12 Years a Slave (2013)

“I don't want to survive. I want to live.”“I don't want to survive. I want to live.”

“I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

Literary adaptations are quite possibly the most intriguing of all the potential depictions of a biopic. Mostly, films about famous rock stars and sports icons draw in the most attention and there is nothing wrong with that, but to really shine a spotlight or give off a particular tone about a historical event; stories about activists and what they had endured physically, mentally and emotionally are the way to go. There are two major events in history that can be difficult to accurately display on film: Slavery and the Holocaust.

Capturing the absolute harshness and brutality should be the foundation for any film that looks to portray these catastrophic events. In human history. Even though we all know these were the evilest the human race has been, the individual true stories of survival are utterly inspiring and need to be shared with the world. Based on the book of the same name 12 Years a Slave depicts just how unbearably harsh and real slavery was to those who suffered in bondage and died because their skin color was different.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living with his family in Saratoga, New York when he is lured by slavers with a job in Washington D.C. taken and sold in Louisiana, Solomon endured several different plantations and plantation owners with varying degrees of humanity or lack thereof. His situation goes from bad to worse to completely dreadful as he does the best he can to live and survive through this new reality. He can’t speak up and let his captors know he’s a free man, no one will believe him especially in the deep south nor no matter how many times he explains his name isn’t Platt, it falls on deaf ears. 

“If this conversation concerns what is factual and what is not, then it must be said that there is no justice nor righteousness in their slavery.”

In his bondage, Solomon never gives up hope, he fights back and puts his trust in people he thinks will help him get a letter to his family, but with every turn people prove that their own self-interest is what is best. That is until Solomon meets Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt) who is from Canada. Samuel is the truest form of hope in the film for Solomon and his last resort. His reluctance to trust Samuel is evident as everyone Solomon trusted in the past broke his spirit even more than it was originally fractured. Solomon also encountered the worst humanity has to offer in plantation owners Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Mary (Sarah Paulson) as well as John Tibeats (Paul Dano). 

Even though these are the worst of humankind, the art must necessarily be separated from the artist. Each performance by Fassbender, Paulson and Dano are excruciatingly brutal and at points it’s hard to distinguish which person is the absolute worst of them. John Tibeats did have less screen time, but his rage and brutality rivals the others. When John’s rage is tested, its incredible how powerless the powerful really is. Mary on the other hand is insecure and jealous of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) whom Edwin is raping. Director Steve McQueen depicts these characters in a way that even though they hold the power, they are very much afraid of losing that power to someone they think id beneath them. 

Paulson is shockingly vicious in this role, maybe all her experience from American Horror Story helped her tap into this mindset. Fassbender is truly the most evil. He’s unpredictable with every action making Solomon whip Patsey or getting into actual fights with Solomon while completely inebriated. All three main antagonists make this film unbearable to sit through but its impossible to look away as Solomon remains courageous throughout.

“I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.”

At the center of that belief is religion. Religion is the scapegoat that plays an important role in this film for the existence of slavery. Edwin is deeply Christian in his beliefs and he uses that belief to punish Solomon or any other person who doesn’t deliver a solid day’s work. Solomon does however find solace when the least harsh of his owners William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives Solomon a violin. That violin represents Solomons freedom and his will to keep surviving. It’s a beacon of hope that he can endure all the brutalities slave masters throw at him.  

It’s almost natural for a biopic to take certain liberties in the film that don’t appear in the actual person’s life or in this case the book. The scene on the slave ship for instance never happens in the book or in Solomon’s life where a slave gets murdered trying to save a mother from being raped. There is no issue with this scene as it only adds to the brutal nature of the slavers and adds to the dramatic effect of the film. 

We all know slavery is horrifying. The mere thought of it makes my skin crawl and angry in ways that can’t be described. No one person is worth less than the other. We are all equal no matter what race, creed, sex or color you are. No matter what you believe in or what religion you practice. The thought of Slavery is hard to imagine – knowing this is a part of our history and that there are those that actually justify it is more unbelievable. We as humans need to understand these horrible times in our past so history doesn’t repeat. 12 Years a Slave is powerful in its message from McQueen. Solomon’s journey and fight are inspirational regardless of the circumstances. People like Solomon Northup should never be forgotten for what they unbarably endured.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is one of the best films made in recent years. It depicts how cruel the period of slavery was in America and shows one man’s reality to survive. 12 Years a Slave has powerful cinematography and performances from Chiwetel as he bares his soul on the screen.  The film is presented in a clear and direct manner while not sugarcoating what horrors actually occurred during this time period. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t hold anything back regarding the story, telling it in a hyper realistic way that can only be seen from an outsider’s perspective. 12 Years a Slave is a difficult watch given the source material but it’s a necessary film to witness. If I were to rate 12 Years a Slave, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5.

So, tell me guys, have you seen 12 Years a Slave and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

12 Years a Slave is directed by Steve McQueen is Rated R and has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. 12 Years a Slave was released on October 18, 2013 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes. 12 Years a Slave can be bought by online retailers such as iTunes, Google, Amazon and Vudu.

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