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Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Twelve years a slave, two hours of misery.

In fairness, if you go and see this film, you have been warned. The movie is exactly what it says in the title, an examination of the twelve years spent by free black man, Solomon Northrup, in slavery, after he was kidnapped from his home in New England in the 1850s and sold to traders in the South.

And so that is exactly what we get, a portrait of the violence, degradation and
brutality of the life of a slave. There is no let up for the length of the film, no respite from the misery. We see rapes, floggings, lynchings, torture, human beings being treated worse than animals, being treated like objects.

The evil and hatred of the white masters for their human property is pure and relentless, and the deprivations that they inflict on the slaves seem to have no end. Only Brad Pitt's character, an abolitionist originally from Canada but working in Georgia, shows the slightest bit of humanity when dealing with the black people there.

It is not an easy watch. The only aspect of the film that gives the viewer a break from the horror is the photography and camerawork, the shots of the southern countryside are composed like paintings, and look exotic and beautiful. It serves to contrast with the humiliation and violence that is the lot of the American slave.

Yet the misery is so relentless, it has to be wondered what the point is of this film. The message of the director seems to be that slavery is bad. But don't we know this already? If we have seen Roots, or even Django Unchained, from last year, surely we are aware that the life of a slave was no picnic.

For those people - if there are any out there - who still believe that slavery just wasn't that bad, that it was somehow a benevolent system where slaves' health was taken care of and their souls were saved, then certainly they need to see this movie. It is a true story and so gains more resonance from this fact. Yet beyond that, really only complete masochists (or sadists) need to see this brutal, stomach churning film. 

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