Movie Review: 12 Years A Slave

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 Stars

Bottom line:  Dark.  Depressing.  Brilliant.

It is hard to admit that you liked a film such as “12 Years a Slave”.  It is a brutal and honest recounting of the darkest part of American history.  It is based on the autobiography of the same name which recounts the twelve years that free man Solomon Northup spent in slavery after being kidnapped and sold in the South.  Free Blacks being kidnapped and sold into slavery was a common occurrence.  The uncommon occurrence was Solomon Northrup being rescued from slavery and being able to write about it for the world to hear.  I do not feel that I am spoiling the ending by telling you this because it may make you feel a lot better to know that the movie has a happy ending.  If you can call that happy.  The many unhappy endings throughout make even this small victory bitter.

The injustices perpetrated upon Solomon Northup are legion, but the one that sticks in my mind the most is the one done at the hands of Ford, the “good” slave owner.  There is little doubt that Ford knew all along that Northup was once free and, despite his decent treatment of his slaves, he did nothing to help Northup and ends up selling Northup the minute he becomes inconvenient.  To some extent, one must accept the evil in the world, but putting on a facade of good to cover the rot in your soul gets to me more than the actions of the cruellest of dictators.

Despite it’s dark content, there is a lot of beauty in this movie as well.  The dire circumstances are interspersed with hauntingly beautiful landscapes that only the South can provide.  Director Steve McQueen (not THAT Steve McQueen) does a remarkable job of not only bringing to life the daily cruelties but also the daily pleasures that slaves try to bring to their lives.

This is certainly not a feel good movie and the violence is often quite graphic.  That makes it very hard to recommend this movie to a general audience.  But neither life nor history is all rainbows and lollipops.  Sometimes you need to look into the dark maw of the past to see our not so sparkly past.  Only then can we create a slightly less muddy future.