12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen brilliantly directs the film adaptation of 12 Years a Slave written by Solomon Northup. Solomon Northup, a free black man, was kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. The movie highlights the struggles Northup survives in his 12 years of captivity. 12 Years a Slave is a brutally honest, emotionally exhaustive and authentic depiction of the slave era. It is a movie that does not shy in its honesty.
There are two scenes in particular that are terribly haunting and indicative of the viciousness of the slavery. The first scene is of which the title character is almost hung to death by a racist superior. While Solomon is saved by another superior, only because he is too worthy to die, he is casually left to stand on the tip of his toes to avoid asphyxiation. The juxtaposition of Solomon’s struggle to survive the day in his predicament with the casual background of daily routines emphasizes the commonality of such occurrences. The viewer sees children play in the background; workers go about their day in ignorance to Solomon’s situation.
The second scene comes in the latter part of the movie. Slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) becomes infuriated by Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a highly productive cotton picker slave. Patsey dared leave his side to get a piece of soap. Edwin who has refused his wife’s overtures to ship Patsey away because she is threatened of the sexual relationship Edwin forces upon Patsey. Edwin tells Patsey to strip naked and be tied to the pole. Unable to lash his beloved slave, he forces Solomon to do his dirty work.
The long and grotesque scene is reminiscent of the lashing scene from The Passion of the Christ (2004). While uncomfortably, difficult to watch it is a necessary component to any realistic and genuine depiction of America’s slave history. To deny or “sugar-coat” such scenes for Hollywood masses would be in grave ignorance to history. It would neglect to admit of the scar that is so deeply imprinted in American history. Refusing to show real-life horror deprives the opportunity to enlighten younger generations of our history.
There were times I thought to myself that I was watching a horror movie. Unfortunately I simply was watching horrendous, historical facts. McQueen intersperses such breath-taking and heavy scenes with glimpses of the beauty of nature. The natural beauty of the land is in stark contrast to the unnatural and ungodly viciousness inflicted in an habitual manner.
The concluding scene was breathtakingly, heart-wrenching. Solomon’s tearful reunion with his family overwhelmed my senses with a sense of awe and content. Content that Solomon Northup’s amazing story of survival has been adequately and beautifully portrayed on-screen. 12 Years a Slave is a must see. It is probably the most realistic, on-screen depiction of the American slave era in the 1840s. It is blunt. It is unrelenting. But most importantly it is the truth.
12 Years a Slave is one of the best movies I have seen this year. Ejiofor, Nyong’o and Fassbender were outstanding and should at the least be nominated for their respective categories. Lupita’s performance is amazing in the fact this is her first feature-length film of her career. This is an Oscar worthy film. I strongly recommend you watch it. 12 Years a Slave is definitely worth the price of admission.
MPAA Rating: R (nudity, violence/cruelty, brief sexuality)
Running Time: 134 minutes
My Grade: A
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