Watching "12 Years a Slave"
Published on November 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "12 Years a Slave."

Here's an excerpt:

“'12 Years a Slave' is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen this year, which is a bit ironic given its subject matter: the brutality of slavery. Each scene is meticulously composed. The cinematography is excellent. And there’s a richness of detail and physicality that almost makes you feel like you can taste the food the characters are eating, or feel the hot sun as they pick cotton. Few films are this lush and visually intoxicating.

Which doesn’t mean that '12 Years a Slave' is easy to sit through. The film is often quite brutal, and I sometimes wanted to look away from the violence and cruelty. But I couldn’t, perhaps because of the artistry British director Steve McQueen brings to every frame of the film. He wants viewers to understand the experience of slavery — the pain of the lash, the cruel whims of the plantation overseers, the poor living and working conditions. Some critics have accused McQueen of wallowing in misery and rubbing viewers faces in it, but his overall goal, it seems to me, is to tell it like it is. His movie might be pretty — almost painterly, really — but the story it tells is harrowing and horrific.

Local readers might be familiar with Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free-born black man living in Saratoga Springs. In 1841, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for what he believed was a short-term job, and was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen’s opening scenes jump back and forth in time, showing Solomon picking cotton and having a sad yet intense sexual encounter with a fellow slave, as well as his life in Saratoga, where he wore fine clothes and enjoyed a loving relationship with his wife and two children. We know immediately what Solomon has lost, and the terrible circumstances in which he now finds himself."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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