Movies Get Deep and Reflective This Season!


As promised, I have collected my thoughts on a movie that I saw earlier this week (12 Years a Slave). Spoilers included!

But before I do, I want to reference a movie I saw earlier, and which some of you had discussed: Gravity.

Between the two films, Gravity is obviously the easier movie to digest, but both movies I would definitely say are must-sees since they are truly well-made films. Not only that, but they’re actually very similar in terms of themes: What underlines both messages?

The desire and the will to not just survive but to live!

That’s what Solomon Northup (played with exquisite brilliance by Chiwetel Ejiofor) says in the film based on his 1853 account of his experiences as a free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., who supports his wife and two children as a violinist, but is kidnapped in 1841 by two strangers promising him a lucrative gig in a circus. One minute Solomon is a free man, next moment he’s in chains.

gravity-alt-posterGravity works similarly, where one minute Sandra Bullock’s character is routinely fixing a satellite, while George Clooney waxes poetic about the spectacular view of space, the next minute they’re thrown off by an explosion that knocks them off course.

Both heroes spend the rest of the movie off kilter (Bullock flailing in outer space, Ejiofor trapped in the hell of slavery) until they find their way home (with either the help of gravity or grace – or maybe both).

They also feature spectacular scenes of beauty (of outer space, of moss-covered trees in the swamp lands of Louisiana).

More than that: they both recycle very similar scenes from earlier movies (think 2001: Space Odyssey for Gravity or any plantation movie for 12 Years a Slave) with a subtle difference (the POV 3-D effects in the former).

Here is where 12 Years a Slave gets interesting.  The scene where Solomon Northup is hanged for being insubordinate to a white overseer is searing, intense, and goes on for an unbearably long time.  Fortunately, he is given enough room to stand on his tippy toes, so he survives the ordeal, but this shot was an interesting one for director Steve McQueen to take.

Earlier, his artistic photograph, “Lynching Tree” (above), was featured in an exhibit this year and later used as backdrop to Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves” performance at this year’s VMA show. Most of us probably forgot about that performance, since we were mostly being offended by Miley Cyrus’s misbehavior. Still, it was an interesting visual, and in 12 Years a Slave, McQueen really hits home that legacy of violence, pain, and dehumanization.  It still haunts me days later, as I was struck both by the beauty of the landscape and the horrors that such beauty hid.


Other visceral scenes, like the seemingly unending whipping of fellow slave Patsey (played to heartbreaking perfection by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o) by their cruel master Edwin Epps (portrayed with sinister cunning by the weirdly charming Michael Fassbender).  There is this underlying sexual tension in the violence projected by Epps as slaveowner.  He comes off as a combination of sex offender, pervert, batterer, and happy drunk.  His oppression is based on the element of surprise (i.e. you just never know what he’s going to do next).  And, yes, of all the scenes of Epps’ depraved violence, the one that made me sick to my stomach was when he walked around pantless while coddling a little slave girl.  Just … Ugh!

12-years-a-slave-stillMore than anything, 12 Years a Slave is an honest depiction of the system of slavery: not just in terms of the violence but also in terms of the long dehumanizing process that went into it, all while our nation profited heavily from the exploited labor of unpaid workers (let’s be real about what was going on). From the constant scenes of cotton-picking, cane-cutting, and tree-chopping, McQueen visualizes that centuries-long history of a nation built on the whipped backs of slaves.

And yet, there are those moments of grace: of Patsey taking time in the fields to create corn dolls, of slaves finding rhythm in the work and creating songs to the beat, of a slave mother disrupting her master’s hypocritical Sunday sermon with her never-ending wails for her lost children sold away from her.  There had to be grace among such people, for we who descended from our slave ancestors, would not be here today had it not been for their grace.  Somehow, in the midst of brutality, they found the will to survive and to live and, like Bullock at the end of Gravity, to land on their feet after such a tremendous fall from grace that is the legacy of slavery.

More than anything, we have two films recapturing the strength and humility of the human spirit to triumph over crisis and cling to life and living. I hope you will get a chance to see both when they open in a theater near you.

Posted on October 25, 2013, in current trends and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 98 Comments.

  1. Senseless, thanks for the clarification of your “name”. ITA agree that the number of twitter followers “should” have resulted in more stellar sales of his CDs, and it has baffled me as to why the numbers, especially for TOSOD, were so shockingly low.

    David’s net worth is whatever it is and not on my radar of what I think about regarding David. Neither are his marital plans or where he’ll live when he gets back I see these things as outside of the realm of being a fan, not to mention none of my dang business. For the record, though, I think he will be a frequent visitor of his family in Utah, but I can’t see him living there.

    Thanks for getting back to me and have a nice weekend.

  2. I loved the song “Senseless”. It should have been on his album. Who wrote it? David is going to do what he wants to do but I hope that he will focus on is music career and not marriage. IMO he is way too young. But who knows what he will do. At this point LA makes the most sense to live initially” if” he is serious about his music career.

    • Not sure why 23 is way too young. I actually think that Nashville might be a better fit for David. Nashville has a big music scene and it’s all kinds of music, not just country. You can obviously write music anywhere and it is easier than ever to record so he could live anywhere and still do music.

      • That is really just my own personal belief. Not just for David but for all young folks. Think they should concentrate on their careers this day and age not marriage. It is more than OK if many do not agree with me. I am good with that. LOL

  3. Senseless-your comment made perfect sense to me. I love the song and can relate to the time spent talking about David. Not that the conversation is senseless, just that it even continues when the topic of the converation is 8,000 miles away and has been for almost two years. Ha, now Im not making any sense!

  4. David has been pretty much a nomad since AI, not really living anywhere. He was more of a visitor at his home in Utah staying there for a few weeks now and then. Of course now he hasn’t been there for 1.5 years. Who knows where he will live and what he will do when he gets back. A good guess would be that he will split his time between LA, Nashville, and Utah like he did before he left. It wouldn’t surprise me if he got married a year or two after he gets back. There is no reason why he can’t continue a music career as a married man. It might even be the inspiration for some new songs!

  5. A little confession I use to not like when he went to Utah, ok, not for him personally. Actually was happy for him to visit his family, but when he was home he wasn’t working on his career from how I saw it…very silly I know, but my lame brain always thought, heck, nothing going on with his career.
    As everyone knows I’m all about his music career, label me selfish fan.

  6. i think there is a discrepancy between Miley’s and Bieber’s social media followers and t heir sales, actually. The kids, as a rule, do not buy music. Country music fans and older fans buy music. Many articles have been written about how the money is now in concert touring and merchandise. I’m gong to check out the facts on followers/sales and return with them.

  7. Okay. Miley has 14.9 million Twitter followers, 33 million Facebook likes and sold 270,000 copies of Bangerz in its first week. Justin Bieber has 46.2 million Twitter followers, 57 million Facebook likes and sold 374,000 of his last album in its first week. Taylor Swift has 35.9 million Twitter followers, 49.7 million Facebook likes and sold 1.2 million copies of her last album in its first week. Taylor did better than everyone, which isn’t surprising since she is country/pop crossover with a following among all ages of fans. Still, she sold a small percentage of her follower list. Everyone else sold a much smaller percentage.

  8. That is all very interesting and I am not surprised.The number of Twitter and facebook followers do not equal sales. If they did then David’s TOSOD would have sold much better. I agree- money is in the touring, merchandise, and special appearances. Will never understand why David’s management (#mic) after AI was not able to secure him some deals selling products and services. That is why I do not believe he has that much money. This link shows what celebrities can earn.

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