Bruce L. Hay


This article argues that 12 Angry Men is a complex, elaborate biblical allegory. The first half of the article is devoted to showing that the film quietly reenacts a series of stories from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: primarily the story of Christ, but also (among others) the stories of the great flood, the sacrifice of Isaac, the exile in the desert, and the lamentations of Jeremiah. The second half of the article investigates the relation between the film's biblical subtext and its attack on McCarthyism and other pathologies of 1950s American political culture. The article suggests that the film's unspoken portrayal of Henry Fonda's character as a latter-day prophet and savior might be thought of as a sort of subliminal advertisement for the values of legal liberalism (respect for civil liberties, tolerance of dissent, the rule of law, and so on). The article emphasizes some of the tensions and paradoxes in the film's use of allegory, which includes unmistakable ethnic and gender stereotypes deriving from biblical sources.

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