Wednesday, April 23, 2014

12 Years a Slave is a Masterful Portrayal of the Human Experience

To try and put the emotional response evoked from a film like 12 Years a Slave into words is impossible.  The film transcends modern cinema in a way I’ve never seen to the point of being an instant classic; and an adaptation which will go down as one of the absolute best in the history of film making.  The film takes its name and events from the journal of Solomon Northrup, published as his memoir in 1853.  It follows Solomon’s harrowing descent from New York high society where he lives in a comfortable and many would say luxurious home with his wife and two children, to the confines of American slavery in the deep South.  Swindled by two con men, Solomon is captured, imprisoned, and secretly smuggled to Georgia where he is sold into the darkest institution this country’s history has ever had to come to terms with.  Solomon spends the next 12 years biding his time and surviving as best he can.  During that time he lives on three different plantations under three very different masters which not only represents the varied opinions and personalities of the white men in control, but also the distinctly different experiences of the slaves in their possession.  Survival is not what Solomon wants though.  He famously says “I do not want to survive, I want to live”.  This statement is made all the more profound by the fact that Solomon was a free man.  He was not born into slavery, he did not escape its confines; he was born and lived as a free man before that freedom, which many human beings take for granted, was stripped from him in the most vile and aggressive way possible.  In this way, the film forces the viewer to reflect on not only their own freedom, but also the fact that for over 200 years we not only denied that right to fellow human beings but took it a savage step further.  The violence in the film is prevelant, aggressively accurate, and completely necessary.  The pain and suffering endured by not only Solomon but the many slaves he encounters during his time in captivity reveals the unrelenting brutality and systematic dehumanization of an entire group of people.  Trust and hope are the only two things Solomon has left and in the end, it will be a combination of the two that saves him.  The film unquestionably deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture and director Steve McQueen has no doubt created a masterpiece.  Superb acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fastbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brad Pitt make the film an acting powerhouse.  In the end, the viewer is forced to contemplate the experience of all involved in the institution of slavery as you ponder how so many people could turn a blind eye to such insatiable human suffering.

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