Tag: violence

12 Years a Slave: A Review

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(This is a somewhat detailed review so if you are the type that wants no plot or analysis before seeing a movie mild spoiler warning.  I couldn’t talk about it any other way.  I tried)

So I finally did it today- I watched 12 Years a Slave for Family Home Evening.  I’ve been debating for months whether I should see it because I had heard how intense and violent it was but being convinced it was an important film I decided to rent it and see what I thought.

I know many of my friends have had the same reservations so let me start with the violence. It is disturbing, sad, tragic whichever adjective you wish to use.  There is no doubt about it, but I do think some of the worry is a bit overblown.

It’s kind of a hard movie to review. At least I’m struggling to put my reaction into words. (I’ve written this like 3 times and started over unsatisfied with my portrayal).

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12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a freeman in pre-civil war Washington DC who is abducted and forced into slavery for 12 years.

It is not a hopeful movie, and perhaps that is appropriate.  Even when Solomon is rescued after 12 years it is done slightly begrudgingly with more persuasion than the audience feels should be required after witnessing such things.  I have no doubt such hesitation is completely accurate but I’m just saying it is not a sentimental movie in any way.

In fact, at the beginning Solomon is kidnapped with a woman who is torn away from her children (who she is tricked into coming after and then captured).  This woman cries for days to the point of irritating all around her.  That’s where the movie starts- the most guttural humane reaction of Mother for her children is an annoyance and a bother.

I’m not saying this as a criticism but it is much more disturbing than any of the violence displayed (which again is very disturbing).  It’s almost as if the movie is saying ‘stop crying and listen’.

Another running scene that is almost crueler than the whippings is when the slaves are forced to dance before their masters as if all was well and happy.  It makes you sick.

In a lot of ways this  movie reminded me of one of my favorite books Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs/Linda Brendt; however, we as readers feel more invested in Harriet’s story than Solomon’s and there is one great friend in the book that gives some hope.

It’s kind of like in the telling of the Holocaust.  I think there is a place for hopeless, tragic versions like Night by Eli Weisel, but also for Man Search for Meaning or The Hiding Place.  I’m glad I read all of them.

Anyway, Solomon goes through a lot of masters/white men played by Paul Giamatti (as one of the slave merchants), Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch (as a slave owner who seems kindly but fails to do the right thing), Michael Fassbender (as the main master and a man who has convinced himself that all he does is validated, even required by God), Sarah Paulson is chilling as Fassbender’s jealous wife, Brad Pitt as a Canadian who finally has some courage.

DF-02868FD.psdOddly enough there aren’t many developed black, slave characters.  Besides Solomon there is Patsey. She is played by Luipita Nyong’o. Patsey is tortured by Fassbender, and she is a quiet, shy sufferer. (In certain scene Fassbender even has a strange dependence upon Patsey) More briefly seen is Alfre Woodard who is excellent as a fellow slave that has risen through the ranks and now has slaves of her own- very chilling.

12 years 12A good movie to compare 12 Years a Slave too is Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad, which tells the story of a mutiny aboard a slave ship in the late 18th century.

12 Years is a much smaller movie than Amistad.  Spielberg seemingly can’t resist the dramatic music cues and soaring speeches but even without that Amistad’s story is about a ship full of slaves, the Congress, an ex-president and a case before the Supreme Court.  It all feels bigger than 12 Years a Slave.

Now I think 12 Years is a better movie than Amistad because of it’s smaller, more intimate nature.  At all times, the audience is kept at a bit of a distance from the story, violence and even Solomon himself.  Most stories like this have narration or a scene where someone explains why these things are wrong.  That is not necessary.  Everyone knows why.

However, some have criticized the film as being too small. Peter Malamud Smith of Slate said:

“We’re more invested in one hero than in millions of victims; if we’re forced to imagine ourselves enslaved, we want to imagine ourselves as Northup, a special person who miraculously escaped the system that attempted to crush him”

I can see why Smith feels this way, but I disagree. I think I can learn more and feel more empathy for one person’s story than a slew of faces.  This is Solomon and Patsey’s story and only one of them escapes- a pain that is as much if not more deeply felt than a shipload of humanity suffering in Amistad.

Like I said, both have their place and are worth telling, but I think 12 Years a Slave is the better movie.  In some ways I wish we got even more inside Solomon and Patsey’s head. They are the emotional core of the movie, and I could have done with one less beating montage and more of their discussion.

