12 Years a Slave ~ A Capsule Movie Review

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Solomon Northup was a real person, a free Northerner, who was kidnapped in 1841, taken to the South and sold into slavery. He wrote a book about his experiences, 12 Years a Slave, and that book has been made into one of the best movies of 2013. It was directed by Steve McQueen (yes, there’s more than one person besides the deceased movie star with that name), who directed the impressive Shame a couple of years ago. In Shame, Michael Fassbender played a sex-addicted New Yorker and in 12 Years a Slave, a sadistic Southern slave owner who has a harpy of a wife as bad as he is.

During the years of his captivity, Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), struggles to maintain his identity, his dignity, and his hope. He is the victim of unspeakable cruelty but, even worse, he sees the same cruelty meted out to others. (When a slave girl named Patsy goes to a nearby plantation to get a piece of soap because she wants to be clean, she is beaten savagely.) The only way Solomon can survive as a slave is to not try to rise above his station. If he reveals that he is an educated, cultivated man, he will likely be killed. He wants desperately to get a letter to his wife and children to let them know where he is and to get them to help him, but he isn’t even supposed to know how to write. Simply getting paper and ink to write a letter is impossible for him. Nobody is to be trusted.

Throughout his long ordeal, Solomon Northup admonishes others not to “give in to despair.” Heeding this advice himself is the only way he survives. One never knows when fate—or the hand of Providence—will intervene on one’s behalf.

In 12 Years a Slave a long-dead world is brought back to life and it’s not a pretty world like Gone with the Wind. It’s an ugly place where cruelty and greed are the order of the day. The little bit of kindness that exists is tempered with fear. With the moss hanging from the trees, the heat, the insect sounds, the plantation houses that look lived in, the cane and cotton fields—but most of all with the slaves—you can almost feel what the South was like before the Civil War. Where else can you find this?

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

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