I just finished the Oscar nominated “12 Years a Slave” and I am still a bit taken a back. The movie documented slavery in a way I have never been witness to before. It felt so real and tangible that it was like we were there.
The movie, based on a true story, documented the journey of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a free black man living in upstate New York during the antebellum period of the United States. Northup, an accomplished violinist, goes to Washington with two men and finds himself sold into slavery after a night of drinking and entertainment.
The rest of the movie documents Northup’s twelve years as a slave. The film details things like conditions on slave boats, the meat-market feel of “buying a person,” how slaves rationalized their existence and various other proponents of a period where human beings committed so much violence against one another.
There are some scenes in this movie that are just heart-wrenching. One thing that director Steve McQueen does amazingly is he is not quick to change shots. There is one scene in the film where Northup was hung by a tree after getting in a conversation with a white slaver. While the slaver was run-off, his master did not totally remove him from the rope. The remainder of the scene, which is done with barely a handful of shots, features Northup hung from a tree, toes barely touching the ground, and all the other slaves going about their daily business. It was one of the starkest portrayals of such an indifference to humanity that I have ever seen.
In any other year I think Ejiofor would win Best Actor. The thing I appreciated most about his performance is how his character battles with adversity during the period. He never loses hope that he will find an opportunity back to his true life but he never used that thought as an escape from his situation. The toils of his labor clearly affect his soul and his humanity (there is a shot at the end of the film where he breaks his violin after winding it too tight. It was almost as if he broke a portion of who he was).
It’s easy to talk about Ejiofor’s performance as we essentially go on the journey with him, but there were a lot of strong, memorable performances in the film. Everyone from Paul Giamatti to Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt to the outstanding and probable best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong’o gave performances that added to the overall film.
Bottom line: You need to watch this movie. Go do it. I’d even say pay the $13.99 and buy the download. It is a film and story you need to watch.