What a horrific story. Obviously, slavery is a horrible enterprise but here we see it just how terrible it is framed with the true story of Solomon Northup. He was an educated free black man, a well-off violinist, a husband and father of two living in upstate New York. He gets abducted and sold as a slave in Georgia where his nightmare goes on for 12 years! It really is a horrible journey as we follow Solomon from one master who is “kind” to the next who can be described as a monster (although his wife might be even worse). We meet various slaves and see how they try to adapt and survive. Northup on the other hand faces various difficult choices and tries to survive a day at a time. He is not a hero, he is not hatching plans to free his fellow slaves. He just wants to get home and his actions are at times not enviable.
McQueen does a brilliant job in telling this difficult story and builds well-rounded characters who we grow to hate, love or pity. The movie is tough to watch at times but it never felt exploitative or gratuitous. It is just bold and unflinching in its depictions of slavery and its impact on everyone. The movie has a lot of excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon to Michael Fassbender as his sadistic master Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, Epps’ favorite and most unfortunate slave. It is not a movie I want to watch many times over but it is a great telling of this tragic story that I’m guessing almost no one knew about.