No 9: 12 Years a Slave and The Three Idiots (Exploring my Top 10 favorite movies)

By Herman M. Lagon

THE CINEMATIC world is a vast expanse of perspectives, each film taking its viewer through a unique journey. After discussing my memorable Top 10 films, namely “Magnifico,” “Heneral Luna,” “Joker,” and “Ender’s Game” in our previous column, today, we shift our focus to my two extraordinary Top 9 movies: “12 Years a Slave” and “The Three Idiots.” The indecisiveness to rank one over the other speaks volumes about the depth and uniqueness each offers. Both films, helmed by visionary directors and adorned with exceptional lead actors, have captivated audiences worldwide.

“12 Years a Slave” (2013) is a visceral, harrowing account of slavery based on Solomon Northup’s memoir. Directed by Steve McQueen and spearheaded by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film unflinchingly portrays the brutality and dehumanization of slavery. The belief of seeing goodness in all things echoes as the narrative unravels Northup’s persistent hope amidst profound despair, emphasizing the indomitable human spirit. As Northup states, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” This film is not just about the grotesque face of slavery; it questions what remains when dignity and humanity are stripped away, which resonates up until now.

Rajkumar Hirani’s “The Three Idiots” (2009) provides a stark contrast, set against the backdrop of the Indian educational framework. The narrative orbits around Farhan, Raju, and Rancho, portrayed immaculately by R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, and Aamir Khan. It is not merely a critique of the academic pressures but an exposition of life’s philosophies. The film serves as a gentle reminder, urging us to chase excellence, not success. “The Three Idiots,” a movie I led my physics students to watch before as a gift for finishing the lessons in advance, takes a dig at rote learning, championing passion and genuine understanding, much like the way Ignatian pedagogy encourages reflection and critical thinking.

Both movies, albeit distinct in their storytelling, shed light on societal constructs that chain individual aspirations. While “12 Years a Slave” reveals the physical and emotional chains of an oppressive regime, “The Three Idiots” delves into the metaphorical chains of societal expectations. Cinematographically, both films excel in capturing the essence of their tales. Hirani’s vibrant and lively visuals contrast the raw portrayal in McQueen’s work, yet both succeed in leaving an indelible mark on the viewer.

Musically, Hans Zimmer’s haunting score for “12 Years a Slave” resonates with the film’s somber tone, while the energetic tunes of “The Three Idiots” reflect its spirited message. Acting, a crucial aspect of both films, is par excellence. Ejiofor’s portrayal of Northup’s resilience is countered by Khan’s portrayal of Rancho’s rebellious spirit.

One might argue about the Oscar win of “12 Years a Slave”, questioning the authenticity of its recognition. Having cried many times while watching both “12 Years a Slave” and “The Three Idiots,” I can personally attest to the profound emotional impact they both have. The same could be said for others who watched them intently. Yet, the film’s intricate balance of historical accuracy, stellar performances, and powerful message justifies its acclaim. Similarly, “The Three Idiots,” though not an Oscar contender, became a global sensation, its themes resonating universally and deeply touching its audience to the bone.

It is essential to discern the more extensive picture these films paint. They are not mere stories; they are reflections of our society, our beliefs, our struggles, and our aspirations. Both movies beckon viewers to challenge the status quo, urging introspection and transformation.

As we find solace in the cinematic realm, it is films like “12 Years a Slave” and “The Three Idiots” that offer not just entertainment but a mirror to our own realities. They urge us to break free, to challenge, to question, and to hope. Through the shackles of the past and the challenges of the present, they inspire us to envision a brighter, freer future.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.