Twelve Angry Men: Human Experiences and Drama
There is a considerable amount of dramatic conflict in the film which shows human experience on a psychological rather than physical level.
How does Reginald Rose dramatically show human experiences in Twelve Angry Men?
Twelve Angry Men was written for the CBS network and later made into a full length film (Rose, 1954; 1957). It has also been successfully performed as a stage play. The inspiration for the work came from an actual experience that Rose had as a juror in a manslaughter trial (Boulanger-Mashberg, 2012, p. 2).
While one might expect a limited setting in a stage play, it is unusual to have a feature film that takes place almost exclusively in a single room. This location creates an “overwhelming sense of emotional tension and claustrophobia” (Boulanger-Mashberg, 2012, p. 2). Most films rely on action, sudden plot twists, violence or fast movement, to create dramatic effects but this film avoids visual spectacle and concentrates instead on the dialogue. One reviewer comments that “the movie is mostly talk” (Ellsworth, 2003, p. 1391).
The camera work of the film uses close ups to show human emotions as the jurors deliberate (Greenfield et al., 2010). There is a considerable amount of dramatic conflict in the film but it is played out at a psychological rather than physical level. The spatial restrictions of the room reflect the tight moral dilemma that the jurors must resolve (Petrie, 1967/68). Devices such as time pressure, due to juror 7 having tickets to a baseball game and personality differences, such as the anger of juror 3 and the questioning nature of juror 8 heighten the drama also. The characters explore key American values such as certainty (or reasonable doubt) and justice. Their spirited debate brings to life these abstract concepts. Human experience is therefore dramatically shown through adherence to the classical unities of time, place and action, skillful use of a shifting point of view, and a focus on the conflict that is inherent in core human values.
Boulanger-Mashberg, A. (2012) Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men. Elsternwick, VIC: Insight Publications.
Ellsworth, P. C. (2003) One inspiring jury. Review of Twelve Angry Men. Michigan Law Review 101(6), pp. 1387-1407.
Greenfield, S., Osborn, G. and Robson, P. (2010) Film and the Law. Second edition. Oxford: Hart Publishing.
Petrie, G. (1967/68) The Films of Sidney Lumet: Adaptation as Art. Film Quarterly 21(2), p. 9-18.
Rose, R. (1954) Twelve Angry Men. Television play broadcast by CBS (20 September).
Rose R. (1957) Twelve Angry Men. Screenplay for film made by United Artists, directed by Sidney Lumet and produced by Reginald Rose and Henry Fonda.