“12 Years a Slave” was the first Oscar nominee I watched this awards season. Now I don’t want to make a judgment about the other films that I haven’t seen yet, but after seeing this I can’t imagine why American Hustle swept the Globes instead of this film. But I’ll get more into that after I see Hustle.
Quick Synopsis– “12 Years a Slave” is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was a free man living in the north with his wife and two children before he was kidnapped, brought south and sold into slavery. The film documents his time as a slave, as well as his struggle to keep believing that he will one day see freedom again as he endures countless, unbearable hardships.
Thoughts– In my opinion, this movie has all the makings of a Best Picture winner. Or at least the tropes. It’s an inspirational (1) historical (2) biopic (3) based on a book (4) about a man facing extreme suffering (5). Whew! But honestly, it’s a great film. As excruciating as it is to watch, you can’t tear your eyes away. The acting across the board is superb; the pacing is deliberate but entrancing; and the film stays with you long after you leave it.
Steve McQueen is a fearless director here. He uses every tool in his arsenal to keep the audience as close to Solomon’s suffering as possible, and it works. I felt like I didn’t breathe for the entire length of the film. Chiwetel Ejiofor is just as fearless, and every new pain seems different and deeper than the one that came before it. His relief at being freed at the end is beautiful, and I dare you not to weep. His journey is long, but his performance is never anything less than 100% committed. Michael Fassbender, playing Solomon’s seriously sociopathic second master, is terrifying and unpredictable. The tension between him and Ejiofor is fantastic and stomach-churning. Lupita Nyong’o plays the object of Fassbender’s obsession (to the ire of Sarah Paulson, his wife). Her desperate plea to Solomon is heart-wrenching. I know I’ve used way too many adjectives here, but I seriously cannot describe this film positively enough. Like I said before, I can’t imagine any film besting this one in my opinion, but it’ll be interesting to watch them try!
I’ve heard people say that it didn’t do very well at the Globes (taking home the top prize for Drama but none of the acting or directing prizes) because it’s too difficult to sit through. I call bullshit on that. Yes, it is difficult to sit through. But it’s important to sit through. Human suffering shouldn’t be easy to watch. For too long in American cinema, slavery has been a supporting character to the Civil War or simply breezed past… It’s beyond time for a major film to deal with it in an honest, brutal way. Slavery was a major part of our country’s history and we need films like “12 Years a Slave” to spark a conversation, and to continue to help heal our country (because if you think racism is dead, get to know more people and go to more places). I know I promised no more pretension, but I can’t help it here. Everyone should watch this movie, and everyone should be talking about it.