12 Years a slave

I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” — Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup was a free, educated African-American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He spent twelve years on plantations in Louisiana, enduring horrible treatment with an awe-inspiring nobility, before being able to escape the life of a slave and become one of the most important figures of the abolitionist movement.

This gut-wrenching movie, which was based on a true story, won three Academy Awards and was praised as the best film of 2013. It was based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, and although the story is embellished a little with details that have been criticized for their historical inaccuracy, at its core, this movie portrays a history of slavery with such dignity and grace.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, the actor that plays Solomon Northup, gives an incredible performance both with his words and his body language. He shows the depth of the main character’s transition from a life of freedom into slavery, where his humanity is stripped away from him and his torture constantly justified by the slave masters’ twisted ideology.

One of these slave masters is played by Michael Fassbender, who plays Edwin Epps, another historical figure, so vividly that we instantly hate his vicious, cruel character. It’s a typical example of a flawed man who was given way more power than he should ever have, turning him into a sadistic figure taken straight from your worst nightmares.

Not all of the men who owned slaves were as bad. Benedict Cumberbatch plays William Ford, a slave owner who, as much as he was a decent person, was still shaped by his circumstances and displayed fear when faced with a chance of guilt.

On the plantation of Edwin Epps we meet Patsey, a prized and favored slave played by the beautiful and talented Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. She is the emotional focus point of the movie, and unlike Solomon, she was born into the slave life and never knew any sort of dignity. Lupita Nyong’o plays her role with an air of unbearable tragedy. It’s an unforgettable performance.

Steve McQueen, the director, said he found inspiration in the paintings of Francisco Goya, and when you see the movie, it’s clear in what way. The long, painting-like shots full of contrasts have an undeniable aesthetic appeal even in the most gruesome scenes. The mesmerizing camera work, with closeups of the faces filled with fear, reminds us of the lost humanity of the era. The costumes the characters wore are historically accurate and they match the tone of the movie, using predominantly earth tones. The music, composed by Hans Zimmer, evokes another layer of emotion and adds beauty to a world scarred by the acts of men.

12 Years a Slave is not an easy movie to watch. It’s captivating for sure, keeping you involved and interested in Solomon’s journey. Some have criticized it for focusing on one man who earned his freedom, rather than showing the struggles of millions of slaves who never got one. Regardless of this criticism, it’s an important movie because it showcases the reality of the life of a slave in an original way. It is an ode to the power of human spirit. It also shows some of the uglier sides of human nature. It invokes shame. But it’s important that it does.

This movie will face you with desperation unlike any you’ve seen on screen before. Give this masterpiece a chance, and it will give back so much more to you.

IMDb 4 /5
4 out of 5
Rotten Tomatoes 4.8 /5
4.8 out of 5
Rogue Cinema 4.6 /5
4.6 out of 5
Overall

Combined average

4.47out of 5

Good
4.47 out of 5
Category Drama

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