Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

12 Years a Slave

slave

12 Years a Slave is a gripping and emotional film that is often hard to watch. It is based on the real life story and writings of Solomon Northup. Northup was a freeman living in the North when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. 12 Years a Slave recounts the horrific conditions and abuse Northup was subjected to as he was passed from one master to another.

Instead of giving a traditional review of the film I have opted to discuss what I believe to be the most important scene in the film and why the film is significant for us today. 12 Years a Slave is one of the best films of the year and here are some of the things I took away from it.

12 Years a Slave is a firsthand account of what slavery was like in America and for this reason it is an important historical film, but I think there is an even deeper meaning to the film. If all we get out of it is a history lesson, then we have missed the greater significance of the film. This point becomes clear in a horrifying scene where a slave girl named Patsey (Lupito Nyong’o) is stripped of her clothes tied to a post and whipped. At first Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), the slaveowner, cannot bring himself to whip Patsey who is his most beloved slave and his mistress. He has no problem brutally punishing other slaves but Patsey is different. Instead he forces Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to whip her for him. Displeased with his lack of brutality Epps grabs the whip from Northup and beats Patsey relentlessly. As her flesh is being ripped from her body Northup watches in tears and begins to quote Scripture. Once Epps is done he turns to Northup and says, “Sin, there is no sin.  I can do as I wish with my property.” The film is a true historical account but it is more than this.  It is the story of humanity who often embraces sin on some level but is blind to the sin they have embraced. Although we look at what Epps does and feel sick to our stomach, Epps does not even realize he is doing anything wrong.

Immediately following this horrific scene, Solomon, who is a trained musician, rushes out and destroys his violin. This is significant. In a world where sin is allowed to live and thrive and where most people do not even acknowledge its existence, beauty is trampled under foot. Everything that is true, good, and beautiful flows from God. On the plantation where Solomon and Patsey live nothing good happens. After Patsey is beaten within an inch of her life Epps turns to Solomon and denies all truth in the matter. Finally, Solomon goes out and destroys the only source of beauty in his life. Since goodness and truth do not exist, Solomon can find no reason for beauty.

As the title of the film suggests Solomon is only a slave for 12 years. At the end of the film he is finally able to return home after years of torment and abuse. The audience is glad to see Solomon reunite with his family, but this is far from a happy ending. He has missed out on so much. He is a changed man because of what he has seen and witnessed. One leaves 12 Years a Slave feeling uneasy, not simply because of all the horrors in the film, but because of something else. Justice in not served. Solomon is able to see his family once again, but he is only one man. Patsey and the other slaves are still on the plantation with Epps and his wife. Families are still being ripped apart. Human beings are still being beaten, raped, and put to death. There is no justice in this film and this perhaps makes people feel worse than any of the violence that is displayed on the screen. American moviegoers like things to be cleaned up in the end. We are ok with horrific scenes as long as the perpetrator gets what he or she deserves. The problem with this is that it is not how life is and 12 Years a Slave bravely tells the truth that is real life.

This film raises so many questions for us as human beings living in a fallen world. What are the sins we are committing now that we simply cannot see or refuse to acknowledge? What do we do when there is no justice for those who commit evil acts? What happens when truth, goodness, and beauty are no more? Why are truth, goodness, and beauty equally important? In what ways are we misusing Scripture to justify our sins? 12 Years a Slave is a hard film to watch but hopefully it is a film that causes us not to simply reflect on the past, but to reflect on our own lives. It is my hope that this film will cause us to examine our future as much as our past.

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