Question: English & Literature

What metaphors are used in Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose?
In English & Literature | Asked by bookragstutor
Asked from the 12 Angry Men study pack

[the following is based on the 1957 film version directed by Sidney Lumet, with Henry Fonda as Juror #8, Jack Warden as #7, Lee J. Cobb as #3] The ballgame that Jack Warden's character is anxious to get to is one metaphor. When the trial looks like an open-and shut-case, he's cheerful he'll make it; His wisecracking comments use game and sports metaphors and he gets increasingly annoyed as questions arise, and the "score" of the jury begins changing - not against the boy, but against his chances of making it to Yankee stadium from the downtown criminal courts building (an hour by subway) by the 8 PM start of the game. The ballgame metaphor comes to represent the callousness, cynicism and self-centered petty preferences of most of the jurors at the outset - the personal priorities that relegate the death sentence of an 18-yr old as a mere impediment to getting on with the rest of their lives.  The thunderstorm in the third act threatens to rain out his actual ballgame, and metaphorically "rains out" his other game: his cynical approach to the jury's deliberations; this is made literal when he changes his vote to not guilty purely because that's what will get him to his game on time and another juror confronts him for this shallowness ie: this trial is not a game.  The weather is also a metaphor - it's the hottest day of the year, we learn at the very start. they're soon all sweating. as indeed the unseen boy must be sweating awaiting their decision. Soon, the men are "sweating it out" as Henry Fonda's character forces them to work harder to find the truth.  Thunder sounds as the conflicts between the jurors mount; a summer downpour throughout the third act is a metaphor for the truth 'raining down" - and a cleansing, a washing away - of the boy's supposed guilt, and of the prejudices and beliefs that have been upholding it by the jurors. The juror's room itself reflects the weather metaphor. Windows are pushed open against the heat when the room's fan doesn't work. As proceedings go on, and tensions mount, the room grows darker as the sun sinks lower and clouds gather, until, at a moment of impasse, the rain begins and the foreman switches on the light. After some moments, the baseball "fan" discovers that the room fan now turns on. Along with the rain, the fan represents the cooling off of the rest of the jurors, as the displaced anger which has been targeting the boy literally cools off -- and the "cool" calm voice of reason begins to replace the heat, sweat and discomfort of the first half of the film. The bathroom break echoes this water metaphor. While Henry Fonda rinses off his face repeatedly, bending from the waist to reach the sink, a few jurors who are certain of the boy's guilt saunter in one at a time and scoff at Fonda's not guilty vote. Fonda's Christ-figure aspect becomes clear here: his leaning down is a metaphor for the humiliity of uncertainty, of not knowing, and of empathy with this slum kid whom the others disdain. Admitting that he, alone, isn't certain of the truth, here he is allowing himself to be ridiculed, saying almost nothing, even smiling, and refusing to get angry,  contrasted with the braggadocio of the men. It is also Christ-like in re-enacting the Biblical verse "wash me and i shall be whiter than snow"- the Gospel metaphor of water washing away sins. The metaphor of the Christian rite of baptism can even be inferred from Fonda's repeatedly dousing his face in water - very much like the deliberate repetition of water on the head in the baptism ritual - and carried on to the rest of the story, by the other men's "baptism" - first by the "fire" of the sweltering day - then by the rain coming down around all of them, washing away the sins of bias, class and race prejudice, ignorance and human frailty that were condemning the alleged killer to death and, in finding the boy guiltless, also rids them of their guilt. In fact, when the rain first starts, all the windows are open and the room itself actually gets wet as one of the men get splashed.   Their clothing also becomes a metaphor: the "whiter than snow" metaphor is visible in Henry Fonda's white suit, the lightest that the jurors wear. As the discussion continues, the men shed their various jackets, coats and hats which distinguish them by class and taste - from the baseball fan's loud stripes and snappy hat to the stockbroker E G Marshall's expensive gray suit. As one by one, they arrive at reasonable doubts, their jackets are shed with their prejudices, their hats off, ties loosened, until, when all but one have come to agree on not guilty, they are dressed alike in their white shirts and, in a group shot, turn to look at the sole holdout now for guilt, at Lee J. Cobb's still-enraged juror.  In Cobb's photograph of his estranged son, thrown onto the table, the boy is also wearing a white shirt, a subtle indication of his son's innocence in what must have been a lifetime of bullying from this permanently enraged father. In his final tirade, it's as if the man sees his own son's innocence for the first time, and as he rips it up, finally knows his own implacable rage had nothing to do with the son, and nothing to do with this suspect. He breaks down, lets go of his rage and his condemning vote. Continuing his role as the Christ-like figure, after the other jurors have left, Fonda sees Cobb frozen, helpless to even know how to move without the fury that has propelled his shouting, bullying, threatening body language throughout the film - and quite probably his entire life. Again, Henry Fonda sees what no one else bothers to notice; he brings Lee J Cobb's dark jacket, the only one remaining on the rack and puts it on him. This, too, evokes Jesus' metaphor of someone who has two cloaks, bringing one to the man who has none. Even without knowing these bliblical parallels, in helping this now-broken man into his jacket, helping him to stand up, to leave, his dignity intact, this wordless moment is a metaphor for Fonda's basic decency, his capacity for forgiveness that began the entire drama,  and an unspoken gesture of respect for Cobb's hard-wrung acknowledgement of his own limitations that has now saved this boy's life.   In a sense, with this simple metaphor of the masculine uniform, Fonda gives this defeated man his own manhood back.  In the last shot, when we emerge from the claustophobic confines of the room to the expansive and imposing exterior of the courthouse, the rain has stopped.  The air is cleared, the men scatter into the city, its streets still gleaming from the rain, and the cleansing is complete.    Lastly - there is the use of the camera as visual metaphor - its lenses and its placement. Sidney Lumet, the director, uses specific lenses and framing throughout the film to reinforce his themes, which he describes in his memoir Making Movies, one of the single most useful books about filmmaking ever written. Working within the limits of shooting an entire film in one room, he shot the first third from higher angles, the camera above eye-level and looking down. In the middle third, as the men begin to think harder, look deeper - he shoots at eye level with the jurors seated around the table,  as they begin to look each other in the eye, and see themselves as individuals whose thoughts and knowledge have to matter in deciding on this verdict. In the last third, as pressure builds and battle lines appear, the camera moves below eye level so that, shooting up, the ceiling is finally seen, the room starting literally to close in, the claustophbia increasing (by virtue of the darkness outside as well). Lumet also uses a three-act structure to his choice of Lenses, starting with 28s, to 50mm 'normal' vision, to longer and longer lenses, which also made the room grow smaller and the faces more extreme in close-up. [see p. 81 of "Making Movies," by Sidney LUmet, Knopf, 1995. ] Lumet saves his widest lens for the final shot of the film, the exterior of the men walking out the door, fanning out into the street in their separate directions - and raised it far higher than it could ever have been indoors - so that we are up in the sky.  Lumet writes, this was "to literally give us all air, to let us finally breathe." And perhaps because we have all been elevated, like the men in the film, by what we have just seen. We all have a far wider vision of what constitutes the truth.

(guest) | 33 days ago