*(This review is spoilerfree, in as much as you can even spoiler a movie based on a 150 year old book and with the amount of attention the movie received. Still, I tried, although a spoiler might have sneaked in here or there. Let me know if it did!)
About a week ago, I went to see 12 Years A Slave with a friend. With the (only mainstream) cinema in my own city currently closed, we had to travel to a different city and to a cinema I`d never been before to see this movie.
I`m glad to say it was worth the trip.
I`m sure most of us know by now what this movie is about – the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in the 1800`s who gets deceived and sold into slavery, and only managed to get out 12 years later. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring major names like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, and Benedict Cumberbatch (amongst others) and introducing new names like Lupita Nyong`o, this movie is about one man`s fight for freedom after it`s so ruthlessly taken from him.
This is a movie that`s raw, it`s rough, and entirely non-apologetic. Right as it should be. It`s an eye-opener about how things were back then.
The movie gets uncomfortable at times, which it`s definitely meant to do by the creators. You`re not supposed to sit back and relax, you`re not supposed to enjoy this, and if you do any of that I`m tempted to suggest you seek help. No, this movie is designed to make you uncomfortable. It`s designed to show you how nice it is in the south of the US (the cinematography is stunning at times), it`s designed to show how nice the life of free people is, and then they put the suffering and the horrors of slavery and entitlement across it and make you squirm and fill up with horror and guilt.
The performances by the actors are stellar and absolutely convincing. Lupita Nyong`o really held her own in that mix of big names, and is wholly deserving of her Oscar. The only thing I`m not sure about, is Benedict Cumberbatch`s accent. Can anyone tell me if that was a proper accent or not? Because I can`t really figure it out.
Speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch, I`m still undecided about if I find his character or that of Michael Fassbender more horrible. Fassbender`s role is more outright horrible, anguished, truly someone who thinks he owns his slaves, who thinks he is a righteous man despite his blatant abuse. Cumberbatch`s character, however, seems kind and almost naïve. The way he seems to care, wants the best for his slaves. It`s endearing, and you`re tempted to forgive him because surely he`s a good man? But then you remember he buys and owns and even sells slaves nonetheless, surely an act that can`t be reconciled. He gives them the illusion of freedom as long as he likes them, but he easily succumbs to his own whims and that of his wife. It makes you question what is more horrible – knowing you`re not free but having that illusion nonetheless, or knowing you`re not free and being reminded of it every single day. Both carry their own cruelty.
Still, while this is a very good eye-opener as to how things were, and you do need that background to understand the history of a nation and the current situation, too (at least of the US), I do think we can do with more movies that show the general impact of slavery, and how it`s still influencing American culture to this day.
Please note that I do say specifically the American culture, as I come from a different cultural background and history and am bound to look at this movie differently because of that. It`s a difficult topic to adjust to your own culture, and I don`t think you should try. Instead, see it as the history for all the American media we consume and all the problems that come with it and permeate our cultures as well. This specific brand of racism might become ours, too, if we`re not careful, and a movie like 12 Years A Slave might help open your eyes to this.
So, spoken as a non-American, I do recommend this movie. It`s an amazing movie with a rawness that will hurt your very soul, but with an important message to come with it, too: to never give up, to always keep fighting for your freedom, because freedom is your right as a human being. Remember to survive, so you can live. And remember to live fully, even if as a thank you to all the generations before you who couldn`t.