There’s a popular commercial right now (for an insurance company) where a camel comes strolling into a workplace and says in a loud camel-y voice—DO YOU KNOW WHAT DAY IT IS? The answer in the ad is “It’s Hump Day.”
Well, reader, do you know what day it is? It’s OSCAR MOVIE DAY. Or month! Yes, it is that time again. Our annual mad movie dash has begun. The aim—see as many of the movies nominated for Best Picture Award at the annual Academy Awards. And, of course, see them BEFORE the show airs on March 2.
In past years, when I have written about “Going to the Movies” I find myself making some obvious linkages between two movies. But this year, as we went from movie to movie, I found myself scratching my head. What was a common thread in these movies? Seemingly nothing. Among the movies nominated as best motion picture, we have not yet see Her or Philomena. We saw the seven other movies nominated, in this (very arbitrary) order: 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Today, we saw the last of the movies we are likely to see before the Academy Awards—and then it hit me. The common theme! This is the year of the scam.
In varying ways, there is in each of these movies a thread of deception. Sometimes the deceiver poses as a friend (12 Years a Slave). Sometimes the deceiver is an apparition (Gravity) or a delusion (Nebraska). In Captain Phillips, the deceivers are the U.S. military who come to rescue Captain Phillips. In American Hustle, the whole plot is a deception, compounded by a deception, wrapped in a deception. . .you get the point. Dallas Buyers Club involves a kind of deception, albeit for a good cause. Finally, The Wolf of Wall Street hinges on selling shady stocks through deceptive means.
Of course, each of these movies has much more to offer.
For my money, the most stunning movie of the year is 12 Years A Slave. You may recall that last year, the MUST SEE movie for me was Lincoln. And I fervently hoped it would win best motion picture, only to be disappointed by the selection of Argo. While I liked Argo, it will not stand the test of time, as Lincoln will. So with hesitancy, I say this year I would hope that 12 Years A Slave wins.
Watching this movie is a soul-searing experience. There are only about 15 minutes of unalloyed story telling, which focuses on Solomon Northrup, a free born black man living in Saratoga Springs, New York in the 1850s. He earns a living as a carpenter and as a fiddler. When his wife and children go away for several weeks—his wife is skilled cook who is sought for special occasions—Solomon is alone.
One day, he is introduced to two white men who have heard of his prowess as a fiddler. They cajole him to accompany them to Washington, DC, where he can earn some money as a fiddler. What he neither knows nor suspects, they actually have other plans for him—to drug him and have him sent off in chains. They pass him off as a runaway slave named “Platt” which becomes his name.
So begins his 12 years as a slave. The account of Solomon’s life—being forced to strip, paraded like meat, bought by a slave owner, shipped off to a far worse slave owner, and finally regain his freedom—is so graphically portrayed that at times it was difficult to watch.
One of the most disturbing elements of the movie is the degree of depravity exhibited by the white slave owners. While one owner tries to be benevolent, other owners and their overseers, are horrific. The wives of the slave owners occupy their own morally depraved universe, being alternately jealous of the black female slaves with whom the master sleeps and then being sugary kind to other slaves. No scene is spared, including a vicious whipping.
That Solomon eventually is able to regain his freedom, while certainly just and right, hardly seems to compensate for the horror he endured as a slave. Were the story but a creation of a creative writer it would be horrifying, but it is in fact based on an actual account by Solomon Northrup who recorded his memoirs after his experience.
The acting is superb—particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o. The scenery is lush and lovely, at times, providing a stark and ironic backdrop for the depravity of humans. The dialogue is at times quaint and stilted, but that lends a sense of witnessing something from another time.
I came away from the movie marveling at the resilience of the human spirit, despairing at the depravity of the slave owners and all who were complicit in the institution of slavery. I was especially struck how much the whites involved in slavery had lost their moral compasses and had themselves become enslaved to the institution of slavery. They were far more lost that the black slaves who had been ripped from home and country.
So my first recommendation—go see 12 Years of Slave, if you haven’t already.
To be continued