This is no "sentimental Gone With The Wind kitsch" as David Denby of the New Yorker Magazine observed, but a stark and powerful story of slavery in the pre-Civil War South and how it brutalized not only the slaves but the people who owned them.
The story is based on the book written by Solomon Northup, a free man from Saratoga Springs, New York, who was kidnapped and sold into bondage and endured the dehumanizing effects of slavery for 12 years.
I had recently read Frederick Douglass's memoirs and recognized much of what he suffered as a slave in Northup's story. Although Douglass was born into slavery and escaped to freedom, unlike Northup, who was born a free man and was forced into slavery, both men's stories of unimaginable suffering and humiliation remind us of this country's horrific original sin and how the South was unwilling to give up its barbaric addiction to a culture that forced its people to dehumanize their slaves so they could justify keeping them in unspeakably cruel and brutish conditions.
David Denby called 12 Years A Slave "...easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery."
After having seen Django Unchained and The Butler, I have to agree. This is a radical film that challenges the viewer to confront the stark reality of "America's primal wound," and refuses to sentimentalize the savagery that was practiced in the pre-Civil War South. And it is presented with elegance and historic clarity I rarely see in Hollywood films of this kind.
Do yourself a favor and go see this. And take your children. This is real American history and all its bloody truth in the lash and the chain, brought to the screen by British director, Steve McQueen.
British Shakespearean actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Northup, is outstanding.
New York Times Review: