By Riti Das Dhankar
For a three-day course titled, “Foundations of Education in Epistemology and Curriculum,” we were given a small task to be completed before coming for the classes. The task was watching the movie, 12 Angry Men, and relating its context in terms of knowledge.
At first, the task seemed completely irrelevant and out of sync with the movie. Since I had watched the movie before, it appeared to me a waste of both time and energy. I was sure this task was nothing but a lame attempt by the philosopher teaching the course to “make people think”. Nonetheless, I watched the movie again and this time, to my surprise, I started understanding different layers depicted in the movie. Moreover, I grasped its relevance in context of how we conceive knowledge and even how we see the world.
While watching the film, one thing that struck my mind repeatedly was how knowledge is based on perception and perception often is not objective. Rather, knowledge depends on how acceptable or convenient are the facts presented.
The movie shows a courtroom, where a jury is given time until they come up with a unanimous verdict in the case of a boy, who has allegedly murdered his father. Now, the problem is to get all the jurors to act in sync and reach a unanimous decision. This is because the jurors represent all sections of the society and each one comes with their own personal baggage of bias and notions.
When I watched the movie for the second time during the course, I saw it in a whole new light. Like in real life, this movie also has different kinds of believers, people who believe in proceeding with their particular perspective or arriving at a conclusion based on their own set parameters. For example, in the film, a man believes that the youth in today’s world are ungrateful to their parents; another man believes that people living in ghettos always end up committing crimes, etc. So, they proceed in life with these beliefs and perceptions. The film demonstrates that in order to align with the popular belief, most people forgo what they genuinely believe in or ignore what they could have seen had they gone deeper. This is because most people lack conviction.
Furthermore, the movie points to what reality actually is. Is reality what is presented to us? Or what we infer from it? Or what we see after we try to be objective? Is reality in fact ambiguous and something that can only be perceived and not proven? Does the same go for knowledge?
Since knowledge is more objective than driven by mere facts, it is possible that there must be other perspectives than the one we see or believe in. 12 Angry Men deals with a dozen people’s anger and, in the process, tosses a question at an equally angry world. A simple question which can never be answered without being ambiguous: what is real?
Relating the movie to the present day world was also an aspect that gave me so much to think about. We form so many notions and ideas and opinions each day without being patient enough to think them through. So many times we refuse to simply sit and discuss, listen to the perspectives of others.
In the movie, a juror repeatedly urges and pleads to other jurors to think about the possibility of a crime and not be certain about it without considering all perspectives. The presence of the possibility suddenly opens a thousand doors for us and forces us to step out of our comfort zone.
Another interesting aspect about the film is that almost no names are used in the entire movie. Jurors were identified mainly by their numbers. This draws the audience with the tantalizing possibility that they could as well be part of the jury. The old insignificant man, the white arrogant man, or the man who thought he knew everything could be anyone. This everyman allows us to relate to the film at a deeper level.
A curious and inquisitive mind unravels the mystery of life, as we encounter new challenges with the uncovering of each layer.
Riti Das Dhankar is a freelance writer. She is doing her PhD in Psychology from Jaipur, where she completed her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.
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