“Twelve Years A Slave” – 134 minutes, Biography/Drama/History Director: Steve McQueen, Writers: John Ridley, Solomon Northrup, Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northrup), Michael K. Williams Michael Fissbender (Edwin Epps), Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps, Benedict Cumberbatch (First Slave Owner), Cameo by Brad Pitts Based on the true life story of Solomon Northrup, who is a free black man from upstate New York, who is abducted and sold into slavery. Set in pre-Civil War
There are only a few types of horror stories that are of interest to me. Both are historical: one is the Holocaust and the other, Slavery. As repugnant as the topics may be, for me it is a respectful witnessing of history. It feels almost as a duty, an obligation to honor the memory of the suffering of others by that witnessing. However, in that witnessing I hope to find some amount of resolution to the resiliency of the human spirit over evil.
There is a haunting account of near lynching of Solomon as the lead attempts to stand on his tippy toes in the mud for hours averting death. As the hours pass, life in the slave village continues as if he were invisible. Would the slaves be so terrified they would not have helped him? What a horrible idea, yet, purportedly it is true.
Unknown, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northrup) does an exceptional portrayal of the dignified free man turned slave. Solomon struggles with despair and hope through his enslavement. Director McQueen allows the audience to determine what is more horrifying: a supposedly good, even religious man (The First Slave Owner) played perfectly by the accomplished Benedict Cumberbatch, who turns away from what he knows is the right thing OR the flogging, beatings, rape and mere possession of human beings as property? Horrors are horrors any way we consider them. Sarah Paulson, as Mistress Epps, is convincing as the Mistress of the Manor, jealous of her husband’s lust for a slave woman but lacking in her own freedom to leave him. There is a solid cast of actors, few of them recognizable (so unlike the recent star-studded cast of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”). That I liked; it allowed me to get into the cast of characters more easily.
However, something is missing in this movie: balance. If the director is determined to take us through the brutality of slavery we want to find redemption by the end of the movie. The abrupt ending didn’t allow that. Shouldn’t there be some element of emotion, of, joy, even of ecstasy in his regained freedom? Suddenly, Solomon stands before his muted, immobile family, and you have to wonder how well he will fit back into their circle of love and freedom.What comes next? Those questions are not adequately answered even with the postscript at the end of the movie. We wanted more. Perhaps, that is the point.