12 Years a Slave - 10 stars out of 10
“12 Years a Slave” is not for the faint of heart. Let me reiterate: This is a rough movie and it should only be approached in the proper mindset and with emotional preparation. I am so glad that this autobiography has been revived and put onto the silver screen as it expresses the need to suppress bigotry and racism. It goes beyond Civil Rights awareness and shows a need to leave racial tension in the past by graphically depicting one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history. Although I am not a history expert, it is interesting to read that Dr. Emily West, specialist in the history of US slavery, has been quoted as saying that she has “never seen a film represent slavery so accurately.” To me, that is the seal of approval on this opportunity to view untainted history. The film is so honest in its approach to the pure sadness of the situation, much like “Requiem for a Dream” or “The Passion of the Christ.” The heart of the film lies in the raw, life-like acting from its cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar. He gives one of the most vivid performances that I have ever seen, progressing from a strong-willed free man that will not be treated as a slave to the resignation of what he has become. The slow breaking of this character is symbolized through his violin as every last shred of humanity is stripped away from him and he is left completely empty and void of his will. His performance is matched by Lupita Nyong’o in the role of Patsey, who seems to be the leading choir for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I was not sold on her performance until the whipping scene. Most actress would interpret this scene with extreme duress and pain but Nyong’o approached it with resignation and exhaustion. It told so much of her character - tired of the physical and emotional abuse, tired of living. This role is quite an accomplishment for an actress in her first feature film. These two are supported by seasoned actors who add different perspectives to this look at slavery. Paul Giamatti is the slave trader who viewed it solely as a business without any emotion attached, Benedict Cumberbatch brings the perspective of a master that treated his slaves with respect, Paul Dano is the racist who wanted to cause trouble for the slaves, Brad Pitt is the white man opposed to slavery, and Michael Fassbender (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) gives the extremist view of slavery being sanctioned by the Bible (though I feel that this was a bit exaggerated to create more drama). John Ridley’s screenplay does an amazing job of taking this man’s life and the people that he encountered and representing all perspectives of slavery while maintaining historical accuracy. Adding to the realism of the film are the southern plantations on which they filmed, beautiful but filled with terror. It is amazing how we become desensitized to the powerful images as the film progresses (particularly hangings), and that we even grow to expect them. The two most difficult scenes of the film are the most important and the most impressive. First is the hanging scene. This still shot is unrelenting as we are forced to watch this man slowly suffocate for minutes. It transports us into the position of his fellow slaves who must just walk by, helpless to lend aid to him, and gets particularly rough when you see children playing in the background as if this is a common sight. Even worse is the aforementioned whipping scene. I won’t spoil the scene but it is sure to leave an image that you will never forget, nearly uncut as we see the pain inflicted on a slave over something so trivial as wanting to bathe with soap. Complete with a haunting theme by Hans Zimmer, the raw emotion runs throughout this film from start to finish, saving the most poignant and emotional scene for the end. “12 Years a Slave” is incredible and when you are ready, it may change your life.