Brilliant. Intense. Profoundly indigestible. The tale of Solomon Northup– an accomplished violinist and free black man living with his family in the free North (New York), before being unexpectedly stripped of his freedom beginning his 12 torturous years as a slave– is an unforgettable one.
This awe-striking movie, tugs at the emotional fabric holding the audience together and challenges them over-and-over again, with wave-after-wave of enough tear-jerking moments and graphic violence, to fully engage each and every eye on screen for the duration of the film.
Bleak is the default tone throughout Steve McQueen’s acclaimed (Academy Award – Best Picture) masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave. Solomon Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is forced to endure the will-breaking horrors of slavery in the 1840’s South after being drugged at a dinner which he was invited to under the pretense of being offered a job playing violin in the circus. As Solomon awakens from the night before, he finds himself chained signaling the beginning of the calamitous journey that will forever leave both Northup and the audience changed.
More misfortune would befall Northup after his improbable journey lands him in the clutches of one of the south’s most barbarous slave owners in Master Epps, portrayed by Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender. An unfortunate sequence of events thrusts Northup into the arduous challenges of surviving the South’s most wicked slave owner in Fassbender. Northup’s ability to endure the harshest of will-breaking conditions for twelve agonizing years, is what takes him from free man, to slave, to hero. The metamorphosis that Solomon experiences is one that the audience will not soon forget.
This movie is as real of a depiction of the master and slave dynamic as there has been in cinematography. As a film that centers itself around a plot with this much pain and suffering attached to it, it would have been impossible for McQueen to depict the dehumanizing nature and woeful strife of the slave era’s violent past, without authenticating those times down to the bloody detail.
McQueen embraces this challenge for 134-minutes, while catching the subtle nuances that underscore the master and slave dynamic. Fassbender’s wickedness garnered well-deserved Academy Award buzz, while costars Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofur and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyongo’o also breathed believable life into McQueen’s characters.
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, simply put, is the the best slave movie ever made. I do not want to categorize this project, as I think it deserves praise beyond its ‘slave movie’ designation; however the movie itself serves as a 134 minute fictitious snap shot of what slaves had to endure during a very dark time in American history, and this movie’s importance will be immortalized thanks to McQueen’s brilliance. While hard to digest at times, 12 Years a Slave earned every bit of gaudy 96% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the veneration from the Academy bestowed was well deserved for this graphic masterpiece.