Thursday, November 7, 2013

Film Review: 12 Years A Slave

   12 Years A Slave is a 2013 British-American Film Adaptation based on the 1853 Autobiography of the same name; which chronicles the life of a former Slave turned Abolitionist-Solomon Northrop. Solomon Northrop was a free man before he was kidnapped in Washington DC in 1841 and forced to work on plantations for 12 years in Louisana. 12 Years a Slave premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013. The film was given a limited release in the United States on October 18, 2013 and is scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom on January 24, 2014.

      Official Plot/Synopsis: (Spoilers Ahead !)

In 1841, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. He makes his living playing the violin. One day he is lured into a lucrative touring gig by a pair of men (McNairy and Killam). After a night out in Washington, D.C. with the two men, Northup awakens to find himself chained to the floor. In shock of what has happened, Northup realizes he has been drugged and sold into slavery.
Now under the name of Platt, Northup is transported by ferry to New Orleans, where he is purchased as a slave by plantation owner William Ford (Cumberbatch). Enduring his new life, Northup stays on good terms with Ford as he assists him by engineering a waterway for transporting materials more swiftly. Northup's ability to play the violin is also discovered, with Ford providing him with a violin. Because of his success on the plantation, overseer John Tibeats (Dano) becomes jealous of Northup leading to many quarrels between the two.
Eventually, Northup is handed over to another plantation run by abusive slave driver Edwin Epps (Fassbender). Northup's main duties are now picking cotton, which he is expected to collect 200 pounds of each day otherwise savagely beaten. The slave who constantly picks the most cotton is Patsey (Nyong’o), a gentle woman that is the center of Epps' affection, despite his distressingly aware wife (Paulson).
One day, while working in the fields, Northup is called out by the local sheriff. Inquiring about Northup's past life, the sheriff asks a series of questions to match him to his profile. Northup is then taken off the plantation to much of Epps' dismay. After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is finally released and returned back to his family.

12 Years A Slave is a sobering reminder of the past; which allows the audience to see  the horrors of racism, bigotry and ignorance. Steve McQueen does not stop short of allowing the audience to truly see and experience the plight of Solomon Northrop, while also showing that history does not have to repeat itself; people can change-and for the better. It is important to go into the film with an openness that will allow you to truly see the struggle, pain and eventual redemption of not only Solomon Northrop; but a whole race of people. What is most mystic about McQueen's historical drama is the moments of silence throughout the film. This occurs several times throughout the film and upon viewing them I was able to surmise that Director Steve McQueen really wants to convey  empathy for the character Solomon Northrop. It is during these silent moments that we learn the most about Solomon and his struggles as a slave.

12 Years A Slave is  a truly gut wrenching story that not only encompasses the life of one man  but rather a whole race of people. It is grizzly, gory and at times frighting , yet  it is a beautiful and daring attempt to bring the horrors and  unforgiving reality of the antebellum South into account while  immortalize the life of Solomon Northup. 12 Years A Slave has had many predecessors; Amistad, Django Unchained and Roots are a few that come to the minds of most.  What sets 12 Years A Slave apart from other films is the no-nonsense approach that it takes  regarding transgressions such as Murder, rape, suicide,  and the auction block. McQueen gives a complete foray into what was done to a race of people and shows that the emptying of the human soul is how African-Americans lived for hundreds of years in the “America The Beautiful.” McQueen does not lollygag or sugarcoat racism instead he make the effort of forcing the viewer to witness the ugliness with no filter or escape. As brutal and heartbreaking as the film is to watch — can you imagine living it?

America has come along way but it still has a a long way to go.