Aesthetics of 12 Years a Slave

The film 12 Years a Slave is a very interesting film narratively as well as aesthetically. Although the film is controversial and can be hard to watch, there are pleasing aesthetics that help bring emotion to the story. The film portrays the time period in which slavery was occurring very realistically. The viewer experiences the violence, torture, and brutality along with the actors and can feel empathetic towards the characters because of the way the film is written as well as shot.

This movie is not a movie of simplicity or of generalities. The director was obviously going for a bloody, brutal, and truthful version of the historical period. This can be seen with the violence and torture in the film. At the same time, this movie show beautiful landscapes. The plantation land and trees are visually pleasing to the audience, contrasting drastically with the blood and pain the characters endure. Some of the most noticeable aspects of the aesthetics in this film are the framing and the angles at which the scenes are shot. The composition of this film is vital to the emotional part of the story.  A particular scene with interesting framing is the scene in which Solomon is hung by his neck and left for a long period of time. The long shot is necessary because it shows not only what is happening to Solomon, but also what is happening around him. After the initial shock of the hanging is over, in the background the viewer can see people slowly going back to their normal routine. The way in which this scene is shot informs the viewer how normal this kind of situation was for slaves and slavers.

Narratively, the film definitely meets the emotional expectations that the audience was anticipating. The characters are realistic and the acting provokes a sense of empathy among the viewers.  They are complex characters with deep issues. This movie impacted people in the way it was expected to. It exposed the brutal reality of slavery in the 1800’s without delving too much into a fictional world. The stories are real and the actions actually happened. 12 Years a Slave is a controversial film that reveals the truth of society’s wrongdoings in the past. Viewers find themselves getting irritated or angry over issues that happened decades ago. Characters like Solomon affect people in a way that characters in typical films do not. Watching this film can cause some discomfort, but that is the point of it. 12 Years a Slave is meant to shock the audience and brings to light the issues of the past that are talked about but not fully understood. Seeing the cruelty is different than simply hearing about it in a history class. This film represents slavery in an accurate way and it is beautifully done.

-B

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