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This week for our cultural article we will be examining the classic 1957 courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men.
12 Angry Men is based on a television play inspired by Reginald Rose’s (1920 – 2002) real-life experience as a juror on a manslaughter case in early 1954. It was first aired on CBS’ Studio One in September 1954.
It was inevitable that the television play would result in a film adaptation. With Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) and Rose acting as producers, and with Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) acting as director, the resulting film was filmed in under three weeks and made for a paltry US$340,000 (US$2,961,823.49 in today’s money).
12 Angry Men is a small film in every sense of the word. Twelve jurors are locked in a room on the hottest day of the year to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As per the law, the vote must be unanimous. Initially, all but one, Juror Eight (Henry Fonda – the only real star in the movie), vote guilty.
It’s not that Juror Eight thinks the defendant is innocent, but that he isn’t sure. He argues that the boy had an inadequate legal defence and that they, the jury, ought to examine the evidence more closely.
Initially, he has trouble persuading the other jurors to change their vote. But, as they begin to examine the pieces of evidence, more and more of the juror’s find room for reasonable doubt. The film ends with a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.
12 Angry Men stands out in an era of sweeping epics and technicolour. It is a small, minimalist, black and white film shot mostly in real time. The mood is created through the creative use of camera angles, camera lenses, and editing.
At the beginning of the film, there are long, unbroken takes filmed from above with wide angled-lenses which give a sense of distance between the characters. They are dominated by the task ahead of them. As the film progresses, the takes become shorter, the camera moves steadily from above to below the action, and the focal length is decreased. This makes the film feel more claustrophobic. No longer at the jurors dominated by the task ahead of them, they are dominated by the force of each other’s personalities. As Lumet wrote:
“I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end, the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”
12 Angry Men is primarily driven by its characters. Tension arises from body language, dialogue, and personality clashes. The characters represent an almost perfect cross-section of different personality types and temperaments.
12 Angry Men acts as a crash course on the parts of the US Constitution that guarantee a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. It is never stated whether the Defendant is innocent or not but instead asks us to look beyond our biases and arrogance and examine the evidence closer at hand. 12 Angry Men symbolises how well the American legal system can work when people are prepared to look beyond their personal feelings use their integrity for its benefit.
A CBS report has claimed that Iceland has virtually eradicated down-syndrome births through their prenatal screening programs and pro-abortion policies.
According to the CBS report, virtually all Icelandic women whose unborn children test positive for down syndrome opt to have their pregnancy terminated. Icelandic law allows for abortion after sixteen weeks if the fetus is found to be suffering from a deformity. This includes down syndrome.
Iceland introduced prenatal screening tests in the early 2000s. While these tests are optional, the Icelandic Government requires all pregnant women to be informed of them. According to the Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, between eight and eighty-five percent of women opt to do the screening. These screenings use the mother’s age, ultrasounds, and blood tests to determine the likelihood a child will be born suffering a chromosomal problem.
Glenn Beck, a conservative political commentator, slammed Iceland’s virtual eradication of down syndrome births as eugenics. “That’s eugenics”, Beck said, “that is Margaret Sanger’s most base dream: get rid of the undesirables. Get rid of people who can’t really work for a living, don’t really have any quality of life.” Likewise, political humorist, Jim Treacher, tweeted: “later in the show, we’ll look at the looming Nazi menace. But first: ain’t eugenics great?” Similarly, Everybody Loves Raymond star, Patricia Heaton, tweeted: “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating down syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”
A counsellor at an Icelandic hospital commented:
We don’t look at abortion as a murder, we look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication . . . preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”
Except that in this case, it is. Aborting unborn babies purely because they have down syndrome (or any other problem, for that matter) is evil. It is nothing more than social cleansing. As Dr. Peter McCarland, an obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, commented:
“In Britain, 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are aborted before birth. In Iceland, every single baby, 100% of all those diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, are aborted. There hasn’t been a baby with Down’s Syndrome born in Iceland in the past five years. Denmark is following suit, and is expected to be “Down’s Syndrome-free” by 2030 and these cold and chilling statistics show us exactly where legal abortion is leading the rest of Europe. Legal abortion is leading us to a “Down’s Syndrome-free” world. I can barely type the words. It is utterly heartbreaking. Little wonder that, in Britain, Lord Shinkwin – a member of the House of Lords who has a congenital disability – last week gave a powerful speech pointing out, ‘the writing is on the wall for people like me. People with congenital disabilities are facing extinction’.”
It is morally repugnant to base a person’s right to life on their genetic status or how ‘normal’ they are. Every life is sacred and deserves protection, not just those who have been fortunate enough to born without problems.