That said, I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would in the movie and that kind of disturbs me  given the images. But when I think back to the beginning with the slave girl sobbing to the point of annoyance I wonder if the movie-makers are trying to teach me something, and that perhaps my response is intended?

Maybe by showing that lack of empathy early on, the movie is cautioning us against such sentimentality and asking you to think and absorb what really happened to these people with no exclamation points needed?

The most heartbreaking scene in the movie for me (mild spoiler) is when Solomon thinks he has found someone he can trust with a letter to his friends up North. You see the relief and hope in his eyes (again the movie has little hope) and when that trust is betrayed it was more brutal than any beating for me.

slave 13Sarah Paulson also has some of the most shocking scenes as Fassbender’s jealous wife.  In many shots we see her hovering in the corner watching the horrific scenes, and even encouraging them to take place.

The ultimate example is when Patsey goes to get soap from Alfre Woodard because Paulson has refused to allow her to clean to the point where her stench is making Patsey ill. Worried she has ran off Fassbender becomes enraged and Paulson stands by to watch.

If I’m going to nitpick the movie is a little cluttered and I kind of wish there were a few less white guys and a few more slaves to know and feel for, but I see why they did. Still, a few characters could have been trimmed.

Also some of the accents are very strange. I read that director Steve McQueen was going for specific regional dialect but it sounded like Brits and Germans trying to sound Southern.  Surely they could have gotten a few authentically Southern actors?

But like I said, that’s nitpicking.  It’s a very strong movie.  A few months ago I got in a debate with a person on twitter over Gone with the Wind and it’s portrayal of slavery.  I wish that person could see 12 Years a Slave and then tell me with an ounce of sincerity that Gone with the Wind is anything but complete fantasy (entertaining fantasy you can make an argument but at best it’s a well-meaning soap opera).

So, in the end- the violence is bad but not as bad as some have made it out to be.  It’s uncomfortable and will make you squirm in your seat but I think that’s appropriate.  It’s a small movie focusing on 2 slaves and 6-8 white masters.  It’s not heavy-handed with modern preaching (like The Conspirator a couple years a go…)

It’s a movie that will make you think.  Think about evil and how we rationalize freedom away from people because of a label.  How we make it ok to do horrible things to each other because that person is black, christian, jewish, muslim whatever.

The performances are all excellent and as an educational experience I highly recommend 12 Years a Slave.

I can see why you wouldn’t want or need to see the movie because of the intensity and violence, but I would at least challenge you to learn about what really happened from as many angles as you can. Do not be satisfied with anything too neat or dainty.

You should be left wondering why.


Mixture of Thoughts

So today has been a thoroughly strange day.  On one hand I woke feeling hopeful.  Drained but hopeful.  Things in my personal life and my health are looking up and for that I am deeply grateful.  I really felt a wad of stress I’d been carrying around settle and am looking forward to the future.

Wanting to process my life and having the PTO I decided to take some time off today and was feeling great.  I noticed a facebook post from my siblings about the Dark Knight premiere they had been to and how good it was.  It seemed like nothing could burst my bubble.

Then I turned on the TV…

“Massacre in Colorado Theater”.  Horrified I then saw details of the awful shooting at the Dark Knight screening in Colorado.  Initially my bright mood turned to anger, confusion and then finally despair.  I tried to make sense of it for a while but obviously there is no making sense of such an action.

Here are some jumbled thoughts

I think it almost goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones.  I can’t imagine facing such a shock and loss.

When it comes down to it EVIL exists. Satan is real and he wants all men to be miserable just like himself. If we let him, He can take a seed of anger or disappointment and work on it until it unfolds in true horror.  He wants us to hurt one another.  He wants us to be angry and resentful and there is no end to the anger if left unchecked.

My next thought I’m going to try to word carefully.  When such things happen people immediately jump to conclusions about mental illness.  That someone must have been ‘insane’ or ‘crazy’.

Here’s where I think we have to be careful.  Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness that are not going to kill anyone.  Mental illness is probably involved in such a case, but a shooter is a bizarre extreme symptom of an illness.  It would be like saying everyone who has the stomach flu is going to die because one woman does pass away. Its an abnormality, a mutant like distortion of the real disease.

The stigma and fears surrounding mental illness are only inflamed when such careful distinctions are not made and then situations like this become more likely.  People who have severe conditions do not get the diagnosis or the help they need because of the stigma and the community in general is not informed enough to encourage or even enforce such treatment.

As someone who has struggled with anxiety and the occasional panic attack I will tell you it is a scary experience and I only was able to make healthy choices once I was honest and disregarded the stigma.  Not everyone can do that and not everyone has the overwhelming love and support I am lucky enough to have.

