12 Years a Slave

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

It’s a rare film that is so powerful and moving that I know I will remember not only the plot but how I felt after watching it: The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, The Excorcist (OK, not all of them are about killing), and now 12 Years a Slave. I said after I saw Django Unchained that while it had some typical Tarantino stylistic exaggerations, graphic violence and revenge fantasy, it served as a necessary reminder of how terrifyingly brutal slavery was in reality. 12 Years a Slave takes this to another level, where you see the human evil, of one man owning others, treating them much worse than he treated his animals, rapes at the drop of a hat, whips to near death at a whim, separates families without a second thought, and preaches the gospel without even considering that what he’s doing every day is a worse sin than anything mentioned in the ten commandments. What elevates this film above documentaries and other films of this subject is the magic of the director, cinematographer and the actors. Ever see a lynching on film? Not like here, you didn’t, where Solomon (the main character played by a soon to be Oscar winner Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up just high enough so his toes can support him on the ground, and they let him hang in the midday sun, gasping for breath, under the watch of the overseer and the occasional glance of the master’s wife while his fellow slaves continue their daily business, and some of their kids play in the field. No dialogue is necessary as the only sound is Solomon’s desperate breathing, a scene that seemed to last hours but is probably 4-5 minutes of just in your face reality you can’t avoid. Made me think am I really of the same species as these people? Was it only 160 years ago that this happened in our country? My grandfather’s parents (maybe) and grandparents (definitely) were living during this time, so it’s really not that long ago. Now flash back to the present time, where apparently 60,000 people are modern day versions of slaves right here in the US (read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/07/opinion/slavery-isnt-a-thing-of-the-past.html)

I won’t get into the plot, which is a perfect vehicle to tell this story, and it’s based on a real person and his real hellish experience. You can read about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Northup

What a film!

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I don’t have much to add to Bill’s excellent review. The movie shows the brutality of slavery, how some people coped and others didn’t, and how it never occurred to many slave-owners that they were doing anything wrong. The movie is well-written, beautifully directed, and has an excellent cast. In addition to the great performance by Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender as a religious but cruel slave-owner, and Lupita Nyong as a slave in one of her first roles were standouts.

As Bill says, this is one of those movies that will definitely stick with you long after you’ve seen it.

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