The Steve McQueen directed “12 Years a Slave” is not the easiest movie to watch. It’s not fun to watch. It’s not lighthearted. It is, however, incredibly moving.
The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup – a free man living in New York in the 1800s who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The movie, based on a true story, follows his journey through the South as well as his time with several different slave owners. Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender both star as slavers that owned Northup for a time.
This movie has perhaps one of the most clear-cut and accurate representations of the horrors of slavery. The viewer is reminded that even though someone seems like a good and honorable man, he is, as one of Northup’s fellow slaves implies, only a good man under the circumstances.
The viewer begins to almost like Cumberbatch as the kind slave owner. He provides the hope that perhaps things won’t be so bad. Then the film reminds you that regardless of his kindness, he is still a slave owner and that racism still abounds during this era.
The viewer is immersed in Northup’s journey from the beginning of the film. The cuts mirror his situation. When he is being kidnapped the cuts are abrupt, going from soft whispers to loud industrial sounds, or going from slow movements to incredibly fast ones. They make the viewer borderline confused, a feeling that parallels perfectly what the protagonist is feeling.
There is just enough hope in this movie to make the despair much worse. There are scenes in which Northup seemingly gives up hope for convincing people that he is truly a free man and scenes as simple as him gradually becoming more comfortable with singing along with his fellow slaves over the grave of a friend.
After being kidnapped, beaten, betrayed and nearly broken, Northup does eventually see true kindness from Brad Pitt’s character Bass. The film is very well-written and leaves the audience with a much greater sense of some of the struggles that slaves and free men had to deal with during this time period.