If I was king of the world I would require mental health check ups for all college students because it is such a great time of change and the time when most mental illness such as schizophrenia manifest themselves. Someone may have never dealt or thought about mental illness and then all of the sudden they are dealing with signs and symptoms and yet no treatment is sought out of shame or fear.

Mental illness is just another illness.  It’s a part of our anatomy and sometimes it gets sick just like anything else.

So there I said my peace on that.

One last thought.  My cousin Anne spoke her peace about the violent content in the Dark Knight movie after viewing it at the midnight screening.  She said quite movingly

“I am very saddened about the shooting in Colorado. The news article said they could not identify the shooter’s motivation…. How about the very movie that was showing in the theater where the shooting took place?! I know The Dark Knight Rises is the movie of the Summer, but I walked out because of how intensely violent I felt it was and the ruthless killer Bain was dark and evil. After 20 minutes I went back in because I didn’t want to feel left out… (wish i would have chosen differently now.) i know its bold to say, but we cannot keep watching this violence on screen and expect to be exempt from it in real life!”

Now did the movies cause some kind of hypnosis that made the shooter do what he did?  Of course not, but I do agree with her that as a society we have become increasingly desensitized towards violence.  I’ve felt this for some time.  I remember coming back from my mission and being shocked by the decapitated heads in the final Lord of the Rings movies.  I was horrified at first but then  I started watching 24 with friends.  Slowly I began ignoring more and more violent content until one episode Jack basically hung a terrorist on a chain to get what he wanted.  That was it for me.  My wake up call.

Violence stays in my head and never leaves.  The other day I was watching Project Runway and an ad for some terrible serial killer movie came on and before I could change the channel there it was in my brain.  Nightmares! Thanks Lifetime!

I resisted the temptation to see the 2nd Dark Knight movie for many months until it was out on DVD and finally caved because EVERYONE I knew loved it.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it completely terrified me.   I had nightmares for weeks.  I recognized that it was well made and acted but I did not feel a good spirit while watching and regretted it ever since. I really felt like the only one out of all my friends who didn’t love it.

Even a movie like Ironman that has some torture of the lead in the beginning I found quite upsetting.  As a single woman living alone I’ve found I must be very careful with what I view because it sits there in my head making mischief.  I realize not everyone is in my situation or has my sensitivity level but still I just don’t see how watching such things can be helpful or inspiring.

What really makes me crazy is we have this pretense of an MPAA giving movie ratings but they should just change it to the ‘counting swear words brigade’.  I don’t understand how The Dark Knights and Hunger Games (children killing other children) gets a PG-13 when Bully a movie that might actually help reduce violence is given an R because of 6 words.  How can anyone say that 6 words are worse than murder? It doesn’t make sense. Something has to be so over the top in sexual content and violence to merit the R rating but 6 swear words and an automatic R? Again, to me that makes absolutely no sense.

If I ran the world I would make the MPAA like http://www.screenit.com which provides incredible details of the content you are viewing so you can make an informed decision.  I think it is $25 a year or something like that and I would recommend anyone sign up kids or no kids.

As to whether there should be some type of censorship or monitoring on this type of violent content, I’m unsure.  I certainly think there should be a discussion and its effects should be taken seriously.  We have no problem acknowledging the negative effects of sexual pornography and that industry is regulated fairly strictly.  What’s wrong with applying those same standards to violence?  I’m not expert on stimulus addiction but violence seems as penetrating in the brain as sexual content and clearly can be as destructive to human life.

I don’t know the answer but the human mind has always been attracted to violent content.  That’s Satan’s job, that’s the natural man. In the past a salacious story of Western slaughter or war would excite readers but now the malcontent can be exposed to images, video, dialogue, again and again, with each time needing more intense portrayals.  How can that not have a damaging effect?  Do I have a solution to fix that in a free America?  No.

Except to say this- watch what you watch and what your children watch.  Watch how you rationalize things away and try to stop it. Stop spending your money on things that glorify violence.  Hug your loved one’s.  Resolve differences.  Forgive because you never know when things can change and you’ll miss out on the chance to make things better.

Please go to http://www.bringchange2mind.org/ to sign the pledge to end the stigma against mental illness.  Maybe if we all work together we can stop such tragedies from happening again?  That is my hope.

I started my day hopeful and I’m ending my day with hope. Hope in Christ and His great love. He heals the broken hearted and gives comfort to the weak.  I KNOW that is true.