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12 Years a Slave - Film Review

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Published January 20th 2014
Mind numbing drama on pre-civil war American slavery
12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, explores the horrors of slavery in a pre-civil war America. An intense drama based on true events and set in the 19th century, it follows a free man Solomon Northup's (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) life, who is abducted and forced into slavery for 12 years.

Note: Spoilers ahead.

The movie is based on a book, A Memoir - 12 years a Slave, by Solomon Northup and explores major events during a 12 year period of forced slavery in Solomon's life.

The movie begins with a simple day in Solomon's life. Solomon, a family man and musician by profession bids farewell to his wife and children for 3 weeks without realising that he may not see them for the next 12 years. His major downfall is his tendency to believe everyone around him and not suspect treason in any act or deed. On the pretext of some easy money and work, he follows 2 men into a trap of slavery. The movie traverses a 12 year period post his abduction, where he is auctioned away and spends the precious years of life in between tyrannical masters, horrendous punishments, unfathomable horrors and unjust torture. The circumstances force Solomon to adopt a new identity and hide the fact that he can read and write.

Although the movie is set to span 12 years, it only revolves around the 3 or 4 major events during those 12 years. Each of those events portrays painful scenes as it explores the inhuman treatment of the slaves, and the punishments inflicted upon them by their masters. The movie is no doubt difficult to watch without being overwhelmed by the tragedy. The script highlights the highs and lows of Solomon's 12 years. His first master, Ford, (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) gifts him a violin but is incapable of protecting him from the racist carpenter who hangs him from a noose all day. The noose is just long enough for his toes to touch the ground, as if teaching him a very tough lesson. This scene is particularly intriguing as it shows Solomon hanging from the tree while the other slaves continue to work as if he didn't exist there. After this incident, Solomon is sold off to Epps, a cotton plantation owner.

Michael Fassbender (Master Epps) plays a brutal and insensitive master who has no mercy for this slaves. His wife (played by Sarah Paulson) also enjoys watching him punish the slaves and is outraged by his infatuation for Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o).

Lupita's performance is praiseworthy. She is subjected to humiliation, rape and hatred despite being the most hardworking slave on the farm, picking 3 times as much cotton as the others. Sadly, because of the Epps' soft corner for Patsey, her life on the cotton farm is agonising.

Many of the scenes are rather difficult to watch. Lupita is subject to violence both by her master and mistress. The movie leaves a lasting impression on the viewer's mind and in most cases a painful one.

Brad Pitt (as Bass) plays a cameo towards the end of the movie.

The movie has been nominated under 9 categories at the Academy Awards and has already taken the top award of Best Motion Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globe.

The movie releases across Australian screens on Jan 30, 2014. Dendy Cinemas is also holding special advance screenings this Australia Day weekend.

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