You’re never going to want to sit down and watch a narrative about slavery. No one comes home from work and says, “Time to settle in for some trafficking of humans!” But I wanted to see 12 Years a Slave, so what better place than on an airplane, where I was sort of forced by circumstance to look? Sure, it lost something by being on a small seat-back monitor, not to mention being on the way to a pleasure trip across the ocean, but it was literally being placed right in front of my eyes.
As imagined, it was a brutal film. I know that’s a weak understatement, but it really was harrowing. There is a scene, and those who have watched it know the scene, that is one of the most terrifying, horrific, and agonizing scenes I’ve ever viewed, and it just goes on and on, each long second making it worse, and the thing is, nothing is happening. And that’s only about halfway through.
A younger, dumber me would have said of this movie, “I don’t need to watch a movie to tell me that slavery is bad. I’m already on board with it.” And while it’s true that no one with a brain and a conscience will get their eyes opened by this, it’s still something that needs to be seen. As we get further and further away from America’s shameful past, we’re getting more and more comfortable with it, more dismissive of it, treating it like youthful indiscretion. Having it shoved into our faces regularly is required, I think.
Besides the topic, it’s also so well done. I liked that while Solomon is enslaved the only ambient sound is the constant droning of cicadas. Birdsong only returns when he gets back home. Lupita Nyong’o is incredible as Patsy, and Michael Fassbender does what he does best. It’s also, if I may be heavy handed, a gentle reminder of what our current ruling class would like to get back to vis-a-vis management and labor.
On the flight back I went with something a little more upbeat. What I’d heard about American Hustle was all over the spectrum, but I was curious, so I checked it out. One of the best movies of the year? That I’m not so sure about. But goddamn it is hilarious. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show despite Amy Adams’ cleavage, and Louis C.K.’s small role had me dying every time. It’s not a great movie saying deep things, but it’s the kind of movie people should be talking about when they talk about “a fun ride” instead of brainless explosion marathons.