Hollywood has many times touched upon one of the darkest chapters of American history, but if there was ever a film that could be deemed must-watch cinema, “12 Years a Slave”could very well be it.
Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture and based upon the true story of Solomon Northup (brilliantly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor), “Slave”explores the life of a black carpenter with a penchant for the fiddle who was living as a freeman with his wife and kids in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in the 1840s. After accepting a two-week engagement to perform music near Washington, D.C., Northup is drugged by two white men and subsequently sold into slavery.
Northup subsequently bounces between plantations until he is sold to an evil, perfectly cast Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who believes it is his God-given right to beat his slaves. After enduring a toxic existence there—Epps treats his slaves terribly, with routine beatings and rapes showered down upon them—the fact that Northup is a freeman to begin with eventually comes to life. After 12 years in captivity, the freeman who became a slave is once again granted his freedom. He travels back north and is united with his family, finding out that his daughter has since had a child that she named after her father.
Rife with brilliant cinematography showcasing the expanse and beauty of the southern half of the country, “Slave” is the story of a man who simply does what he must to endure and be reunited with his family. Northup simply takes a job and is tragically betrayed. Not only does he not let his terrible situation get the better of him, Northup sucks it up and deals with his misfortune by confronting the dismal reality with which he is presented.
Though undoubtedly a victim of tragic circumstance, Northup does what he must to survive. At times, he proves to his masters the absurdity of the slavery dichotomy by proving his worth in the field or even delighting them with his musical talents. Unfortunately, every time it appears as though the masters might have a change of heart, the sobering reality of the situation takes hold of them and Northup is relegated back to being nothing more than property once again.
After Northup is granted his freedom, we are presented with another bleak reality. Despite the fact that Epps has been an awful human being throughout the film, he never really gets his comeuppance. Epps laments the loss of Northup, but the only “suffering” he endures thereafter is agony that “his property,” Northup, is no longer under his purview. The very fact that Epps’ anguish is so pronounced following the announcement Northup is a freeman shows that his troubles don’t even register on the radar when compare to those troubles of the slaves he owns.
With themes of betrayal and endurance in the face of all adversity, “Slave”tells an intricate story set during one of the saddest chapters of American history. But it’s a chapter that can never be forgotten. Perfectly cast and boasting superior costume and set design, the film is spectacular from a cinematic perspective. But rife with rape, racism and violence, some parts of the film are not for the squeamish. But even for those viewers, it’s a must watch.