There are rare occasions where we, my three siblings and I, are in the same time and place. We decided to spend our time together watching Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. After 90 minutes, we all came out touched and stained by the harrowing and intense experience.
The next day, I met with a group of friends over dumplings and to further discuss the finer points of the movie. I held my chopsticks in midair.
“McQueen is a creative genius.12 Years A Slave explore the human conditions. There’s even a love story.”
Starring back like I was insane, a friend disagrees.
“What! The relationship between Epps and Patsey, how is it a love story?”In all his films, including “Hunger” and “Shame”, McQueen explores human suffering through violence and oppression. The same themes are found in 12 Years A Slave. Based on a true story, we follow Solomon Northrup, a free African American man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northrup ends up with his third and final captor, a sadistic plantation owner named Edwin Epps. While the film does focuses on the slavery narrative, there is a relationship between Epps and Patsey. Their ‘love story’ happens to be a dark and twisted one.
Before we are introduced to Epps, you hear people calling him a “Slave Breaker.” Michael Fassbender gives a diabolical performance of Epps. We see Epps providing a sermon to a line of slaves. He believes it is biblical right and duty to treat them like animals. Patsey (beautifully played by newcomer, Lupita Nyong’o) attracts the unfortunate attention of Epps.
“I have huge sympathy for Epps, though. He’s in love with this woman and he doesn’t understand it. Why is he in love with this slave?”
Epps’ love for Patsey is perverse. He goes about trying to destroy his love and obsession by destroying her. Epps love for her is entirely one sided. What he does to Patsey is inhumane, violent and abusive. He continuously seeks her attention and rapes her.
There is a scene where Epps frantically looks for her and believes she has run away. She comes back with a small bar of soap; she says she wanted to be clean after picking a abundant amount of cotton for him. Despite her impassioned plea, she still gets whipped and punished. I teared up a little when she begs Solomon to end her life.
Patsey’s suffering does not end there. A wrath of a jealous wife is terrifying, especially the sadistic ones. The wife subjects Patsey to a number of abuses. The wife claws Patsey’s face leaving a mark. You see a scene where Patsey screaming and rolling in pain. Just moments before, the wife throws a heavy glass bottle to Patsey’s head.
Everyone is capable of love, even sadistic people like Epps. Love is a universal human language. Love doesn’t have to make sense. Love cannot be controlled. Love chooses you. Love is a human trait. Do we want to sympathise with Epps and see him as a human being? Not really; we like to think of him as a monster. Even so, monsters are capable of love too.
There is no happy ending, especially for Patsey. Solomon doesn’t save her and ride off on a horse towards the sunset. The relationship between Epps and Patsey is full of suffering, is one of love.