My friend and I just witnessed the heartbreaking beauty that is the film, “12 Years a Slave”. Often I find that films with a million (well in this case, nine) Oscar nominations are often overwhelmed by their hype and the final product leaves something wanting. Not so with this film. I could easily say that it is a once in a lifetime film. Steven McQueen has directed a picture that will touch the very core of your humanity but in a subtle story that weaves its way unobtrusively until the final heartbreaking scene when the entirety of it sweeps over you.
Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave follows the journey of a free black man in New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. The entire cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Benedict Cumberbatch deliver performances that leave the audience aching with their truth. The depth in their performances is astounding and every character is finely nuanced and relatable down to the vile slave owner Edwin Epps. His coldness at the repeated rape and abuse of the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) cuts you to the core, but you also see in him a man on the edge, constantly having to justify his actions in the words of the bible and deny that slaves are more than property. Chiwetel Ejiofor also give the performance of his career as Solomon Northup, and his struggle to come to terms with his new life as a slave is the heart of this film.
Sometimes it is easy to let the horrors of our own history become numbers on a page, and even the horrors of our current society become cold statistics. This film somehow does the impossible in a landscape full of films of the violence and atrocity of humans. It makes you think, the even more that that, it makes you feel.
If you see one movie in your life. Let it be this.