Directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave” is based on a true story of one man fighting for freedom and survival from the bondages of slavery.
In 1841, at the start of the film, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, lives as a free black man in Saratoga, New York with his wife and two children, where he earns a living playing the violin. He is tricked, abducted and sold into slavery by two white men.
Facing unexpected kindnesses and cruelty, mainly from an evil slave owner, played by Michael Fassbender, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.
For twelve years he toils in the plantations and survives abusive treatment from his masters. He befriends fellow slave, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), until the day he encounters Canadian abolitionist Bass (Brad Pitt), who promises to send a letter to his family.
12 Years a Slave is easy to follow—it relies on repeating scenes and flashbacks to keep the storyline clear and interesting. Never during the film did I find myself asking people next to me what just happened.
It is one of those rare films that is both important in its message and well executed in its delivery. In my opinion, 12 Years a Slave trumps similar films, like Gone with the Wind to Django Unchained.
Simply put, the film is enthralling. I found myself constantly watching the screen, my eyes deadlocked on the tension between the slaves and slave owners, forgetting that I was in a movie theater. In short, the actors’ genuine despair, sorrow and suffering kept my interest.
Although it kept my attention, the film was hard to watch at the same time. Graphic rape, whipping and nude scenes are scattered throughout, making the film deserving of its ‘R’ rating.
The film’s documentary style aids the dominating realness—you cannot help but cringe every time there is racist injustice or violence, which is a majority of the time. It becomes almost impossible to tell yourself, “Oh, they are just actors; they aren’t actually feeling extreme pain.” Because in reality, every scene conveys some sad truth about America’s original sin.
Not too often do I cry during movies. But I was in tears for the last hour of the film, prompting an elderly couple to ask me if I was alright at the end. Of course I was, I had just seen a masterpiece.
I am not one to rave about a particular film, because all films seem to have flaws. But there is a reason 12 Years a Slave has topped the “best of” list of 25 major film critics and won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. It is a film worth investing time and money into, and it is definitely the most powerful film I have ever seen.