Review: 12 Years a Slave brings audiences to tears

Julianna Heron, Author

Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps audiences intrigued with his portrayal of Solomon Northup's life. 12 Years a Slave is a story about a man's endless journey to get out of slavery and back to his free life.
Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps audiences intrigued with his portrayal of Solomon Northup’s life. The film explores the story about a man’s endless journey to get out of slavery and back to his free life.

In the past few years, there have been many slavery movies released into theaters including Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and Lee Daniel’s “The Butler,” causing many people to roll their eyes when the newest “12 Years a Slave” came into theaters. This film, unlike others, portrays a realistic story on slavery. This attention to realism, however, makes the 134-minute somber film not for the light-hearted, as it gives audiences a deep understanding of the brutality, sexual abuse and intense racism slaves were forced to undergo.

In theaters now, “12 Years a Slave” is a heartbreaking movie that takes you through the incredible true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York who was abducted from his life and sold into slavery. Through his inconceivable story, Northup does everything he can to survive through the oppression of his owners so he can once again be a free man.

Northup lives on multiple plantations, being sold to all different kinds of land owners. Some owners including Tibeats (Paul Dano) and Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) are the harsh, more generic slave owners in the sense that they are bloodthirsty and do not think anything of their slaves. Northup battles with the question of whether it is more important to be safe from physical abuse and constantly demoralized or to risk his life to stand up for himself, retaining his respect.

While on Epps’s plantation, Northup meets a young girl, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who relies on him almost as a fatherly figure to help her push through the brutality and not to give up hope. Patsy and Northup are both targeted by the land owners for different reasons and  bond over their similar circumstances.

Throughout his journey, Northup realizes that not all slave owners are mean and hateful, they are just in it for the business. While Northup is on one plantation, his master, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), understands that Northup is more than a tool for profit, rewarding him for the skills he brings to the field. Bass (Brad Pitt), an abolitionist from Canada, also has a great impact on Northup and gives him hope to survive to hopefully one day be reunited with his family.

Ejiofor does an amazing job recreating the unimaginable story of Northup with his inner and outer struggles of surviving to see the next day. He takes his time establishing each scene, he brings people in, right next to him, and makes them experience slavery from a slave’s viewpoint.

Director Steve McQueen (award-winning director of “Hunger”) delivers a poetic portrayal of how slavery actually was. His skills in cinematography makes the audience uncomfortable, as they watch the struggle for survival and the brutal abuse slaves underwent. From brutal whippings to emotional relationships throughout the film, screenplay writer John Ridley puts the fantastic book “12 Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup, on the screen.

There have so many fantastic movies this year, but I would not be surprised if, come March, “12 Years a Slave” brings in multiple golden statues.

12 Years a Slave

2 hours 14 minutes

Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality

Directed by Steve McQueen

With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt