12 Thoughts On 12 Years A Slave

1. It’s a much more tasteful Passion-of-the-Christ-esque story of violence and horrific tragedy and freedom, minus a creepy androgynous pregnant Satan, all set in Louisiana.

2. Many of the characters came and went*, never mentioned or thought of again, as they often do in life. This ephemeral quality to the characters felt unexpectedly realistic. With my Aladdin-and-the-Beast Disney-fried mind, I expected the ruthless There-Will-Be-Blood perpetual-teenager-angry-preacher guy to come back and attempt to kill Solomon/Platt at the very last minute. I also expected Brad Pitt to be plastered all over this movie, partly because his name is on the movie poster. What’s more, Brad was a damn (briefly and necessarily heroic) Canadian. Who would have thought – a Canadian hero.

3. *Michael Fassbender was one of the few exceptions to this rule in #2. The filmmakers were very smart. I think they kept him drunkenly and increasingly in seemingly every scene, one way or another, partly to arouse our curiosity – will he? Oh gawwwd, will he!? (Will he show his glorious penis again like he did in Shame? Just a lil’ peeky peek?)

4. Louisiana is undeniably and gloriously breathtaking; the drawn-out long shots of cypress trees in swamps and close-ups of caterpillars on cotton just about made me cry tears of popcorn butter. Eerily enough, in between whippings and attempted-hangings and soul-burning exchanges of survival, I wanted to buy a home in Louisiana just so I can watch a sunset and listen to all the bugs and read a book by a swamp. This visual and emotional juxtaposition – Louisiana’s beauty with Louisiana’s great shame – is what made the movie approach brilliance for me.

5. As a whitey, miraculously I wasn’t left with a feeling of shame and guilt – yet again – after watching a movie about American slavery, even though most of my ancestors were Mennonite farmers in Lancaster who made pretzels in their free time. I didn’t feel guilt for all the things “my people” (we the Scottish-German-Hungarian-British-Swiss) are still responsible for hundreds of years ago, but rather a sense of honesty in how fragile, ugly, and beautiful all humanity can be, all at once. Somehow the film did this, without glossing-over the fact that American slavery really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really sucked.

6. I was reminded that honor and truth and compassion can be found on both sides of any battlefield or struggle, despite twisted laws or twisted religious texts for the benefit of one side. There is something deeper, unchanging, dare-I-say eternal within us than our so-easily-twistable laws or religions.

7. Clearly, anyone who still holds onto any kind of pride in the “old south,” which inevitably includes treating human beings even worse than cattle, for a very long time, is a complete fucking moron and should be made fun of for the rest of time, or until they admit how stupid they were. I love sweet tea. I love pulled pork. I love lazy afternoons and Spanish moss, IF it’s in the “new south” that should forever treat all people as equally valuable. Being proud of the old south is like putting up a Nazi flag on your porch and saying to your neighbors all you’re recognizing is the fact that Germans had a great schnitzel tradition back in the 40s. Auschwitz Shmaauschwitz, Slavery Shhhmavery.

8. I realized Alfre Woodard should have her own talk show called Mistress Shaw, where she literally has tea on a porch in Louisiana and talks to us with her sweet molasses suthn’ drawl, even if we don’t ever know what the hell she’s saying. I really don’t care what she says. I just want her to keep talking like that (while offering me tea and macaroons in a bonnet).

9. Obamacare website and NSA Prism secrets aside, I was reminded yet again just how amazing Obama’s presidency is and always will be. Although it is far removed from us, in the grand timeline of humanity, starting with the Big Bang when Adam & Eve first had sex, the old dirty south and its dirty ways really wasn’t that long ago. A lot can change for someone, on one day, with one decision – and it accumulates over time, and ripples, to affect all of us, even generations later. What if Canadian Brad Pitt didn’t write that letter? What if you didn’t stop being such an asshole to the people around you, right, now. That’s right, YOU. How about you just stop it and try being more like Canadian Brad Pitt?

10. You asshole.

11. Even though I am definitely a fan of Tarantino, I knew there was a reason I have avoided watching Django Un-waytoomucheventhetrailermademyeyesbleed. I was waiting for this movie.

12. Although I do think it should – and deserves to – win plenty of awards, 12 Years A Slave wasn’t perfect for me. Was upstate New York really that utopian back then? I’ve been to upstate New York, and it was full of a lot of big dead fish. Was Solomon really that trusting of complete strangers, who were also circus performers, who wanted to take him on a trip south, a few miles from the slave states, without feeling the need to tell anyone where he was going or why? The way this naïve trust was portrayed was a bit too hilariously hyperbolic, and it seemed more fitting for the movie Airplane, which is a perfect movie for me. TC mark

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