12 YEAR’S A SLAVE [2013] movie review

January 14, 2014 · Print This Article

There are scenes in 12 YEARS A SLAVE [2013] of reflection with the only sound the background of nature that reminded me of a Terrance Malick style. It is not often a movie takes that time to breath and become organic. This cinematic portrayal of a true story was what I expected it to be, except I did not anticipate there being so much poetry to it, if you will. This is not meant to be a slight or imply a lack of serious subject matter, but to reflect in the manner the tone of the movie is told in. There is brutality, but I felt the movie was like watching a long form poem of a tragic tale, but one that has a life to it that cannot be muted no matter how little hope remains.

12 YEARS A SLAVE tells the true story of one of the few free black men (or women) who were kidnapped from the north and taken into slavery in the south, and lived to be free in the north again. Solomon seemed to me to be too trusting of people, especially when an offer looked too good to be true as the one he got to perform violin on a circus tour in Washington DC. Maybe people were not so suspicious back then.

What is perhaps different about 12 YEARS A SLAVE from other movies of this type is the complexity with which it depicts the relationships between plantation owner and slave. No plantation owner was some totally over the top character. The tension in the story comes from watching Solomon decide when he should be defiant, truthful or do whatever it takes at that moment to survive as he learns even if he does exactly what he is told, that does not assure his safety. Likewise, the plantation owners openly show affection to some slaves, well mostly toward the pretty women, so the viewer cannot be sure how they will react either.

12 YEARS A SLAVE also avoids overt emotional manipulation. There is not scene after scene of beatings etc, though now that I think more about it maybe there were, but these do not dominate the emotional pull of the movie. I felt the strongest scenes were when Solomon tried to comfort or straighten out first Eliza, and then Patsey. Even when Solomon finally realizes he is free again, it is kind of all of a sudden and no big musical send up. You catch a look in his eye, and that is it, and that is enough.


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