12 Years a Slave

We watched 12 Years a Slave the other day. Soon afterward, having thought about it for a bit, I jotted down my thoughts and reactions. In no particular order, here they are.

The rare use of music really caught my attention. It’s almost like Castaway in that regard. Only items or ensembles directly tying into the story line are included, with very few exceptions. Platt had his fiddle that he brought out on occasion, and there were points in the story where they used gospel-like singing (Wikipedia tells me the term gospel wasn’t in existence during that period of time). The very few times when non-inclusive sound was used were in very impactful scenes. During these they would use low and almost monotonous chords which heightened the emotional feel of the respective scenes.

Both of us appreciated the true to life encounters throughout the film. In reality people come and go in our lives - villians are there for brief periods, then they fade away with no “arc-like” resolution to be found. Such is how it went in this movie, and it was refreshing. We see bad people who don’t get vengenance as well as good people who do nothing but add short, bright spots to an otherwise deplorable situation. There was no closure in sight for these characters because that’s the way life is. I’m happy that the writers avoided the temptation to do typical Hollywood wrap-ups.

This is obviously a movie about slavery, but the usage of long scenes made us feel the suffering much more than just digesting what was happening. When Solomon is tied up to a tree for almost an entire day, the camera lingered on him for what felt like forever. We saw friends and enemies walk by him, unable or unwilling to help. We’re meant to put ourselves in Solomon’s shoes and to feel his helplessness.

The overt use of the color black adds a worse-than-bleak feel to the movie. It brought out feelings of desperation and a complete lack of hope. In a scene where Solomon is forced to burn a letter, we can see his hope burning away with it.

Some scenes were zoomed way too much, and I’m not sure why. We see steam boat paddles and Michael Fassbender’s eyes in two different scenes, and I can’t really say they did anything for me. I’m sure they meant something, though.

There were some character weaknesses brought on by poor development or just sub-par acting. I felt Brad Pitt’s character came out of nowhere, even though he plays a crucial role in how things turn out. He deserved a bit more development besides just being a carpenter that showed up one day. As it is, his character and his surrounding story weren’t believable (though the film is based on a true story). Beyond him, I also thought the woman who played the slaver’s wife over-acted, with the result being a robot-like performance. Her character was supposed to be cold and unforgiving, not inhuman!

I came in thinking it was going to be Chiwetel Ejiofor’s show, but it turned out to be Michael Fassbender’s. He showed unbelievable acting skill and great dedication to his role. All throughout he played the perfect psychopath slaver. I look forward to seeing more of him! I’m sure with this performance he’ll get a lot more offers in the future. Cheers to him.

In short, the movie is well worth seeing. I wouldn’t be writing about it if otherwise! Let the scenes marinate in your mind a bit and they’ll work their way into your conscious thoughts. I know they have merged into mine.