Torture theme hits the big screen in Toronto

A still from the trailer of The Railway Man (courtesy of Lionsgate FIlms)

A still from the trailer of The Railway Man
(courtesy of Lionsgate FIlms)

Every September the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) sees thousands of film fanatics and cinema experts alike convene in Canada to preview the latest films in the upcoming cinema calendar.

Now in its 37th year, the festival screens around 350 films and provides awards for some of the best, past winners including movies which have then gone onto win the Oscars.

It is a big stage to promote a message. And this year the big message seems to be raising awareness of torture, the effects of torture, and rehabilitation.

Before in the blog series we have covered some of the most harrowing, realistic and insightful films on torture – you can read our report here. But this year this year in Toronto, torture awareness seems to be at the top of the agenda once again.

A powerful message

There are a range of films dealing with torture at the festival. Prisoners focuses on the story of a man (Hugh Jackman) who locks away the suspected kidnapper of his daughter (Paul Dano) before subjecting him to torture. It is a concentrated study of the effects and the immorality of torture between two people.

Another movie, 12 Years a Slave, takes the audience back to pre-Civil War America where a black man named Solomon (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sold into slavery. The film follows his life, the torment from his slave masters and his journey to escape the horrors of slavery.

But perhaps the most exciting upcoming release themed around torture methods, effects and rehabilitation is Colin Firth’s The Railway Man. (See the trailer below).

The Railway Man is based on a real-life story from prisoner of war Eric Lomax who, following capture by Japanese troops in 1942, became a prisoner forced to build the Burma Railway in Thailand.

A prize-winning memoir, Lomax recounts his experiences of war, the gruelling tasks he had to complete as a prisoner and the struggle to forgive those who had tortured him.

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky and co-starring Nicole Kidman as Lomax’s (Colin Firth) wife, the film shows the trauma of both war and torture. Not shying away from reality, the film also depicts detention in a makeshift cage, beatings from guards and water-boarding.

Raising awareness

The film seems to promote the message that lives can be changed and, with the right support in place, people can move on. Victims of torture need not be seen as ‘victims’ forever. Through bravely seeking rehabilitation, victims become survivors – strong, courageous survivors of events which consist of acts of untamed cruelty, manipulation and violence.

The Second World War story aside, the film highlights the realities of torture, the turmoil torture causes a victim of torture and the struggles the victim of torture must go through to become the person they want to be.

It is a story of survival that happens every day. The bravery of survivors of torture cannot be understated, but there is still a long way to go to ensure effective rehabilitation from torture, access to justice for victims, and for procedures and steps to prevent torture in the future.

One of the ways to work towards these goals is to highlight the prevalence of torture worldwide and films showcasing the reality of torture is certainly one step in raising awareness of this very prevalent issue.

You can read our previous blog featuring some of the most analytical, realistic depictions of torture and rehabilitation by clicking this link.


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