12 Hungry Men


12 Hungry Men
Edip Yuksel © 2005

A philosophical, religious, political comedy… A comedy that can be enjoyed by middle school dropouts as well as scholars. Though the name and setting of the film resemble those of the Twelve Angry Men, a classic film directed by Henry Fonda and Sidney Lumet in 1957, it is much more. Salted and peppered with delicious remarks, actions and events, it provides an engaging debate on controversial issues, such as faith, abortion, euthanasia, war and peace. It accentuates the power of peace, tolerance, and human ingenuity to solve endemic social and political problems through rational dialogue. A dozen angry and hungry men, led by an ordinary woman, transform to twelve full and cheerful friends. The audience may hear its message in different decibels depending on their ears. To some, the Twelve Hungry Men is a loud statement against religious dogmatism that may give birth to Crusaders and Jihadies. To others, it is a sobering whisper, or just a nice hint.

In this film, a debate on abortion between elected representatives of major religious, philosophical and political groups evolves with humorous and witty diversions, matures with personal drama and surprises, and ends with an intellectual and emotional resolution.

The US Supreme Court denies review of another abortion case. The nation is expecting the intervention of Congress. Noticing that it is a big hot potato, the Congress decides to establish a Commission on Abortion to discuss the issue and come up with a recommendation for this controversy that has divided the country into two angry factions. Congress identifies major religious and nonreligious organizations to pick a representative for the commission. Sequestered in a lush hotel floor until they come up with a consensus, the 12 men come together under the leadership of a woman, a science teacher at a middle school who is also an adjunct professor of philosophy at a community college. Each man represents the common position of one of these groups: Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Sunni Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Monotheists, Agnostics, and Atheists.

To speed up the debate and compromise, the congress authorizes the leading woman to impose some food and entertainment restrictions on the members, such as eating doughnuts, hotdogs, drinking soda and watching TV. The only person who is not bound by those restrictions is the group leader, who is also allowed to bribe members with food. The hungry men, under the leadership of the woman teacher engage in a hilarious yet serious debate that lasts 285 days.

Within two weeks, the Evangelical priest who is a passionate opponent of right-to-abortion gets involved in a romantic relationship with the teacher who sits nearby him. One night, this reputed religious figure is defeated by his lust and commits adultery. After this affair, worried about the teacher being pregnant, the priest is tortured by internal conflicts and suffers from anxiety. He does not know whether there were other men involved with her. He suspects and hopes that the baby belongs to his antagonist, the agnostic. Not being ready to take the risk, and after an intellectual and spiritual ordeal, he decides to suggest the woman to take a morning-after pill. As for the pro-abortion agnostic, he is not worried about the pregnancy; he is a bachelor and would be happy to have his first baby from this intelligent teacher.

Each member of the Commission is allowed to invite a guest of their choice, either to entertain or to be interviewed. Each writes the name of their favorite two guests on a piece of paper and they are collected in a bowl. The leading woman will stop the debate for the guest appearance whenever she feels that the debate is creating tension or boredom. She will randomly pick a name. The guest list will reflect a diverse group of people, such as, celebrities, young talents, bands, teenagers, criminals, judges, scientists, friends, relatives, or even ghosts of famous people channeled by a charlatan. These semi-silly and semi-serious interruptions will add more fun and elements of surprise to the movie.

The thought provoking and entertaining chapters are presented with the number of days displayed on the screen in nineteen day intervals (1, 19 days, 38 days, 57 days, … and 285 days). During the 285 days of debating, the participants who had started with yelling, condemning, and hurling slogans at each other, gradually get to know each other and learn how to listen and respect their opponents’ point of view. Furthermore, they develop camaraderie among themselves. The more their longing to get back to their families and junk food increases, the more their religious and irreligious tolerance decreases. They finally mellow down, compromise and come up with a unanimous conclusion on the issue that had divided them as well as the entire nation into enemy factions. The last night they will have a feast and “numa numa” dance.

The movie will end with the anxiously awaited announcement of the Commission’s recommendation on abortion. TV channels broadcast the press conference live, interrupting their regular programs. In the last scene, the Commission members are lined up in front of a hospital with the leading woman, the teacher, holding a newborn baby in her arms. On both sides are the twelve men, all in white robes, rather than their idiosyncratic attire that highlighted their religious and political differences. They now have turned to twelve fully satisfied and happy men. Moments before she announces the unanimous decision on abortion, there is complete silence. She reads the surprise conclusion and recommendation and declares the result of genetic test to determine the father of her newborn baby. He is not the Evangelist priest, who is in the verge of collapsing from trepidation.

The film, through humor and dialogues, demonstrates how hard core antagonists could come to an understanding and reach a compromised solution on the most divisive issues if only if they showed courage and empathy to listen to each other. In sum, the Twelve Hungry Men is a morbidly serious and vividly hilarious film that reveals our common values, hopes, fears, aspirations, and the power of dialogue.