Anthony's Film Review
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The brutal inhumanity of slavery is presented in a powerful historical drama...
For the first time ever, Hollywood has released a major film about black slavery in America that is based directly on a slave narrative. It's quite remarkable, given how first-hand accounts of the experience of slavery provide perhaps the best illustration of what it's like to be forced into harsh work and horrible living conditions against your will, not to mention that only a handful of slaves had the ability to write it all down on paper after surviving their ordeal. You know what's even more remarkable? The particular slave narrative used for this movie pertains to Solomon Northup, a black man who was actually a free man in the Northern United States, but had been kidnapped and forced into slavery. This wasn't someone who was born a slave. Far from it.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup in a performance that is no doubt an emotional one. He plays a man who is both sad and happy. In other words, the actor portrays a man who is treated with cruelty as a slave in the South and, in flashback scenes, a happily free family man in the North. The contrast is an effective one, because it's one thing to experience pain but another to go through it after losing all of what you cherish. Overall, Ejiofor captures both emotions equally well.
Given the hopelessness of being enslaved, the movie doesn't really have a plot that progresses and advances towards something, and that's OK. The real purpose of this film is to present the many moments of misery in captivity. Whether it's the excruciating pain of being whipped repeatedly, the heartbreak of being separated from family during slave trades, or the heartless verbal abuse of slave owners, there is not a single moment that won't make you cry with sadness, scream with anger, or both. The film presents a clear picture of a life where there is little hope, if any at all, and where mercy from pain is the only salvation.
For me, there were certainly a couple of scenes that stood out for me. I definitely felt sorrow when a young slave girl asks Solomon to kill her and end her suffering, a request that only scares Solomon given its moral ambiguity. There's also the part where Solomon's master is suspicious that his slave can actually read and write. Perhaps the most striking scene is where Solomon is left hanging with a noose around his neck. The rope is raised high enough to choke him if he fails to support himself by standing on his toes in a puddle of soft mud. Adding to the tension is how other slaves ignore him, not because they don't care at all but because any sign of care might result in death in the hands of the master.
12 Years a Slave was directed by Steve McQueen, who definitely seems to have a passion for bringing this harrowing but important true story to the big screen. The result is a film that breaks our hearts, leaves us with a sense of guilt and sorrow, and inspires us to think about what it really means to be a human being with a heart. If anyone wants to really understand what slavery is like, 12 Years a Slave is no doubt a good film to start with. And maybe while you're at it, read the book written by Solomon Northup himself, in his own words.
For more information about 12 Years a Slave, visit the Internet Movie Database.