I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the film Twelve Angry Men.
If you’ve not seen it Henry Fonda plays the one guy on a jury reluctant to convict. He faces initially overwhelming hostility from his fellow jurors. Gradually with reasoned argument about the room for doubt, he patiently persuades each in turn to switch to ‘not guilty’. It’s a film about many things: prejudice, doubt, the rule of law.
For me at the moment, it’s about the challenge of standing for decency, reason and reflection against violent emotion. It’s a very American film, representing challenges that nation has constantly faced. I think it faces those challenges today again when deciding whether to angrily swipe aside a scrupulous examination of the evidence of torture. I’m hearing a lot of angry claims about about “efficacy”, the need for secrecy and executive privilege. These voices remind me of Ed Begley’s role in this clip, as the last standout against reason and decency on the jury. I don’t know if those voices will end up as isolated as Begley, but I hope they do.
In the movie, the jury finds the defendant not guilty because of reasonable doubt. It looks to me at the moment as though the factual evidence about torture leaves very little room for doubt. We’ll see.