Saturday, December 07, 2013

12 Long Years

I saw 12 Years A Slave yesterday. It's a true story based on the memoir of a free black man in the 1800s who was kidnapped and sold into slavery until his rescue 12 years later.

My movie going companion and I have had this flick on our list for a while but kept allowing ourselves to put it off. Earlier this week we put our viewing on the books and I insisted that we stick to it. My reasoning is that, as tough a watch as it is, it's an important story to see and to know. We could have read the book, I still might, but either way bearing witness to a first hand account of the truths of slavery in America is something we owe ourselves and our fellows. Racism isn't over and the more we know the better equipped we are for the necessary conversations.

So, obviously, those are all the reasons I think you should see it, too. Yes, there are physically graphic scenes. Yes, there are emotionally graphic ones. Yes, it's possible that you will feel wildly uncomfortable in your seat through much of the film. You should still go see it. Then you should come back and read the spoilers (below the row of asterisks) so we can discuss them. Before you see the movie this is all I want to say.

Oh, and one more thing, it's 133 minutes long. Don't be like the ladies sitting behind us and schedule something directly after the movie, not check the run time, and make a noisy exit 15 minutes from the end. Someone might stab you with an umbrella. Just sayin'.


Lupita Nyong'o is beautiful. She plays a character whose master is obsessed with her. As a result she is repeatedly physically injured in a variety of ways. Somehow, despite the injuries she remains stunning in a way that puts the audience in the position of her master. We can't help but love her no matter how broken she gets.

One of the injuries, well it's not just one injury but one instance of her being injured is a whipping. It is graphic on a lot of levels. It is wrenching for many characters but it is especially physically disgusting. I mean, that's what whipping does to a body. Remember when Mel Gibson made a movie about Christ and there was the extended flogging scene and people were vomiting in the theatres, fainting and having to be carried out, running out of the cinema traumatized? I've seen both. They are at least equally awful. Hear about anybody having any of these extreme reactions while watching 12 Years a Slave? Yeah, me neither.

Alfre Woodard has one scene and she deserves some kind of award. She plays a slave whose master fell in love with her and actually married her so she is mistress of the house with slaves of her own. She enjoys hosting slaves from other plantations for tea on Sabbath. She loves having people wait on her. She lived through all that they did, though. The actress rides a line of understanding that is both gorgeous and horrifying.

The movie is produced by Brad Pitt's company, Plan B. I'm often impressed by the choices his company makes. Pitt makes a short appearance late in the movie at a pivotal juncture. He is, basically, just being himself in some period clothes. It's distracting and I wish they'd made a different casting choice.

I wonder what it was like for all the actors to make this movie. It feels like one of the ones that could bring you to a place of insanity, having to live in that world every day.

A lot of people in the theatre reacted vocally to the movie. The reactions sounded, though, kind of exasperated. I'm pretty sure they weren't exasperated at the story but more at the fact that someone was "making" them watch it. I think that's telling about how we view the hard stuff. Nobody wanted to have to see something that we wished hadn't happened.

There was one black person in the room. It was an art cinema on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a Friday afternoon. Of course the long time ticket takers are all black.

1 comment:

  1. We saw it a couple of weeks ago. Like you say, not an easy watch. There were some scenes when it almost seemed as if no one was breathing. The theatre we were in, in West Los Angeles, was probably at least 50% African American.