The Executioners' Masks

Author: John Roosa | University of British Columbia

Abstract:

In the courtroom, a brash young lawyer demands the truth. Infuriated, the stern army colonel played by Jack Nicholson retorts with the famous line, "You can't handle the truth!" Colonel Jessup in the film A Few Good Men (1992) wholeheartedly believes that the crime he committed was justified but he covered it up, knowing that people outside his unit would not understand its necessity. A private died during the course of a physical assault that he had ordered, in accordance with his own unwritten rules for maintaining discipline. The two low-ranking Marines who carried out the assault will have to take the fall as Jessup denies any involvement in the matter. But when testifying on the witness stand, the colonel's self-righteousness trumps his commitment to the pretense: he admits he gave the order and delivers a thundering soliloquy justifying it, momentarily oblivious to the legal consequences of his self-incrimination.



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