“More inhumanity has been done (to man) by man himself, than any other of nature’s causes.” (Samuel von Pufendore, 1632-94).
Experiencing, (it is a visceral, torturous, emotional rack) Steve McQueen’s exceptionally intelligent “12 Years a Slave”, the true story of Solomon Northup’s horrific betrayal; he is a refined, educated violinist, with a wife and two children, living respectfully in Saratoga Springs, New York, 1841; he is also black, and wickedly tricked, stripped of his humanity, and sold into slavery.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as “Solomon” is brilliantly, intensely quiet; he survives by camouflaging his intellect; the film shines with its insightful pairing of those born into slavery, relegated to animal status, wills stymied from birth, versus Solomon’s inherent acumen; his predicament, an unparalleled nightmare, garnishes awe, as he protects his integrity while enduring iniquitous, diabolical circumstances.
Michael Fassbender, a favorite of McQueen’s (“Hunger”, “Shame”) gives a genuine, complex performance as “Master Epps”: perpetually inebriated, slavishly vicious and totally baffled by his love for “Patsey” (Lupita Nyong’o, is stunningly remarkable as the beautiful, astronomically abused slave); Epps’s wife (vibrantly, vindictively depicted by Sarah Paulson) is shamed and stunned (also shunned) by her husband’s choice of a slave, over her; her immoral retribution results in one of the most traumatic scenes in the film.
Brad Pitt (also a producer) gives a cameo performance as a carpenter from Canada; he speaks with the tongue and cadence of a preacher, savior; orchestrates inevitability . Throughout the movie, the “Masters” preach, chronicle Biblical passages, parables, supporting “slavery” and the penance extracted for misbehaving; an agonizing anomaly, defying rationality.
Slavery is a stain, an ugly, egregious blot on our narrative, a thousand years cannot bleach its degradation; “12 Years A Slave” is a history lesson, showing the good and nefarious, resonating in varying degrees, in all individuals, regardless of their hue. It is enlightening, compelling, a staggering example of one man’s triumph over an atrocity practiced by thousands; demolished by a war lasting four years, and the senseless deaths of close to a million soldiers and civilians. Solomon Northup’s final years are shrouded in mystery; his heroic legacy, enshrined in glory, will remain everlasting.