After attending the DC screening of the movie last night, it is obvious why 12 Years A Slave is being hailed as a masterpiece and future best picture contender . Nothing is pretty about slavery, and despite its romantic costuming and pristine plantations, 12 Years a Slave, in theaters Friday, October 18, 2013, reminds you of that fact with each passing moment. A true story based on the book of the same title, the film tells the harrowing yet enlightening tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a man born into freedom, then snatched away from his career and family and sold into slavery in the deep south.
The film, directed by Steve McQueen, doesn’t serve to exalt slaves, nor antagonize the masters. From the start, slave and slavers alike have both endearing and disgusting qualities. Much like the opening scene, which features a group of wide eyed men lined up in the center of a sugar cane plantation, the viewer, and the main character, Solomon, are not sure what to expect of slavery, but impart on the journey together.
It isn’t until the flashback montages that one discovers Solomon was born a free man, married, cultivated a successful music career, and raised a son and daughter in Saratoga, New York, before he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. It is also apparent through these montages, that Solomon, though an African living in America, was as distanced from the physical and emotional realities of the institution of American slavery as a person visiting from another country. Ironic, is it then, that the first film in theaters to accurately and historically depict the era is produced by a British director.
They say the truth lies in the eyes, and through masterfully acted scenes Solomon (Ejiofor) transforms from a naive and bright eyed though articulate and poised young man, into a solemn and aged man, whose eyes seem to darken with each truth that is revealed to him while quite literally navigating through the waters on his passage into slavery. With each broken family, overzealous master, and harsh betrayal, Solomon loses the vibrancy in his eyes, but becomes more determined to live. The light finally returns, when he is reunited with his family thanks to a letter written to his family in New York, by a benevolent Canadian carpenter (Brad Pitt) listening to his story while on the final and most unpleasant plantation Solomon had displeasure of working
The movie, 2 hours and 14 minutes, kept a steady pace, though there are times the movie seemed to hold back. Though there were scenes of rape and violence, and an awkward sexual scene in the beginning between Solomon and some unnamed female slave, absent was the gratuitous gore that was associated with another movie centered in slave times, D’Jango Unchained.
Where D’jango showed the physical damage of slavery, 12 Years A Slave was intense because it showed the emotional effects of slavery. From the beginning the themes of broken family, loss of identity, woman as sole care giver, woman as sexual object, and misused Christianity were prevalent and prevailed throughout the movie. To watch the movie without pondering these themes and how it relates to American culture today would be nearly impossible.
Besides being a necessary and entertaining piece of work, the film is thought and conversation provoking. The movie is not self-pitying, or hatred filled, nor does it appeal to one type of audience. Though not his intention, McQueen successfully tells one man’s story while telling the story of so many others. The satisfied slave, the rebellious slave, the master who married his slave, the free man not the least bit concerned by slavery until trapped in it, the kind master and everything in between are all explored.
Who is the movie intended for? Everyone. Armed with phenomenal acting and a captivating story, the movie appeals to an audience as diverse as the land its set in.