I hope all of my loyal readers have enjoyed the cinematic climate these past few weeks, because I have been busy not feeling bad about not participating in franchises I don't have any attachment to. Not that there is anything wrong with Thor or Hunger Games or what have you. It's just, when you live in a town like Cedar town, those are the only things that make it to the screen, which I think is a little unfair. So over the holiday I took some time out of family bonding to support my local independent theater and see 12 Years a Slave. I heartily encourage you to go out and see it too.
The movie, directed by Steve McQueen, is based on the memoir by Solomon Northup. He is a free man living in the north and is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
Much, I think, has already been said about this movie, and a great deal of it is accurate. People are saying that not only is it a good movie, but that it is an important one. I agree. In many ways, it is in line with films like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Like those, it shows history through an unfiltered movie lens, giving a powerful and frank depiction. It is not an easy movie to watch, but it is immensely rewarding and incredibly potent. It tells a story that needs telling to all of us who have at best a mediocre grasp of that chapter of our history.
But, of course, this is a movie we are talking about, not a documentary. This is why I think it is so powerful. The same kind of material in a documentary would be powerful, too, but we often draw a thick line between the present and the documented past. In a movie such as this we dive in, removing our insulation, and it has a special kind of emotional immediacy.
The film itself, aside from subject matter, is also impressive. McQueen is less artistically conservative than someone like Spielberg, and his movie has a distinct flavor. There are agonizingly long shots, intricately choreographed segments, and moments of intense simplicity. The film shows us a different side of slavery. Masters are not all brutal racists, and the enslaved are not all bristling for a chance at freedom. There is a complex morality in this world, among the slaves themselves and also between them and their masters. The film's ultimate goal is something of a portrayal for understanding, not necessarily a call to action. It is not a political movie; it is a movie about humanity and its resilience.
12 Years a Slave is justifiably one of the best movies of the year. The story is important, the craft is excellent, and there are several powerhouse performances to carry it through. Even if you are uneasy about violent or graphic movies, I think you should watch this.
12 Years a Slave features Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumber-batch, Paul Giamatti, and Paul Dano, and is rated R for its depiction of life in slavery.
Director: Steve McQueen
Writer: John Ridley
by Chase Harrison