The year 2013 has been an incredible one for cinema, so as a fun alternative to your typical end-of-the-year lists, we’ve decided to celebrate our favorite movies by pairing them together. So from now until the end of December, we’ll be periodically spotlighting movies as part of our new Best Double Features of 2013 series.
The Double Feature: 12 Years a Slave and The Act of Killing
Why to Watch: The year 2013 was home to plenty of fun, rollicking, good-time movies. 12 Years a Slave and The Act of Killing are not among them. In fact, these two movies are two of the greatest feel-bad movies ever made; long and harrowing looks into the heart of darkness that will linger at the edges of your soul for weeks after you’ve watched them. But they have more in common than just being masterful, devastating and emotionally crippling experiences.
12 Years a Slave and The Act of Killing are about mankind’s capacity for violence, how we manage to reduce human beings to property to abuse and flesh to torment. They are merciless in how they depict both the perpetrators of unspeakable violence and the victims. 12 Years a Slave pulls no punches in its take on the American slave trade, showcasing in brutal detail how a man is forced to adapt and change when subjected to an impossibly vile and abusive situation. The nonfiction The Act of Killing examines the other half of violence, tracking the men behind a brutal genocide as they bottle up their guilt and transform their violent pasts into tales of heroism. In one particularly upsetting scene, one mass murderer finally feels the weight of his crimes and breaks down. It doesn’t build a bridge between him and his victims, but with time, it could lead to redemption.
People hurt each other. We’ve done it since the dawn of time and we’ll keep on doing it forever. We can’t stop it, but films like 12 Years a Slave and The Act of Killing help us understand and empathize with the victims and the perpetrators.
What Order to Watch: Chronologically, you should begin with 12 Years a Slave (set in the 19th century) before delving into The Act of Killing (set in present day). Thematically, this will showcase how violence has changed and how much it has stayed the same after over 150 years of human “progress.”
When to Watch: Both of these films are difficult to watch, so picking a time and place to endure them is a tricky task. The important thing is commitment. Select a day that you know won’t offer any interruptions. Prepare to sit through each film in one sitting, since frequent pausing or breaks could potentially soften their blow. Keep the viewing audience small, since these aren’t the kind of film you just show to anyone. Most importantly, watch them with people who will be ready and willing to talk about them with you. 12 Years a Slave and The Act of Killing demand conversation to fully appreciate.
How to Watch: 12 Years a Slave is currently in theaters, while The Act of Killing hits DVD and Blu-ray on January 7, 2014.
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