It is painful.
However old it may be, the story still pains. So, does the brilliant portrayal of the pre-civil war Americas when being ‘nigger’ can warrant you nothing better than the life of a ‘baboon’, or mostly worse than that. The question of liberty and equality, as prescribed by the nature, remains a unknown and unwanted mystery for Solomon Northup until he was kidnapped, tortured and sold as a slave. As a spirit that he was and not someone who ‘ain’t got the stomach for a fight;’ he declared “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”
As an eloquent violin player, Solomon Northup, played by Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor for this role, lived happily with his small family as a ‘free man’ at Saragato, New York. Soon he would be kidnapped and transported to the South where he would be sold in the market. That the men and women can be traded as goods in the market is perfectly shown by director Steve McQueen. Freeman, who is the trader of slaves, parades his slaves naked in front of potential buyers, ask them to perform, show their teeth for their perfect health or even jump and run. The cinematic excellence can be measured when you shockingly walk with the potential buyers and see them bargain.
This is a cinema that bleeds your heart. As they bled by those whiplashes befallen upon their backs, as they are made to dance at night after a tiring day at the behest of a drunk cruel, as they sing on the death of a peer, you bleed. As a benign buyer of slave, Ford bought Platt, the new name forced upon Solomon, along with a mother, Eliza, who was to be separated from her children. As she cried aloud on the separation of her children, Platt started playing his eloquent violin. It was horror. You feel the gruesome cry of mother for her estranged children and an urgent need to play down that voice by the soothing sound of Violin played so urgently by Platt. The sequence ends when Mistress Ford seemingly empathizes with Eliza, upon her arrival at the estate, and says, ‘something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten.’ Eliza would soon to be drag out of the estate, for she kept weeping for her estranged children, as she cried for Platt who went deaf upon hearing her crying help.
I don’t know if torture can have this impact. The film wrenches your soul as someone would lock a person in chains and then beat him until his bat breaks and still beat him. You don’t see ‘meat and blood flow’ but your mind screams as Platt exchanges his blood stained badly mutilated shirt for a newer one. For Edwin Epps, the ruthless ‘nigger breaker’ cotton grower ‘master,’ is caught in a dreadful situation when he cannot escape from his weakness for his slave ‘Damned Queen’, Patsey. He was so envious or possessive about owning her, that she would strip her down and tied onto a tree to be ruthlessly whipped. However, he could not. He had Platt to whip her and whip her so hard that you see the sprinkle of blood spit out of her back at every whip. You feel her agony, or may be your mind resists to it, as she cries at every whip splitting her smooth back into tatters. The torn flesh of her back, the tired sound of crying, the soul wrenching pain that Platt incurs as he beat her, these are moments when the pain that you get is resisted by your soul. Closing your fist, it refuse and wants to rebel.
The movie is not only seen but its felt. Not many movies can do that. When you see Platt staring at the light with not a single utterance of word for almost five minutes, you feel the ignominy and sting of his helplessness. When you see Platt remains hung with his tip of foot on a slushy muddy land, you feel death every second as an ordinary day is spent around you. He lives through the day, the afternoon and the evening hanging before he is being rescued. What is staggering is the hope that a man condemned by fate still holds! Platt steals a piece of paper, creates and sharpens a pen, and discovers his own ink with blueberry. This is hope that leads him to experience deceit once but freedom at another time.
‘12 Years A Slave’ is not just a movie but an emotional journey for anyone, with their heart and soul intact, who would not know about slavery. It is not just about a person but tragic evidence of a merciless, barbaric and inhumane blot in human civilization. The metaphoric Platt is at last reunited with his family but he is old now, a grandfather with a grandson.
The movie is metaphorically encapsulated in this dialogue of Solomon on the occasion of his reunion with his estranged family that was “I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.”