12 Years a Slave

Last night I went to the movies and I went to see “12 Years a Slave”, directed by Steve McQueen. I did not want to go see it in Italian, because I wanted to appreciate it in English, but I gave in and went to see it.

I’ve seen 2 other movies by Steve McQueen (Hunger and Shame), I like the issues he addresses and how he addresses them; it always helps that most of the times the protagonist in his movies is Michael Fassbender (my favorite actor).

“12 Years a Slave” is a beautiful movie, based on Solomon Northup’s true story, with beautiful sceneries and music. I think the music is what makes the movie so emotional – I myself shed a tear in a couple of scenes.

I loved how crude the movie was at times, because it portrayed exactly how it was at the times, when slavery was still legal, and how it  concentrated on the slave’s conditions almost entirely: for example, in “Django Unchained” directed by Quentin Tarantino, the director shows some of the slave’s conditions, but it’s much more focused on Django’s “revenge” and quest to take his wife away from the cotton plantation owner. It’s curious how in both movies the protagonist is saved by a “foreigner”: in “12 Years a Slave” the only (white) man that actually tries to help and (later on) saves Solomon is a Canadian carpenter (played by Brad Pitt), and in “Django Unchained” it’s Dr King Schultz, an austrian dentist, that frees Django.

Returning to “12 Years a slave”, I recognized 3 moments in this movie, crucial moments for the protagonist. At first Solomon accepts the violin by Mr Ford and plays, tries to write a letter to his family, so he still has hope to become free again; then we can notice how at one moment he starts singing with the slaves: this had never occurred before, but he is finally accepting that he probably will never be saved; and finally he breaks his violin, as to say: “I’m a slave, I’m no better than everybody else, and what actually differentiates me from the others is what is damaging me the most”.

What I disliked of this movie is how little it showed the psychological aspects of the other characters. For example: Mr Ford is a compassionate man and helps Solomon; I do not question the fact that he had slaves, because it was “normal” back then (especially in the South) and it was strange if you didn’t have them! What struck strange to me was why he had certain men working for him, brutal men that treated the slaves like animals; and then I would’ve like to understand better Michael Fassbender’s character: was he just crazy? Or was he just and alcoholic? Or was he alcoholic BECAUSE he was crazy? And what was up with the wife and, most of all, Betsy?

But anyway, since the movie is pretty much based on the book by Solomon, I guess some things weren’t even addressed.

I loved this movie and I cannot wait to see it in English  as well, because it certainly lost a lot of it’s character and preciousness with the translation.



5 thoughts on “12 Years a Slave

  1. Not many people are able to see the big missing point which you mentioned. The psychological aspects of slavery are always put aside and I don’t understand why. It makes me feel like the slaves were content with the situations they put themselves in. I’m glad someone has the guts to speak objectively about a film which has such a sensitive soul. Django does much more for the self esteem of the oppresed and thats much more important than any Oscar or critical recognition.

  2. I agree with what you say! I guess that the director was so preoccupied about telling Solomon’s story that he put aside so many things that probably couldn’t even be represented fully anyway , but it would’ve been a much more complete movie if he had!

  3. Good points made on this movie. They do touch, although lightly, upon the psychological effects. Think about the way most of the slaves act and react to their situation. These people have been beaten down both physically and mentally. And your curiosity about why the characters of the two slave owners were the way they were is no mystery. Michael Fassbender’s character was not insane or an alcoholic. He, like many people back then, thought of people who were different from them as nothing more than animals to be owned. And just like in today’s society, we have people who beat animals and children because they think they have the right to do so not necessarily due to intoxication or impaired brains but for some they are brought up to believe they have the right to treat those who appear weaker or different with intolerable acts. It’s all in the upbringing. They are taught certain ways and many do not question that which they are taught. The slave owner’s wife also acted in accordance to the times. It is a sad chapter in history indeed. There were more slave owners like Fassbender’s character than there were of Cumberbatch’s character, unfortunately, but some did exist here and there.

    1. You’re right on many points! But I do question Cumberbatch’s character as well, because he was compassionate and all, but the people that worked for him were not, so why hire them in the first place? And I can understand Fassbender’s charater more than Cumberbatch’s more, because at least Fassbender actually believed that slaves were like animals and acted accordingly (not that even animals should be treated that way, of course), while Cumberbatch most times treated the slaves as human beings, but still kept them as slaves! What I mean is that while Cumberbatch’s character was admirable for many things, at the same time he was not coherent with what he thought: I do not question the slavery in the USA, because in the South it was the reality, but how could Mr Ford live with himself KNOWING that slaves were people and not thinking they were animals and keep them anyway?
      About Fassbender’s character, the mistery is: why, if he was so disgusted with black people, considering them his property, did he fall in love (because I guess you could call it love, in a sick way) with Betsy? I mean there are so many things Steve McQueen decided to overlook! Of course, it was an adaptation based on the novel by Solomon Northup himself, so many things probably aren’t even touched in the book, but at the same time, I just think he could’ve done a “better job” on certain aspects, most of all psychological, of this story.

      1. Ford conformed to the norm. He didn’t feel that it was wrong to own slaves, People accept it even if it’s not right because society says it’s okay, much like using animals in circus shows for our amusement instead of letting them be themselves in the wild. He may have been compassionate to a point but to him his slaves were still property, and some people take better care of their property than others. As for his employees, Ford also accepted their behavior as normal. If he had went against the grain as it were in that time period and decided to free his slaves, his plantation would have fell to ruin. This was a fear of many plantation owners and why the southern states were so reluctant to give up slavery. Their economy was built on slave labor. Why give someone a salary when you can buy somebody once and work them into the ground without spending any extra money making you all the richer for saving the money you would have spent on a salaried worker?

        As for Epps, he did not love Patsy. Again, it is the mentality to do whatever he wanted with his property. And like some men, he probably had an itch to scratch that monogamy just could not scratch fully. Also, rape is often used as a tool to assert power and control. Him coming to her in the night was not love at all. He was asserting his dominance as well as scratching that itch in any way he could.

        Some slave owners felt you could get more out of their workers by not being so rough where others felt the need to rule with an iron fist.

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