12 Years follows the miraculous true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who was wrongfully sold into slavery for 12 years and then freed. From the beginning, this film makes it clear that it is about slavery. It’s about the horrible things the human race has done to itself and it doesn’t hold back. Throughout the film the only pause from the tension and sadness brought on are shots that show off the true beauty of Georgia
Headed by Steve McQueen, an almost entirely British cast comes at slavery in a way that Americans haven’t since the 1977 miniseries Roots. Instead of focusing on making a hero out of Solomon, the movie shows the true hardships and horrors of slavery. Every beating, every fight, every hanging is drawn out and presented in an emotionally raw manner. The film makes sure that its audience understands the true trials and hardships of those who have had their freedom stripped from them.
Chiwetel Ejifor plays Solomon Northup in what is bound to be at least the runner up role of the Oscars. He captures a whole man’s life in his eyes, and a whole life’s suffering in the way that he moves. He transforms from scene to scene, keeping in mind all the hardships and trials. It was beautiful to watch as over the years the accent of a dignified artist from New York was worn away and fought for control against the accent of a Georgia slave.
Though the movie follows the story of Solomon, the film spends a lot of time building side characters such as Eliza (Adepero Oduye) and Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Each person Solomon meets on his journey has a story, has struggles and needs. The people around Solomon suffer more than him at times and it’s heart breaking to watch Solomon be unable to help or save them.
As a drama, 12 Years a Slave is hard-hitting and pointed. Although it is a great film, its unrelenting intensity might put some people off. But the intensity is not without purpose.
The film is playing now at the Varsity Theater in downtown Ashland. I recommend seeing it.