could not have been able to reach the door on time to see the assailant escaping.
Juror 2 was also able to persuade the rest of the jurors that there was no way the accused could have stabbed his father downwards. The boy was 5’7” while his father was 6’2” and Juror 2 did not believe that a shorter individual could inflict a downward stab on a taller person. Juror 5 demonstrates that it is impossible for a shorter person to hold a switchblade in such a way as to inflict a downward stab at a taller person. He was able to persuade his fellow jurors that a shorter person would have stabbed the taller individual from an upwards angle.
Juror 8 was also able to persuade jurors 12, 10, and 4 to change their votes to not guilty after he convinces them that the woman’s account of events might not be as accurate as they had figured. He pointed out that the incident occurred when the witness was trying to get some sleep and she had admitted that it happened so quickly that it is logical to assume that she did not have time to put on her spectacles. The discovery that the witness wears specs was made by Juror 9 who had noticed that the witness had impressions on her nose just like those of Juror 4 who wore spectacles.
5. Problems with eye-witness testimony
There are several problems with the eyewitness testimonies provided and Juror 8 helps to bring these issues to the forefront. At the beginning of the deliberation, he declines to go along with the guilty verdict without considerable deliberation because he believes there is too much at stake. He begins to question the accuracy of the eyewitness testimonies beginning with the old man’s account.
Juror 8 argues that it was impossible for the elderly man to have heard the boy shout ‘I’m going to kill you’. This is because there was an elevated train passing by at the time he claims that the boy shouted these words. The juror continues to postulate that many people shout ‘I’m going to kill you’ when they are annoyed but they do not literally mean it or carry on with their threat. When Juror 3 gets even more irritated by the ongoing deliberations, he lunges at Juror 8, screaming ‘I’ll kill him.’ He is restrained by the other jurors and Juror 8 calmly explains to him that he does not really mean to kill him. This further proves his point that people often say those words when they are mad but do not mean them.
Juror 8 calls into question the mobility of the old man. The elderly man had claimed that when he heard the father’s body slump to the floor, he ran to the door of his apartment and saw the defendant running from his front door in 15 seconds. The juror along with Juror 6 and 8 question the credibility of this testimony because the witness had just suffered a stroke limiting his mobility. There is no logical way he would have been able to make it to his door as fast as he claims and see the defendant running away. The jurors concluded that the elderly man had just assumed that it was the defendant running away.
Juror 8 also points out that there is a problem with the woman’s account of events. Juror 9 realizes that the woman wears glasses because of the impressions he saw on her face when she was giving her testimony. Juror 8 then explained that most people do not wear their glasses when going to sleep. It follows that this woman was not wearing her spectacles at the time of the murder because she was already trying to sleep. According to her own account, she could not have seen everything because the whole incident happened so swiftly.