Sunday, December 18, 2005


12 Angry men [1957]

If you have read this blog on a regular basis, you will know that I abhor it when people pigeonhole other people on the basis of their education, nationality, their sex, age, race, sexual orientation, whatever. Labels don't clear anything up. They tie up those that you apply them to. And they give you false security when you start generalizing about that group. About how they will react. What they think. How capable they are. Whether you will agree with them. Or find them interesting. The apparently inate human urge to categorize our fellow man, to cheat our way towards getting to actually knowing that person by attaching a predefined set of attributes to him or her, just may be one of the most devisive afflictions that this race is born with. Still, its prevalence is not just based in the ease of mind that comes with being able to hang these neat labels on every human being that crosses our paths. The difficult truth is that some of these labels have just a touch of truth to them. Just a tad. Enough to make us feel good to use all of them, and to base on them our whole, already fragile value system regarding other people. And before you know it, some potentially sane person gets up, walks over to a perfect stranger, an African-American, and tries to pay that person a complement by saying "These are promising looking children you've got there. Odds are that one of them will become a professional athlete. Congratulations!". By the way, I am not just taking this as a theoretical example. This actually happened to a friend of mine. Last week. In a restaurant, in the next town over from here. But of all the half-rights, those grains of truths, the whole 'men are angry, women are gentle' is probably the most prevalent. The notion that the World's two ruling forces are testosterone and estrogen. That men's drive is rage and women's is love. Men want to conquer, women want to comfort. I could go on all night. These half-wrongs permeate all our culture, to the point that there does not seem to be a sphere of human discourse that is free of them. This film certainly is not. Hell, it actually tackles it, head on. Through the years, Henry Fonda keeps getting the big credit for his lead in this SIdney Lumet's first bout on the big screen. And sure, he is good. Quite good. But this is a film from another era. Another world. A world completely ruled by men. Men who in general were just as inept then as they are today at doing things like conveying their feelings, especially to those that are close to them. Including love. And it is Lee J. Cobb who steals this show. His portrayal of an enraged, bitter man, whose son has abandoned him after receiving heavy-handed upbringing, really got to me. I felt I knew this man. I understood him. Not because I know men like him. Or because I empathised with him. But it still struck a nerve, somehow. The moment he briefly talks about his son, early on in the movie, I could feel that was going to be what it all came down to. And it did. Masterfully. Brilliantly. If I were to generalize about one hald of mankind, I would say that there is a locomotive quality to men, as a gender. They are one-track minded, loud, blow a lot of steam, slow out of the gate, high-maintainence, unflinching if you cross them, and take forever to stop once they are on a roll. Toot-tooooot.