Thursday, May 29, 2014

12 Years a Slave on DVD

My interest in the Oscar nominees has grown over the past few years. I believe I watched nearly all the Best Picture nominees from last year. This year, however, I wasn't so excited about the options. There were only a couple I was really interested in seeing, and even then, I'm taking my time to get around to them.

I just watched 12 Years a Slave, and I'm not sure I can say that I liked it. It was certainly well-done and deserving of its Best Picture award. My husband did some research and found it was mostly pretty accurate, horrifically enough. I wasn't necessarily surprised by what I saw, being familiar with some of the details of slavery, but it was pretty amazing (and not in a good way, as Brad Pitt's character says) that it all happened to one man. It's based on the true story of Solomon Northup, an educated, free black man who was kidnapped and enslaved in the mid-1800's. He wrote a memoir about his experiences, and the movie is based on that.

I can't say I like the movie because,'s brutal stuff, vividly depicted in a visual medium. It's rated R for obvious reasons, among which are violence, nudity (not sexual), and some sex scenes (they are not too graphic, but they are disturbing). Just because something is hard to watch doesn't mean you shouldn't, but each person must take into account what they can handle. In some ways, I'm glad I've seen this movie, but at the same time, I don't think it was necessary. I'm not changed because of it. It disturbed me but didn't impact me. I'm not sure I would really recommend it to anyone. I keep wondering what the purpose of this movie was. Is our culture still so racist that we need this reminder? Will anyone who is racist actually see this movie, and if they do, will it change them? Slavery is awful. What was done shouldn't have been done. But I wonder if we dwell on the past too much when the present has enough injustices of its own. The past is "safe." What's that saying: "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission"? It's easy to say "I'm sorry" for something that's over. It's harder to stand up for our beliefs and put them into practice right now.

I'm not saying it's the movie industry's job to speak out on modern-day issues (though I'm sure they could certainly figure out a way to do so to great effect, as can be seen with the way they've pushed gay rights). It's not the movie industry's job to fight injustice, but if that was not the purpose of this movie, what was? Surely not entertainment. Perhaps it was to acknowledge an astounding true tale. I can accept that. But if we as a culture are trying to fight injustice, we need to start in the present with the sex trade or abortion, for example. It seems to me that we applaud recognition of our past failures (if I recognize it, I must be better), but we, myself included, merely gasp in horror at the news feed and then silently move on.

In addition to the movie's murky agenda, I didn't think all the nudity was tactfully depicted. You can get the sense of nudity from a person's back. Even bum shots (we all look the same from the back) are better than full frontal nudity which, to warn you, this movie contains. I didn't see the point of it.

One thing, neither bad nor good, that I thought was interesting in the cinematography is that the scenes are long. They are much longer than in most movies, long to the point of being uncomfortable, which I think was the point (and which makes me think there was some moral agenda behind this movie). The beatings are horrifically long. At one point, the main character hangs from his neck, his feet barely touching the ground, for an extended time, not just in terms of hours the man actually hung there in the story but in terms of seconds on the screen. The creators of this movie took time to tell the story well and to make the viewer pay attention. It is only a little over 2 hours long (134 minutes). In terms of how much suffering you can handle, it might feel long, but it is not too long in the sense that it was dragged out.

The music, by Hans Zimmer, is also very dramatic at times, more in keeping with something from Inception (which he also did) than with a period piece, but similarly to the purpose of the longer scenes, I think the purpose was to arouse a sense of foreboding in the viewer.

The acting is superb. Chiwetel Ejiofor (whom I previously knew as the villain from Serenity) is Solomon. And of course, Lupita Nyong'o won Best Actress for her role as Patsey. Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, among other known actors, make small appearances. And the despicable (and way insane) slaver villain is played by Michael Fassbender.

I obviously have mixed feelings about this movie. While I agree that it has all the makings of an Oscar winner and deserves what it got, I don't think it's for the masses. Honestly, I'm not sure whom it's for. Obviously, not someone like me. The critics out there might call me racist or too prudish, but I can only give my opinion, regardless of how people may misconstrue it. I may be the last one to see this, but if you were considering it still, hopefully my review can help you make a better-educated decision about whether or not to see it.

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