12 Years a Slave is a film that intertwines the extremes – beauty and savagery, and it is accurate to say that there has been no other film with a relatively similar concept, that may be so liked for its honesty. One may wonder where the competition for the film actually lies, the answer to which is unknown. A story set in antebellum America (pre-Civil War era), this is definitely a strong contender to the coveted Academy Awards. Director Steve McQueen takes his audience on a journey that comes as a heartrendingly rude shock guaranteed to move you in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. This is a visual representation of all the written accounts of the slave culture that was so prevalent in the southern states of North America in the 19th Century. Not to forget the unflinching and intense nature in which the facts stare you in the face through the radical usage of image and sound in the film. From Gone With The Wind to Django Unchained, the concept is something all movie audiences are sure to have been familiarized with, yet this film gives you something new to look forward to. It’s the simplicity that draws you to it.
Based on a novel by the same name (an autobiography of Solomon Northup, played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), the story flashbacks to the year 1841 when Northup lived as a free man with his wife and children in the town of Saratoga. What’s unforgivable is the way a respectable man is duped and hence sold into slavery on a plantation in Louisiana. This strong film turns into a tear-jerker the moment you find yourself empathizing with Solomon Northup through all the trial and tribulations that he has to undergo, just so he can survive. He doesn’t speak up for himself, it’s just his eyes and his body language that speak directly to the person on the other side. One day he is seen strolling in a lush green park as a free man and the very next, you see him bound by chains in a dark cell where you see the silver streak of moonlight lighting up this forced prisoner. The film chronicles the protagonist’s silent fight against the seemingly superior, white race. Solomon becomes Platt, gets beaten up for being who he is, is sold from one “master” to another, in this case Master Ford (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to the maniacal Master Epps (played by Michael Fassbender, a character you will find yourself loathing towards the end of the film), but doesn’t lose the grit to be free someday.
12 years is a pretty long time, even for those who were born with the idea of making peace with the idea of being a slave, a bonded labor. The antithesis of this evil comes in the form of a Canadian abolitionist (played by Brad Pitt), who maybe the least convincing of all characters in the film. He shows up in his angelic form out of nowhere and delivers the only weak link in a script such as this. However, this is something that is rather easy to forgive. One, because Mr. Pitt fits perfectly into the role. Two, because, he was instrumental in getting 12 Years a Slave to the screen, as one of the producers. And three, because, his message to Solomon about equality is a worthy one. "Your story is amazing, and in no way good", he says to Solomon. The film is nothing but amazing, especially when supported by such fantastic performances by the entire star cast.
Why you must watch this film?
12 Years a Slave is an honest and believable experience, with context to culture, location, people. Solomon Northup may be a tragic, sympathetic figure, however, he is no cathartic hero, like Django was. He is a victim, and the cumulative impact of the film is devastatingly overwhelming. Something that makes you develop a lump in your throat, from start to finish.