Study Guide

12 Angry Men Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Well, here we go. Our hero (Juror #8) begins this movie by staring out a window in a jury room. He doesn't even hear the foreman the first time he's asked to take a seat, which tells us that his mind is definitely occupied. When he finally sits down, we realize that this case is probably going to be an open-and-shut deal with a verdict of Guilty. But if that's the case, there won't be much of a movie. So we get the sense that our quiet Juror #8 has something up his sleeve.

Call To Adventure

Yup, we were right. Juror #8 does have something up his sleeve—a big fat vote for Not Guilty. And since a jury's verdict has to be unanimous, it looks like everyone is going to have to sit around until Juror #8 changes his mind. In his words, he can't bear to send an 18 year-old kid off to the electric chair without discussing things first. Some of the others think this is an okay idea, so they sit around and chat for a while.

Refusal Of The Call

Things go pretty smoothly at first, but some of the jurors get pretty mad when they realize that Juror #8 is actually trying to overturn the Guilty verdict they've all agreed on. They notice that he's trying to poke holes in certain key parts of the trial evidence, and they throw up brick walls to deny him. Eventually, Juror #8 realizes that there's no way he'll make any progress unless he puts some faith in his fellow jurors. So he agrees to take himself out of the next vote, and if all eleven of the other jurors vote Guilty again, he'll go along with them and send the defendant to his death.

Meeting The Mentor

Amazingly enough, a second vote shows that one of the other jurors has decided to support a Not Guilty verdict. After some bickering among the jurors, the elderly Juror #9 speaks up and says that he was the one who changed his vote. He agrees with Juror #8 and thinks that the group should give more consideration to some of the holes in the prosecution's case. The others are now mad at him, too, but he's willing to stand by our hero and give him the benefit of his elderly wisdom.

Crossing The Threshold

The longer Juror #8 keeps the others talking about the evidence in the case, the more support he gets for a Not Guilty verdict. It takes some time, but he eventually gets Juror #5 to change his vote to Not Guilty. Now #8 has some momentum on his side and we can see the beginning of the tide starting to turn in the jury room. The biggest thing Juror #8 does in this part of his journey is convince the other jurors that the defendant's lawyer did a really bad job of defending the kid.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

As the movie unfolds, Juror #8 collects a few more allies for his cause, including #2, #6, and #11. But he also makes some clear enemies in Jurors #3 and #10, who establish themselves as the two nastiest jerks in the room. Juror #10 is just a full-blown racist who wants to convict the defendant because he's not white, while Juror #3 has a major hang-up about his own son that makes him hate the defendant for not obeying his father more. The real test for Juror #8 at this point is to sway some of the remaining people who still think the kid is guilty but who could be convinced otherwise.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Tensions rise as the jury swings from a majority voting Guilty to a majority voting Not Guilty. At this point, some of the angriest jurors fly off the handle. This is especially the case for Juror #10, who goes on such a long racist tirade that none of the jurors will ever listen to him again—including the ones who are still voting with him. At this point, we see the true difference between the type of man Juror #10 is in his heart and the type of man Juror #8 is.

Ordeal

The biggest challenge Juror #8 faces in this movie is to convince Juror #3 and Juror #4 to agree to a Not Guilty verdict. For starters, he has to convince these guys on completely different terms. While Juror #3 is a borderline sadist who personally doesn't like the defendant, Juror #4 is like a robot who will only hear purely rational arguments based on evidence. But even Juror #4 sees his conviction wavering when he realizes that the main witness to the murder was a woman who wasn't wearing her glasses at the time she allegedly identified the defendant as the murderer.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Eventually, Juror #4 buckles under the weight of new evidence that Juror #8 has brought into the jury room. Juror #3 still holds out in sheer spite. He still feels like he can get his way if he holds out and forces the case into a mistrial, because he knows that any new jury will convict the defendant and send him to the electric chair. But in the end, even he caves, and the jury decides on a verdict of Not Guilty.

The Road Back

Once the jury members have decided on their Not Guilty verdict, they call in the courthouse bailiff and say they're ready to head back into the courtroom. After they've all left, Juror #8 goes over to Juror #3 and hands him his coat to show there are no hard feelings between them.

Resurrection

Outside the courthouse, Juror #8 runs into #9 and they introduce themselves to one another by their actual names. #8 says that his name is Davis, and #9 says his name is McCardle. And that's pretty much that. They don't say a thing to each other except for their names.

Return With The Elixir

We get one last shot of Juror #8 smiling to himself as he walks down the steps of the courthouse. He's obviously pretty happy with himself for saving the life of an innocent young man. But he's probably also filled with optimism for the America he's walking back into, because he has a newfound faith in democracy and justice… Then again, we're just spitballing here. He might also be thinking about a guy nearby who sells really good hot dogs.