Saturday, April 21, 2012

27. A Happy Ending, the Story Goes (II)


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As you should know by now, there is more than one way of telling a story. Indeed, faithfully rendering each and every sentence by only modifying tenses and reference is adequate for narrating facts, but a dialogue going on about making a point is far from accepting a neutral position. In such cases, the speakers’ interventions must be interpreted (see Peter Adamson’s “I Know, because the Caged Bird Sings” I and II to have a clear idea about the importance of rendering Platonic dialogues into intelligible accounts).

Now, I’d like to believe that at least you read the script – the ten-minute script – which in fact meant hours of re-interpreting. The question is, how does such a script differ from the action-packed blockbusters of today? But wait: there will be more questions at the end of the reported account. 

So, without laying total and unquestionable claim that my variant is the only one, I’m offering a suggested report on part 3 of 12 Angry Men in which I stuck to the meaning of the Jurors’ performance as far as the text allowed me to. You will find all the interpreted stretches in bold:


#8 assures the other jurors that he doesn’t have any brilliant ideas as to why he voted not guilty, and that he only knows as much as they do, since – according to the testimony – the boy looks guilty. He goes on to say that he probably is, but that, during the six days that he sat in court listening while the evidence built up, he began to get a peculiar feeling about the trial precisely because everybody sounded too positive. He then explains his view that, in fact, nothing was that positive, and that there are a lot of questions he would like to ask which perhaps wouldn’t mean anything; nevertheless, he adds, in the trial he began to get the feeling that the defence council wasn’t conducting a thorough enough cross examination, and that that makes him doubt about whether he didn’t let too many little things go by.
#10 interrupts #8 expressing his irritation at the little things #8 mentions, and crossly points out that when those fellows don’t ask questions, it’s because they know the answers already.
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#8 replies by asking whether they don’t think that it is also possible for a lawyer to be just plain stupid, which, in his view, is possible. #7 playfully adds that #8’s remark reminds him of his own brother-in-law’s attested stupidity on one occasion in the past.
#8 speaks again about the feelings those days of trial arouses in him and says that he keeps putting himself in the kid’s place. He assures them that, as far as he is concerned, he would have asked for another lawyer, and hypothesizes that, if he were on trial for his life, he would want his lawyer to tear the prosecution witnesses to shreds, or at least try to. He goes on to argue that, in this particular case, there was one alleged eyewitness to the killing, and someone else who claimed he heard the killing and that the boy ran afterwards. He concludes that there is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but actually those two witnesses were the entire case for the prosecution. When he reflects upon the possibility of the witnesses being wrong, he is interrupted by #12, who finds it hard to question the witnesses’ being wrong for, if it were so, there would be no point in having witnesses at all.
#8 answers back by repeating his question, and #12 is even more intrigued because he doesn’t quite get the meaning of #8’s argument: he knows that those people sat on the stand under oath. #8 insists that they’re only people, and people make mistakes, so he repeats his question, but #12 answers, irritated, that he doesn’t think so. #8 retorts by using a sharp, cutting, concluding question about #12’s presumably true knowledge that people don’t make mistakes, and #12 wearily invites him to consider that nobody could know a thing like that, since that isn’t an exact science. It was exactly what #8 wanted to hear, for he makes his point by admitting that #12 is right in saying that it isn’t.
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#3 intervenes, inviting everybody to get to the point, and inquires about the switch knife that was found in the old man’s chest. #2 interrupts #3 by pointing out that there are some jurors who haven’t talked yet and inquires about them all going in order, which he finds advisable. Irritated, #3 hastily assures him that they will all have a chance to talk – only to make him be quiet while he speaks. He goes on to ask about the knife that the boy admitted buying on the night of the killing, in this way taking the opportunity to ironically describe him as ‘fine’ and ‘upright’. When he invites everybody to talk about it, #8 readily agrees and, in turn, while inviting everybody to get together and have another look at the knife, he quickly adds that he would like to see it again, so he suggests this to #1, the Foreman.
One of the jurors protests in the name of all those present, for he doesn’t understand why they have to see it again, since they already saw it once. Going towards the door, #1 replies that the gentleman has a right to see exhibits in evidence and asks for it when the attendant appears. The latter approves and goes for the knife, which he quickly brings in.
Addressing #8, #4 intervenes by asking whether they too share his opinion about the knife and the way it was bought being strong evidence.
#8 agrees, and #4 starts his line of argument while inviting everybody to consider the facts one at a time. He states them one by one, the first being that the boy admitted going out of the house on the night of the murder at eight o’clock after being slapped several times by his father. #6 corrects him about the boy’s statement, as he didn’t say “slapped”, but “punched”, and firmly adds that there’s a difference between a slap and a punch.
#4 resumes his speech by introducing #6’s correction and passes on to the second argument, which refers to the boy’s next action of going directly to a neighbourhood junk shop where he bought one of those switch blade knives. #4 goes on to reinforce his conviction that the knife the boy bought wasn’t what can be called an ordinary knife because it had a very unusual carved handle and blade. He then adds that the storekeeper who sold it to him said it was the only one of its kind he had ever had in stock. #4 then refers to the third argument by saying that the boy admitted meeting some friends of his in front of a tavern about 8:45 and asks for confirmation, which #8 earnestly offers and #3 wilfully hastens to retort.
