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Laramie Movie Scope:
12 Years a Slave

A free American black man is kidnapped and sold into slavery

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2013) Educated and widely traveled, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man residing in Saratoga, New York, during the first half of the 19th century, was married to Anna; they had a daughter Margaret and son Alonzo. While his wife and two children were away at Sandy Hill, Solomon, recognized for his talent as a violinist, was approached by two gentlemen, Mr Brown and Mr Hamilton, claiming to be legerdemainists with a circus, and persuaded to accompany them to Washington, DC, for a few weeks of performance.

Duped, drugged, and kidnapped, Solomon finds himself chained and confined; he's told he's a "Georgia runaway slave." Transported south by steamer with five others, one of whom offers advice: do and speak little, tell no one your identity or that you're literate. "Now you tell me all is lost," Solomon replies: "Tell no one who I am - that's the way to survive? Well, I don't want to survive. I want to live."

Adapted by screenwriter Ridley Scott from Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, Steve McQueen directed this wrenching antebellum historical drama - "There is a fearful ill resting upon this nation, and there will be a day of reckoning yet" - of terribly scared people and horribly scarred bodies. After being auctioned in Louisiana with Eliza (Adepero Oduye) and her two children to Freeman (Paul Giamatti), Solomon, called by the name Platt, is sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who requests Eliza's children as well, but Freeman refuses by saying: "My sentimentality extends the length of a coin."

For proposing a successful scheme of transporting logs across the plantation more efficiently via a watercourse, Platt receives Ford's gratitude and the gift of a violin, but unyielding contumely ("Run, nigger, run") from chief carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano). Ford, whom Platt regards as a "decent man," reads from the Bible to his slaves, while Eliza, unable to abate her grief for having been separated from her children, reminds Platt: "You are no more than prized livestock."

Following an altercation between Platt and Tibeats, resulting in Platt's nearly dying from being hanged - prevented only by his standing on tiptoes for hours - Ford admits: "It's no longer safe for you here. And I don't believe you will remain passive if Tibeats attacks. I have transferred my debt to Edwin Epps."

No others willing to accept Platt, Epps (Michael Fassbender), a slave owner of hard countenance, has a reputation as a "nigger-breaker" on his cotton plantation: "Man does as he pleases with his property." Reading from Scripture that those who do not obey their master are to be "beaten with many stripes," sadistically he orders lashes for anyone who fails to harvest at least 200 pounds of cotton daily, lauding Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) for her consistently picking 500 pounds.

Jealous of her husband's affection for Patsey - "My bed is too holy for you to share" - Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson), disgusted by his being a "filthy, godless heathen" and demanding he sell her, receives Edwin's severe rebuke in front of the slaves: "Do not set yourself up against Patsey, my dear. 'Cause I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her."

Sent on an errand by Mistress Epps into town, Solomon considers fleeing until he witnesses a lynching of slaves who attempted to escape their bondage. A neighbor whom Epps despises, Mr Shaw, has wed his former slave, Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard), whom Patsey visits on Sundays, foretelling the future: "The curse of the pharaohs were a poor example of what wait for the plantation class."

Patsey begs Platt to drown her: "I ain't got no comfort in this life." A "biblical plague" of cotton worms gives Epps's slaves a brief reprieve when they are loaned to Judge Turner, who gives Platt an opportunity to earn some money with his fiddle; but back on Epps's plantation the harsh treatment, the brutal beatings resume.

A white man, Armsby, formerly an overseer who took to drink to trample down his conscience, working in the fields beside the slaves, Solomon decides to trust with a request of a favor to post a letter to Marksville. To help construct a gazebo, Epps hires Bass (Brad Pitt), unaware he's a Canadian abolitionist until they engage in conversation about people as property: "Then it must be said that there is no justice nor righteousness in their slavery, but you do open up an interesting question. What right have you to your niggers when you come down to the point?"

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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