When I saw ‘The Help’, I was truly sad. Sad because I had only read about racism in America and the way African Americans were treated back in the early 20th century, not seen it brought to life. But after seeing ’12 years a slave’, I am beyond horrified. The movie makes you cringe and shudder and wish you hadn’t started watching it in the first place. But that in itself speaks extremely well for the director Steve McQueen, who has created such a realistic and heartfelt adaptation of a memoir published in 1853. The story is not just the story of Solomon Northup (played impeccably by Chiwetel Ejiofor), our protagonist, who falls into a trap of slavery and fights for his freedom for almost 12 years, it is the story of all those African Americans whose fate was bound by the chains of this cruel evil that was hell even in its mildest form.
We see Solomon, now called Platt, being shifted from one master to another, learning to bow down and to fulfil his duty towards the men who whip him for not picking 200 pounds of cotton a day. But a flicker of hope always resides in his heart. Not one to breakdown easily, Solomon doesn’t, but Platt eventually does. Through the movie we get introduced to various other characters that leave a very strong impact on our psyche. Edwin Epps, played remarkably by Michael Fassbender, as the ruthless owner who takes a liking for a young female slave Patsy, is a man who is too inhuman to be even called a man. Lupita Nyong’o gives so much emotion to the role of Patsy that you cry when she cries and you weep when she asks Platt to kill her for her own good. Benedict Cumberbatch has a rather small role of a somewhat kind owner, which he puts to perfection and I wish he was there for longer. But that is because he looks absolutely charming in each shot.
Every single bead of sweat that has been put into making this story into a movie has not been wasted. The background score and especially the American folk classics create the appropriate setting to the misery and helplessness of the wide eyed, blank faced slaves who know that the next day brings only much more gloom. It takes a movie like this to make you realise the value of freedom as an individual. Do watch, and appreciate the life that you have.