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12 Years a Slave

Why Do We Watch Movies?
Why Do We Watch Movies?

We watch movies to be entertained, to be educated, to be moved.

My husband and I recently went to see "12 Years a Slave". It was, quite bluntly, dreadful.

The movie was based on the personal accounting of Solomon Northup, a free black man, who in 1841 was abducted and sold into slavery. I did not read his book, but judging by what I have read, the movie did not follow the book very loyally. What a shame. I think I will read it now, if only to redeem a story so deserving to be told.

I do not profess to be a producer, a director, an actor, or a cinematographer. I do not presume to state how this film could have been better. I just want to tell you why I did not like what could have been one of the best movies of all time. I am a middle-aged, white, Canadian woman, and it is a testament to our society that I actually have to qualify that. I am so grateful to not have lived in an age of slavery. No man has the right to enslave another, and to have lived in an era where one race habitually and acceptably treated another as less than human would have been excruciatingly abhorrent to me. Slavery is wrong. Slavery is evil.

I have no doubt that many aspects of slavery in the 1840's were accurately depicted in this film, and it truly had all the elements of a classic, with a compellingly profound story and phenomenal actors. However, the direction was horrendous, the screen writing decimating. The protracted, paralyzingly boring close-ups and shots of gazing at trees were not evocative or artful, but only served to sap the life from the story for me. Added to that, the excessively prolonged moments of having to watch Solomon tap-dancing at the end of a noose, and the constant, brutal whipping scenes made my feelings of pity and disgust and rage almost dulled to the horror.

The cinematography could have been so much better. Settings are characters unto themselves in movies, and instead of bringing to life a Louisiana in the 1840's, I was treated to long minutes of Spanish moss waving in the breeze. It was dull and lack-luster, and added nothing to the film.

The only reason I gave this movie two stars instead of one (zero not being an option here) is because of the memorable performance of some of the actors.

Chiwetel Ejiofor's depiction of Solomon was excellent, considering what he was given to work with. The screenwriter's stripping treatment of who Solomon really was was very unfortunate. From what I understand, he was intelligent and resourceful, used his ingenuity to enhance the lives of his fellow slaves, and was actually forced to be a slave-driver himself for a portion of his enslavement. Including this in the screenplay might have given his character much more dimension, and shown me a man who I could actually root for, instead of just pity immensely.

Lupita Nyong'o was extraordinary as the young slave, Patsey, and is an actress to be watched for in future.

Michael Fassbender is always brilliant, even in crappy movies. This performance was no exception. He was evil incarnate, and made me suspect that Master Epps very likely had syphilis, so crazed and bizarre was he portrayed.

Paul Giamatti does sleaze so well, and here he did not disappoint.

It must be noted that I was downright embarrassed that Brad Pitt as producer cast himself in the role of the big white hero, his acting no better or worse than usual.

Perhaps the best performance was that of Paul Dano. As a white-trash overseer with middle-management power and impotent rage, he made me believe what these men might truly have been like in the times of American slavery.

How sad I am that this movie was not all it could have been. In the end, did it make me think? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons. Was I entertained, educated or moved? Sadly, I was not.

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