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#4 goes on to speak about the boy’s third statement, namely, that he talked to his friends for about an hour, leaving them at 9:45 and that, during this time, they saw the switch knife. The fourth argument #4 presents is the identification in court of the death weapon as that very same knife.  Finally, #4 mentions the fifth argument about the boy's alleged actions, visually, that he arrived home at about ten o’clock, and emphasizes that it is exactly at this point that the stories offered by the State and the boy begin to diverge slightly, since he claims that he went to a movie at about 11:30, returning home at 3:10 to find his father dead and himself arrested.#8 interrupts adding that the boy also claims that the two detectives arrested him throwing him down half a flight of stairs. #4 goes on with his argument inquiring about what happened to the switch knife, about which the boy claims that it fell through a hole in his pocket on the way to the movies, sometime between 11:30 and 3:10, and that he never saw it again. He addresses the other jurors expressing his complete disbelief about what he considers a tall tale, as he thinks it’s quite clear that the boy never went to the movies that night because no one in the house saw him go out at 11:30, no one at the theatre identified him, and he couldn’t even remember the names of the pictures he saw. He then puts forward his own variant of what actually happened by presenting the facts as he saw them, namely, that the boy stayed at home, had another fight with his father, stabbed him to death and left the house at ten minutes after 12; that he even remembered to wipe the knife clean of fingerprints. While changing his tone from complete self assurance to unveiled irony, he addresses #8 by referring to an implausible scenario of the boy losing the knife through a hole in his pocket only to be picked up by someone else off the street, who then went to the boy’s house and stabbed his father.
#8 denies that in a conciliatory tone, insisting that he just says it’s possible that the boy lost his knife and that somebody else stabbed his father with a similar knife.#4 asks #8 to take a look at the knife, which is a very unusual one, a kind he has never seen before, and neither had the storekeeper who sold it to the boy. He rhetorically inquires #4 whether he isn’t asking them to accept a pretty incredible coincidence.
#4 insists on his claim that a coincidence is possible, and#3 interrupts by saying it’s not possible.
#8 stands up and takes out a knife of exactly the same size, shape and design from his pocket and thrusts it in the table panel.
The other jurors burst into a swarm of voices – some asking where that identical knife came from, others expressing their irritation at #8’s intentions.
#8 admits going out for a walk for a couple of hours last night and, passing through the boy’s neighbourhood, paid six dollars for that knife at a little pawn shop just two blocks from the boy’s house.
#4 doesn’t mince his words when he replies to #8 that it’s against the law to buy or sell switch blade knives.
#8 admits that, and also deliberately breaking the law.#3 scornfully adds that in doing so he hoaxed everybody, but he doubts about what that proves, even if there were ten knives like that.
#8 answers back that it is possible, and #3 irritatingly defies his attempt at proving anything by finding another knife like that.
Disgruntled, #12 inquires about #8’s intention to make them believe that somebody else did the stabbing with exactly the same kind of knife, and #7 assures that the odds are a million to one.
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Desperate, #8 sticks to his conviction that that is possible, while #4 contradicts him by saying it is not very probable.
#1 invites them all to take their seats, as there’s no point in standing around all over the place.
#2 feels like sharing his realization that #8 would find a knife exactly like the one the boy bought, but #3 scoffs at his simple-minded remark; #2 doesn’t quite take an offence at #3’s disdain.
#3 imperturbably points out that there are still eleven jurors thinking that the boy is guilty. #12 assures #8 that he may as well feel free to persist in his stubbornness to change their mind, but that will only lead to a hung jury; and he is absolutely sure that the boy will be tried again and found guilty.
#8 assents, which makes #7 ask what he intends to do, and rebuke him about them being there all night.
#9 intently intervenes, speaking loud and clear, as on their decision depends whether the boy will live or die.
#7 crudely suggests they should set up house in the jurors’ room and play endless card games, but #2 reprehends him as he ought not to joke about it. #1 is helpless about it, while #10, standing up and fretting about, impatiently speaks of the senselessness of all this stuff about the knife and the uselessness of the evidence of the witness who saw the boy stab his father. He goes on to say that they need nothing more to get it done and leave, reminding them of the three garages he has in danger of being ruined.
#11 rebukes #10’s words by reminding him that the knife was so important to the district attorney that he spent a whole day referring to it. #10 angrily and impolitely scoffs at the low degree the assistant has, and at his lack of knowledge about anything.
#1 warns them to calm down as side arguments like those are only slowing them up. He wants to know what #8 intends to do, as he is the only one.
#8 tells them he has a proposition to make to all of them; he is going to call for another vote and he wants them to vote by secret written ballot while he will abstain. He promises that, with eleven votes for guilty, he won’t stand alone; and he assures them that they’ll readily take in a guilty verdict to the judge. But – he continues – if anyone votes not guilty, they will stay on and talk it out provided that they want to try it, for which he is ready.
Voices of approval are heard, #1 makes sure everybody agrees and urges them to do it the hard way. He asks them to pass scraps of paper along.
Nine votes of “guilty” are read out until the first “not guilty” vote is heard.
#10 is in rage, and #7 makes scornful comments on another juror showing off bravery. In his fury, #10 wants to know who it was, but #11 is adamant about the gentleman’s wish to keep it secret, since the ballot was thus arranged.
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#3 shouts in anger at the top of his voice questioning the secrecy of the ballot, which, presumably, has nothing to do with a jury room. He says he knows who it was, and goes towards #5 to insult and reprehend him for voting guilty first – like all the rest – and then surrender to #8’s supposed preacher-like golden voice which skilfully convinced him to change his vote in favour of a boy who just couldn’t help becoming a murderer. Raging, he yells his utter disdain at that supposed sickening ploy which might even make #5 donate for the cause.
#5 stops #3 demanding an explanation for the offence and defying #5’s shamelessness. #4’s overbearing remark is meant to make them calm down and, at the same time, excuse #3’s excitable wrath. While he asks #5 to sit down, #3 himself screams his utter rage; he admits to being excitable, since what they’re trying to do is to put a guilty man in the chair, where he belongs. He justifies it by hinting at #8’s telling them tall tales and deplores their weakness, which made them all listen. When he asks #5 what made him change your vote, #9 replies, admitting that it was him.
Another roar of consternation fills the room; #9 asks them if they want him to tell them why. As angry voices readily refuse, but #9 insists, for he does want to make it clear. More voices are protesting, but #1 invites him to do it, so #9 thanks him and explains how #8 the gentleman has been standing alone against all of them. He points out that #8 doesn’t say the boy is not guilty, he just isn’t sure. Since it’s not easy to stand alone against the ridicule of others while gambling for support – he adds – he gave his to #8 because he respects his motives. While he continues his argument that he wants to hear more about the probability of the boy being guilty, #7 storms out of the room. #9 summons him to come back for he has no right to leave, but #8 soothes him by explaining that he can’t hear him and he never will. Then he invites him to sit down.

