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Musings on "12 Angry Men"


_Broadway_
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Recently I re-watched one of my favorite films, 12 Angry Men from 1957. I have always appreciated this film for its powerful performances; However, recently when I watched it, it dawned on me how much deeper the plot is and how it could possibly be interpreted as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.

Throughout the plot, each man on the jury slowly becomes aware of his own limiting beliefs that hold him back from considering anything other than his own learned viewpoint, or what appears "obvious" to the logical mind. Each one slowly opens to new ideas and possibilities that the ego previously blocked out. Even the most ego-centric man (Juror 3) is awakened to become aware of his own ego and programmed beliefs and he experiences a cathartic release of pent-up emotions as he releases them.

For me, the most beautiful thing is that at the end of the film, after all the ordeals and arguments, there are no feelings of ill will or judgement between those involved. Nobody is labelled the "bad guy" for how they acted when they were lost in ego and learned behaviors. Everyone just lets go and they part ways, knowing their truth and presumably going on to live their truth with more open minds.

I particularly like near the end when Juror 8 gets Juror 3's coat. The two were always at odds with each other throughout the film, but this gesture shows there are no hard feelings. There is this moment of shared humanness. We all can so easily get caught up in ego and behaviors we were taught, but deep down we are so much more than those thoughts and behaviors. I also love how Juror 3 slowly leaves the courthouse in that last shot. To me, he seems lost in thought, but is also taking in his surroundings with a careful curiosity, as if he is wondering what life would be like now that he has opened up and released this conflict with his son that had been eating away at him. He seems to be considering what is the part of him that remains, now that what was false is gone.

Another great snippet is the interaction of Juror 10 and Juror 11 partway through the movie:

Juror 10: "What are you so polite about?"

Juror 11: "For the same reason you are not. It ’s the way I was brought up."

Here I feel Juror 11 is not blaming Juror 10 for being impolite, neither is he thinking Juror 10 is a bad person. He is just aware that people act how they do because of their upbringing.

Each character in the film is so well-defined and one could argue that they are all aspects of a single person. Indeed, I see parts of myself in each of the 12 characters and can relate at least in some way to each. While watching the film, I thought that the whole plot could potentially be going on inside one person's mind as they argue with parts of themselves and slowly become aware of and release "stuck" unhelpful learned thoughts/behaviors (racism, following the crowd, impatience, etc). 

I was wondering if anyone else had thoughts about this film. Perhaps other interpretations? I love this film and would love to talk about it!

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  • 1 month later...

Reading your post reminded me of Identity from 2003, though it is nothing like 12 Angry Men.

I always remember what a prosecutor said during a jury selection I was part of. He said it's a great movie but it is not the way a jury is supposed to work. A jury is supposed to consider the evidence presented, not re-try the case.  Apparently the defense attorney in 12 was so bad he didn't even try to refute the prosecution, which allows the movie to proceed the way it does. 

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Interesting! I hadn't heard of that film before and had to look it up. I'd love to know the connection you made between the two films! :)

Ah yes, I am sure 12 Angry Men is not the most realistic of films. I've actually never sat on a jury before, so I wouldn't really know for sure.

 

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On 11/5/2021 at 3:10 PM, _Broadway_ said:

it dawned on me how much deeper the plot is and how it could possibly be interpreted as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.

Yours are good musings. I have always thought of the film as mainly a political allegory and did not think too much about the spirituality. The plot as a metaphor for a "spiritual awakening", I can see this now and I agree 100%. This aspect is powerfully clear at the end. The twelve, after having their hatreds, biases and egocentricities exposed and stripped away are certainly "awakened". Their worst impulses have been replaced with decency, thoughtfulness and compassion (like a cleansing of sins). Your example of #8 helping #3 with his coat exemplifies how the characters have opened themselves up from self-centricity to a more compassionate awareness of others. 

The political metaphors are more obvious but portrayed subtly enough that I don't find the film preachy. The story is a triumph of democracy and progressive thought. The film-making and acting is effective enough that it always resonates with me and causes me to examine myself for biases and prejudices.

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