Irrespective of how profound a movie is, there’s only so long its effects can linger. Maybe it’s best to watch the mindless ones which are easier to externalize from our lives
There are people who like watching movies for the sheer mindlessness of it, and as easy as it is to scoff at their superficiality, I’ve come to realise that being that way leaves much less room for hypocrisy. The trouble with intelligent, socially relevant, and deeply emotional cinema is that people who enjoy them sometimes walk out with a misguided sense of superiority. I’ve thought about it several times, but watching Twelve Years a Slave made me come to a few conclusions.
I’m the worst kind of movie-goer. I compulsively look for things to take away from any film I watch. Because of this, I end up disliking and liking a lot of movies for reasons that many find quite strange and unnecessary. But whenever I watch a good hard-hitting movie I end up berating myself for how easily I slide back to real life after spending all those moments living and feeling the pain that the characters do. The true story of a well-to-do black American man in the 1800s who is kidnapped, sold as a slave, and forced to undergo, witness and commit several atrocities over twelve years, Twelve Years a Slave has plenty of scope for introspection.
Though set in the U.S., slave labour is hardly something that Indians are insulated from and the film is an uncoy study of human behaviour under the circumstances of time. It’s not so easy to outright condemn the white masters for their inhuman treatment of their slaves, or the slaves themselves for being driven to cruelties in their desperation to survive. If I was a rich white person at that point of history, can I say with certainty that I would have been one of the few to risk ostracism and stand up against the injustice? If I was a black slave in that same era, would I not have whipped my woman friend, a fellow slave who was frequently sexually abused by the master, under his orders? Having not done anything remotely revolutionary the way I am today, I find it quite difficult to say with conviction that I would have been anything but ordinary in those hypothetical scenarios.
Clearly, films like Twelve Years a Slave were not made for audiences to walk out unperturbed. Which brings us to my question: Is there minimum duration ('x') of brooding required after watching a disturbing movie to escape being adjudged coldhearted? Think about it. If a group of people laughed loudly on the way out of Twelve Years a Slave, would you sub-consciously look down upon the bunch for their apparent lack of sensitivity (“Surely, they could wait 'x' minutes/hours/days at least to crack a joke!”)?
If you think about it, however, that indignation does not make much sense. In a review for Live Mint, Sanjukta Sharma notes that Twelve Years a Slave can quite easily qualify as torture porn. So there really is no logic in watching it, getting outraged and then feeling morally superior to those who don’t seem as affronted as you are. I guess there really is no guilt-free way to watch a movie like Twelve Years a Slave. Unless of course you choose the fantastically difficult option of practising what you preach.
The best way to watch Twelve Years a Slave is to get absorbed, disturbed, learn some history, prickle your conscience and become a little more sensitised to how you treat the various people you interact with in your lives. The worst way to watch Twelve Years a Slave is to get absorbed, disturbed, so overwhelmed by the story and walk out reassured about how bad the movie made you feel and how good a person that must mean you are.