12 Years A Slave

There are movies I love seeing over and over again because I get something different out of them on each viewing or just flat out enjoy revisiting the characters. Then there are great films that are searing, unsettling, and intense that I am very glad to have seen but don’t plan to watch again.Schindler’s List was such a film as is 12 Years A Slave. Obviously being mentioned in the same sentence as Spielberg’s magnum opus means that it’s an outstanding film. It is, but it’s still not an experience I’d repeat.

My biggest issue was the way director Steve McQueen’s camera lingered on the beating/torture scenes, which while absolutely necessary last a bit too long for my taste. This is *realistic* screen violence, not cartoonish violence ala Tarantino, which is why at times it felt like torture porn instead of art. Perhaps I should just call it a necessary evil and move on to the film’s many strengths.

12 Years A Slave is a fascinating and well acted film featuring a great lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, and stellar supporting turns by Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as the barking mad and sadistic Epps’ who were Solomon’s second owners. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a “humane” slave owner who when push comes to shove sells Solomon to the crazed Fassbender. Paulson as Mrs. Epps may be even scarier than her wild-eyed husband because she’s cool, calm and collected in her cruelty.

Solomon Northup is an interesting character. An educated fiddler, he’s also terribly naive and way too trusting at two points in the narrative. The men who sell him into bondage lure him with praise for his talents and high pay for the time: 4 bucks a day. With the scent of greed wafting in the air, Solomon agrees to go to Washington DC, which was a quasi Southern city in 1841. A big mistake for which he pays with his freedom. The second mistake was in trusting a “down on his luck” former overseer played by Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood fame. The minute I saw him I knew that he’d betray Solomon. Mercifully, kindly Brad Pitt saves the day and Solomon is freed.

12 Years A Slave was shot in Louisiana and the story behind Northup’s 1853 memoir being re-printed by the LSU Press was featured in an Advocate story:

Solomon Northup’s story in the film “12 Years a Slave” may never have
seen the screen if not for two dedicated Louisiana historians.

than a century after its initial publication, Northup’s memoir was
known to few outside of the academic world before a new edition edited
by Sue Eakin, then an University of Southwestern Louisiana history
student, and Joseph Logsdon, a New Orleans history professor, helped the
world rediscover the harrowing tale.

After separately discovering
the story, Eakin and Logsdon each tracked down scores of historical
documents supporting Northup’s account and published the proof in their
1968 LSU Press edition.

“Without their work, it would probably
have been dismissed as hearsay to a certain extent and challenged,” said
Dawn Logsdon, the 52-year-old daughter of Joseph Logsdon who lives in
San Francisco. “It’s nice to have that sort of authentication behind

Go Tigers. We do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to them. It would be nice if they received some acknowledgement if the movie version wins an Oscar but I’m not holding my breath.

I give 12 Years A Slave a grade of A, 4 stars, 9 out of 10, or whatever rating system floats your boat. It’s disturbing, well-made and faithful to both history and the source material. It was so good that I neglected to comment on director Steve McQueen’s having the same name as the King of Cool. Until now, that is…

4 thoughts on “12 Years A Slave

  1. mea culpa!
    just love teasing you so much … would a bacon maple donut help make it better?

  2. Good review, and thanks for the link to the Advocate article. I took advantage of the nice weather Saturday to walk over to the Book Festival–Frank Eakin and Lou Gossett spoke.
    Also saw Mark LaFlaur.
    The movie is on my list, though I haven’t decided if I’ll go to the theater or watch it on the small screen.

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