Movie Title: 12 Years a Slave
Date Released: November 8th, 2013
Date Seen: November 23rd, 2013
Part 1 – Spoiler Free Quickie Review
The struggle of Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. We follow his 12 year long journey, dealing with slave owners, other slaves, moral quandaries on all parts, and internal identity struggles of Solomon. It’s a hard to watch movie that will make you miserable at times – but it stares slavery so boldly in the face that it is a must see. It’s also brilliantly shot, exceedingly well acted, and directed fantastically.
One of the best things about the movie is the portrayal of slavery. We have two main slave owners we see: Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Epps (Michael Fassbender). Both have different views on their slaves – Epps treats them horribly, as property and as play things. He is a horribly abusive man to everyone – his slaves, his wife, and even himself with his raging alcoholism. Ford on the other hand, treats his slaves better, allowing them to earn his respect and giving them a decent life. There is no constant fear of being raped or beaten like there is on the Epps plantation. However, Ford is still a monster in his own way. He is aware of what is going on with Solomon (and others) and chooses to ignore the situation. In other words, he doesn’t care about the injustice that has been done to Solomon – he bought them and they are still his property. The emotional toll that this realization has on Solomon is astounding.
The acting is amazing in this film, with incredible performances from people like Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Sarah Paulson, J.D. Evermore, and a number of supporting characters. It would be a never ending review if I started to talk about them all. The only person I had a problem with was Brad Pitt, because I felt he wasn’t strong enough for the role that he was. He was the only person that I didn’t fully believe could have been that character. It was a minor detail, since he isn’t in it very long, but was still one of the only complaints I had about the movie. Back to good acting – there are two real standouts. The obvious stand out is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible at showing so much emotion with very few words. You can see at times what he is thinking, about whether or not to just give in and be complacent, yet while still wanting to fight this huge wrong that has been committed against him. He is a man that has grown up being treated with dignity and is now struggling to try and keep some of that dignity to remain feeling like a real person. The second standout is newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a fellow slave on the Epps plantation. She has been a slave her whole life and reaches a breaking point while Solomon is on her plantation. We get to see this girl go through a tiny moment of happiness, surrounded by moments of pain and sorrow, and trying to just survive. The most haunting scene of the movie happens between Solomon and Patsey. The scene will leave you disgusted and horrified, and even sick to your stomach. Nyong’o does a fantastic job of portraying this poor young innocent girl who is completely destroyed, both mentally and physically, right in front of our eyes. She gives us the character that we need to be left thinking about – that yes, although Solomon is “righted” at the end of the movie, there is still Patsey and dozens of others like Patsey that we can’t forget about. Steve McQueen, the director, shows this in a very nice way, a mirroring of a scene we saw earlier in the movie and I love it.
Speaking of directing – McQueen did a fantastic job. He is a big fan of long, intense steady shots just focusing on one simple image. They might be closeups of Solomons face or large landscape shots so you can see how everyone else is reacting to a situation. They really make it so that you have to sit there and confront what is going on in the scene and not just ignore it or push it under the rug. Being that this is only his third feature length film, I can’t wait to see more from him in the future.
I definitely recommend anyone go see this movie. It is hauntingly beautiful, and a story everyone should see.
Part 2 – In Depth Spoiler Ridden Review
The title itself is a sort of spoiler, so not much I can spoil other than mentioning a few scenes in detail.
I went into this expecting to cry a lot, but surprisingly the only time I cried were tears of joy, along with Solomon, when he was reunited with his family. I liked that about this movie – rather than mourning the entire movie for what was happening to Solomon and the others, you were left as angry and as confused about this injustice as he was. Yes, you were sad, but more upset that something like this was happneing. Even at other sad parts – such as the whipping scene, you were just so disgusted and horrified that tears were far away from my mind. Also, even though I knew the entire movie that Solomon was going to get to go home – when the moment finally came, my heart was pounding. You knew that he was about to get to go home but the moment was still bittersweet, with that last time he hugged Patsey, with her beaten and cut face, and her left standing there to watch him ride away. Dang.
One of the more disturbing scenes I found was the scene where Patsey and Solomon are on the neighboring plantation, where the plantation owner, Master Shaw (Scott Michael Jefferson) has “married” a previous slave, Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard). When you think about what is really being said in that scene, it is disturbing and disgusting. The woman is telling Patsey that if she shuts up and takes her routine rape, that she just one day might get elevated to the same status that she herself is in – one where she still gets raped, but doesn’t have to work nor get beaten. It’s a terrifying thought.
A fantastic movie that will stay with you for days after you see it. Everyone should see this movie, but be prepared for how hard it is to watch at times.