12 Years a Slave

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

For some reason we Dropped The Ball on watching our Netflix DVDs over the past couple months. We seem to have been always playing catchup (via the TiVo) with our regular TV viewing habits. With most of our shows in reruns, we'll probably start DVDing more intensely.

And we started off with 12 Years a Slave, which won three Oscars, including Best Movie. (The others were for Lupita Nyong'o as Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay). It was nominated in six more categories. And the IMDB raters have made it (as I type) #146 on the Top 250 movies of all time. I don't know about that, but it's pretty good.

The story is fact-based on the experiences of Solomon Northup, a free black man with a loving family, living in Saratoga New York, employed as a violinist. Enticed off to a good-paying gig in Washington DC, he is quickly kidnapped, and coerced into assuming the identity of a runaway slave. And then it's off to the South, where he experiences… well, you see the title up there.

The everyday horrors of slavery (over and above the simple obscenity of one person claiming another as property) are displayed explicitly and relentlessly: the everyday violence and torture; the breakup of families; grueling forced labor; betrayal, despair, injustices grand and petty.

There are also occasional hints of the dreadful psychological and cultural toll on the whites involved in the slave culture. Michael Fassbender plays the role of the horrid slave-owner Epps, but not as a cartoonish mustache-twirler: he's somewhat haunted and torn by his own depravity and corruption. (Not enough to actually be a decent human being, but still.)

I should point out that the iconoclastic historian Thaddeus Russell is not a fan:

He's referring to Northrup's original memoir, an "as told to" book that was used as fuel for the abolitionist movement. Point taken. But it's only a guilt-fest if one somehow feels responsible for being vaguely the same color as most of the bad guys here; I don't.

Last Modified 2014-10-07 4:59 AM EDT