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12 Years A Slave

This movie, you guys. Christ.

Every once in a while a movie comes along that doesn't so much play in front of you but hit you like a freight train, liquify you on impact, and keep running over your mangled corpse until you're a smear of blood and spit on the ground. I can't remember the last movie that hit me like this. They're the kinds of movies my mom used to say you've got to go to bed after viewing. For her it was The Deer Hunter. Schindler's List did it to me.

This movie.

The weird thing about it is I realized, as I was watching it, that I kind of knew everything that happened already. All the reviews I've read were less reviews than travelogues that described each of the five or so "scenes" or anecdotes or whatever that comprise the movie. I mean, what can you critically say about a movie like this? "This happened, then that happened" is, oddly, a provocative form of criticism. Which is praise, of course, that the movie deserves more than the critics. When professional writers are left all but speechless, filling the white space of their columns with little more than summary, you as a director have either given them nothing or everything.

I was crying within three minutes of the opening title. I cried at the end. I can't remember the last movie that made me cry once, let alone twice. I think I cried in Brave because of the mother/daughter relationship. I'm getting more sensitive to that the older I get. Maybe it's ~~~empathy but I think I'm just too much of a coward to deal with my problems so I channel my feelings into media instead. Whatever this isn't about me.

The movie is about despair. That's a sort of reductive view, I know, because it is a condemnation...that word doesn't seem powerful enough. Evisceration? It's a wide-eyed recounting of perhaps the darkest and most shameful moment in American history, a curse, a lamentation, a mournful dirge. It's Malcolm McDowell strapped to a chair with his eyelids pried open. It's a horrible, necessary movie that I honestly though Django Unchained already was, but that movie was both misfocused and gleefully cathartic. There's catharsis here too, but the heaviest and most burdensome type.

Anyway, disclaimer aside, this movie is about despair. And what I realized is that when movies are about such heavy, horrible things, they're also simultaneously about the opposite. Movies about hate are really about love. Movies about revenge are really about forgiveness. The substantive ones, at least. And the best movies about hope are the ones steeped in despair.

So this movie is about despair, a word that gets used like literally every other sentence, but it's also about hope. And how long dormant it can lie, and how even now it seems absent, but how it's never really gone.

I don't know, this movie was really good. It was gut-wrenching and awful and beautiful and terrifying. I really liked it. The whole audience in my theater stayed sitting once the credits started going. I was one of the first to leave and I stayed till like the first wave of credits, like all the above-the-line people who didn't scroll but flashed by, was over.

Anyway, it's such a hard movie to watch that I know I'll need to watch it again to get everything. David Simon wrote something about that. But even so, I caught little things that were really interesting. Just like the way they set the stage. When Northup's in the Epps plantation, there's a fucking pig pen right in the front yard. And it keeps interfering with the action! Like Epps was chasing him around with a knife, and he tried to cut through the pig pen to cut him off, but he tripped and fell. And later, Northup is feeding the pigs before he gets dragged into some straight-up Stanford prison experiment bullshit. And I was thinking about this pig pen, and then I asked a dumb question with some really interesting answers:

Why did they put the pig pen right there?

Well shit, why DIDN'T they? What doesn't the pig pen represent? It could be, very simply, a visual representation of what slavery is in American history. A big pile of shit and piss in the middle of our manicured front lawn. It could mock the privileged, unearned lives antebellum plantation owners experienced, wallowing in the filth of their own contemptuous actions while lazing about like fat, spoiled livestock. It actively soiled the people who wandered through it, marking them with its effects. I don't know, it was a big ugly symbol stuck right in the middle of the movie, and there was a lot of stuff like that. Brad Pitt, Canadian carpenter with his Jesus hair. The violin. Everything in this movie meant more than what it was.

Katie called me in the middle of writing this entry so I'mma shut it down, but Wesley Morris is one of my favorite critics and wrote a really good review of this movie. He wrote a good one of Django Unchained too. I probably need to start reading what he writes about movies that AREN'T exclusively about the black experience. All of my critics are like, at least a little subaltern though. I feel like straight white men have said everything interesting they're going to say. Mark Harris, Emily Nussbaum. My only straight white critic is Alan Sepinwall, but only because he wrote a book about TV. I know Mark Harris has a book that I need to read. Does Emily Nussbaum?

This entry is a mess. I've completely forgotten how to structure arguments.


Nov. 19th, 2013 04:49 am (UTC)
I didn't put any spoilers b/c all the reviews of this movie have spoilers and I DIDN'T WANT TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE

oh wait there is kind of a spoiler