A truly horrifying movie, “12 Years A Slave” tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free, black man living in New York who gets kidnapped and sent to the South to be sold as a slave.  Through him we see the nightmarish conditions that slaves lived through for hundreds of years in the country where all men are supposedly equal.

Great performances are given by so many in this movie.  Chiwetel Ejiofor (playing Solomon) has a face that easily conveys the emotions within: fear, desperation, hope, anguish, and resignation.  Michael Fassbender (playing Solomon’s master) is terrifying as an evil man who takes full advantage of wicked laws that allows a person to own another person, and to do with that person whatever the owner wishes.  Lupita Nyong’o plays a slave who is probably the one audiences will sympathize with the most.  She is repeatedly raped by her master, and the master’s wife is jealous of her so the wife always finds a reason to torture Nyong’o.  Nyong’o wants to kill herself, but she doesn’t have the willpower; and so she looks to another to help end her life.

One of my most memorable, movie moments of “12 Years A Slave” is the scene when Ejiofor is waiting for his master to come home to mete out his punishment for Ejiofor striking a white man.  You could see on Ejiofor’s face that he knew he was screwed, and was wondering how brutal the punishment would be.  Castration?  Burning?  50 lashes?  Hanging?  Gutted like a fish?  Or some combination of the previously mentioned horrors?

Another memorable moment of this movie is the scene when Fassbender has Nyong’o whipped severely because he believed she was being unfaithful to him with another man in another plantation.  Unfaithful to a man who rapes you repeatedly?  Well, that shows you the twisted mind of master Fassbender.   As the end of the whip hits Nyong’o’s back again and again, we see her flesh being ripped away; and I was wincing in pain with every strike of that whip.

In first place for my most memorable, movie moment of “12 Years A Slave” is the scene when Ejiofor, still unbroken, refuses to strip and be whipped by a white man who works for Ejiofor’s master.  The white man — 1/2 the size of Ejiofor — grabs hold of Ejiofor to make him submit; but Ejiofor quickly gets the upper hand and starts beating the white guy, who starts crying like a little bitch and screams “sorry!”  Ejiofor lets the white guy go, and as the little, beaten man limps away, he starts acting tough again, threatening to have Ejiofor’s hide.  Pathetic.  It reminds me of what Denzel Washington said of Matthew Broderick’s character: “he a weak, white boy; and beatin’ on a nigger make him feel strong.”

The beatings, the whippings, the rapes, the separation of families, the hangings, the hard labor under the sun, the uncertainty of whether you will be killed because your master is having a bad day…all this we see in graphic detail.   It’s hard to watch, but the movie must be watched.  It is not only part of U.S. history, but a reminder of what is still going on throughout the world.  The reprehensible nature of slavery must always be remembered, so that should we encounter it, we will not stand idly by.

— M