Let's have a last look at the whole story. Surely the second not-guilty vote is of paramount importance; but what are the reasons #9 expresses with respect to his decision? Why did he choose to change his vote? What is there between the lines that the dense dialogue doesn't say?

7 comments:

  1. Hola amiga, me alegra mucho haber conocido tu blog ya que tiene informacion muy interesante.

    No todo el mundo se molesta en hacer uno para poder compartir conocimientos a traves de los diversos articulos, con el resto de personas y eso es algo muy bueno.

    Saludos,
    Francisco M.

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    1. Hola, Francisco M.

      Gracias por tus buenas palabras, en este (nuestro) 23 de abril de Shakespeare y de Cervantes. Pero qué pena que, comprendiendo lo que has leído, no publiques tu comentario en inglés. Ánimo para el siguiente comentario!

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  2. I guess the reason behind #9’s decision for voting not-guilty (and it would be #8’s reason as well), is that they don’t consider it to be a waste of time and they're not 100% sure about the boy being guilty (as #9 points out that #8 didn’t say the boy wasn’t guilty, he just wasn’t sure).
    They know the kid’s life depends on whether they find out the truth or not, and as someone says towards the end of the dialogue, they shouldn't joke about it.

    On a side note (and I hope I don't bother you with this comment, it's just a personal opinion!) I think writing long texts using bold type is generally more difficult to read. Just saying :)

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    1. I agree, the main reason for #9 to vote not guilty is that he was convinced because of the way #8 stood alone against all of them.
      I’m sure it must be difficult to make yourself be heard on your own, and apparently it worked for #9, as he says he respects that.

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    2. Text-wise, no sooner said than done: thank you very much indeed, you've been of great help!

      As for the reason behind #9's vote, I'd like to share in a mental perception I took in as soon as I finished reporting. #9 somehow backs #8 for How #8 says it, and from pure humane solidarity.

      Our comments got crossed in the post: I'll take it as good omens!

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    3. I was referring to something linked to PRAGMATICS that we experience all through our lives, and directly linked to speech: what happens to ALL OF US when we LIKE the way someone speaks and still we're not able to say WHY, it just fits our world view, it appeals to the mind but we stop short of grasping the essence of the words in the structures they are used! Or we find it hard to attach meaning to what the (spoken or written) text conveys...
      I'd like to believe I've found one of the reasons why an objective fact may turn out to be 'true' for some, 'false' for others; though, of course, I may be in too much of a hurry.

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    4. *in the structures they are used IN

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