"Laws change. Societal systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all." - Bass
A great achievement on many levels, 12 Years a Slave a stirring, emotional journey. Bolstered by a castful of powerful performances, what appears to be the journey of a single man becomes a reflection of society as a whole.
Based on a memoir written by its protagonist, 12 Years a Slave follows Solomon Northrup as he gets torn from his life as a free man and put into the brutal system of slavery in antebellum Louisiana. This straightforward plot allows for a deeper delving into of what characters and situations we have, a nice change from the globe-trotting blockbusters that are so prevalent nowadays.
Stylistically, the film is unblemished. A bright, unfiltered view of 1850's Louisiana adds to the realism. The brutality that was so common in that time is kept just out of the screen, with the camera glancing over, rather than lingering on it, leaving its results painfully up to our own interpretation. What does get shown onscreen is subtle. The little spurts of blood flew out from whippings, yielded a greater effect to me than the massive geysers of the stuff as seen in 300 and the like.
Most importantly, this tale about a single man and his struggles becomes an exploration of many sides of society. We see some of the slaves submitting to survive while others rise of in defiance. With the slave owners, more interesting dynamics occur. With Benedict Cumberbatch's Ford, we see a sympathetic and caring man who blinds himself to the inherent evil on which he stands. Epps, portrayed by the brilliant Michael Fassbender, gives us true, pure evil, who exploits anything and everything for his own, selfish gain. The contrast between our primary characters is also stark. Patsy is broken and on the verge of giving up, while Solomon refuses to forget what he had before. All of these characters create a fascinating collage of beliefs and mindsets that are still relevant today.
In the end, we get a unflinching look at the brutal world of slavery. It is a reminder of what people have been through and what people have triumphed over. But the most significant and heartbreaking part of this film is when it reminds us of how people are.