Analysis of 12 Angry Men

Analysis of 12 Angry Men

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In viewing 12 Angry Men, we see face to face exactly what man really is capable of being. We see different views, different opinions of men such as altruism, egoism, good and evil. It is no doubt that human beings possess either one or any of these characteristics, which make them unique. It is safe to say that our actions, beliefs, and choices separate us from animals and non-livings. The 20th century English philosopher, Martin Hollis, once said, “Free will – the ability to make decisions about how to act – is what distinguishes people from non-human animals and machines 1”. He went to describe human beings as “self conscious, rational, creative. We can fall in love, write sonnets or plan for tomorrow. We are capable of faith, hope and charity, and for that matter, of envy, hated and malice. We know truth from error, right from wrong 2.” Human nature by definition is “Characteristics or qualities that make human beings different from anything else”. With this said, the topic of human nature has been around for a very long time, it is a complex subject with no right or wrong answer. An American rabbi, Samuel Umen, gave examples of contradictions of human nature in his book, Images of Man. “He is compassionate, generous, loving and forgiving, but also cruel, vengeful, selfish and vindictive 3”. Existentialism by definition is, “The belief that existence comes before essence, that is, that who you are is only determined by you yourself, and not merely an accident of birth”. A French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, is the most famous and influential 20th - century existentialist. He summed up human nature as “existence precedes essence”. In his book, Existentialism and Human Emotions, he explained what he meant by this. “It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will be something, and he himself will have made what he will be 4”. After watching 12 Angry Men, the prominent view on human nature that is best portrayed in the movie is that people are free to be whatever they want because as Sartre said, “people create themselves every moment of everyday according to the choices they make 5”.

Firstly, perhaps the most egoistic man seen in the film would be Juror 3.

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He is characterized in the movie as a very strong and very forceful, an extremely opinionated man with a streak of sadism 6. He is intolerant of opinions other than his own and is accustomed to forcing his wishes and views upon others 7. He admitted that he would pull the switch on the boy if he had the chance, claiming that the boy is guilty without going over the evidence thoroughly, even when the evidence proves the boy is innocent. Juror 3’s opinion of the boy reflects a personal experience with his own son, who ran away, and he has not seen his son since. Juror 3 used the experience of his own son and applied it to the boy. He is biased and convinced that the boy is guilty and should be brought to justice. All of his choices and actions lead the other jurors to look at him in disgust and turn the votes eleven-to-one not guilty, despite his outbursts. In the end, Juror 3 could have voted guilty until the end and wait for the hung jury but out of free will, he voted not guilty when he realized that he is defeated and there was nothing more that he can say.

Another juror, Juror 7, is another example of an egoist, is a loud, flashy type of man who has more important things to do, like go to the baseball game 8. He is quick to show temper and equally quick to form opinions in things which he knows nothing. He is a bully, and, of course, a coward 9. “I think the guy’s guilty. You could not chance my mind if you talked for a hundred years 10”. However, later on, when the odds of eleven-to-one guilty reduce to six-to-six not guilty, Juror 7 changes his vote, “just because”. When Juror 11, (who also believes in seeking justice because he suffered so much injustice 11), confronts him and asks him “Why did you change your vote? If you are changing your vote, you must have a reason, otherwise do not change it because others around you have”. Of course, Juror 7 had no answer, but only stammered back saying, “Who do you think you are? Look at this guy, eh, the nerve of him!”. Again, according to Sartre’s view, Juror 7’s actions show that he is selfish and only cares about himself. He has no opinion on this case and wants to leave as soon as possible.

In the jury room, at the beginning when everyone’s vote was fixated on guilty, there was one man, Juror 8, who had a choice to vote guilty but instead did the opposite because of reasonable doubt. He spent the next few hours correctly going over the evidence, showing a similar knife that he owned that the boy also used to kill his father. In addition, he recreated the old man’s steps, having it timed and matched it to the old man’s testimony and proved it invalid. Juror 8 is a quiet, thoughtful, gentleman – a man who sees all sides of very question and constantly seeks the truth. He is a man of strength tempered with compassion, wants justice to be done, and will fight to see that is 12. He alone convinced ten other jurors that the boy is guiltless, opened up that the impossible is possible and saved an innocent boy from going to the electric chair.

To sum up, 12 Angry Men portrays the prominent view on human nature that people are free to be whatever they want, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, who is an influential existentialist. He says that existence comes before essence and that “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism 13”. Such is seen in the movie with the different jurors. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. It was clear to see that all the jurors believed the boy was guilty was on what they heard, but they did not deliberate it. Most of them did not have an opinion and went along with what others said and others were too selfish to give a bit of their time to judge an innocent boy’s life. Take Juror 3 for example. As more light was shed on the evidence and jurors started having reasonable doubts, he remained thickheaded and truly believed the boy was guilty based on his personal experiences. He refused to reason with others and absolutely believed that he was right. He demanded an explanation from jurors who changed their votes. According to Sartre, Juror 3 would pose as a narcissistic sadist. In contrast, Juror 8 would pose as a sympathetic pleasant person who only wanted to take some time and talk about the evidence and save someone’s life from being misjudged. Even though making choices is inevitable, in the end, human beings are free to make their own choices and they alone are responsible for those choices. As Samuel Umen said, “Man is the most paradoxical of paradoxes. He is anomaly encased in an enigma. He is a bundle of contradictions 14”.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 13, 14 –
Ellsworth, James, Laura Gini-Newman, and IlanChapter 2: Introducing Human Nature Danjoux. "Chapter 2 - Introducing Human Nature." Philosophy Questions and Theories. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2002. 25+.

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 –
Rose, Reginald. "Notes on Characters and Costumes." Twelve Angry Men: a Play in Three Acts. Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Pub., 1983. 4-5.
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