In the late 1840s, we meet Mr. Solomon Northup who is an upstanding citizen in his community. A free black man, he lives in Saratoga, New York with his wife Anne (Kelsey Scott) and their two young children. Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) owned a home, had a decent job, and had many good friends. And all of that was stripped away by a pair of wicked men.
This was Solomon's life...and then it was gone.
With his wife and children out of town for a couple of weeks, Solomon was left to his own devices. While walking through the park one afternoon, Solomon finds himself introduced to two men who are the proprietors of a successful traveling circus and who are also feverishly looking for a talented fiddle player to join their company for a few days while they travel down the coast to Washington D.C. Solomon is offered a very handsome payment and agrees to accompany the men. One night, the three gentlemen are enjoying a lavish dinner where Solomon accidentally has too much to drink and winds up passing out. And the next morning he wakes up to find himself chained to a brick wall in an abandoned factory, and he is now at the mercy of a cruel slave pen owner.
He can't run now.
Despite his pleas and insisting, no one will take Solomon's word that he is a free man from New York. And with no one to listen, Solomon and several other colored men are boarded onto a ship and sent South to be auctioned off to the plantations. Solomon, being considered a black man with talent because of his fiddle playing, has a high price put on his head but is still purchased by a lumber mill owner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who ends up being a kind master to his slaves. But it's not Ford that Solomon has to look out for. Being an educated man, Solomon has a difficult time adjusting to his new lowly status and winds up butting heads with Ford's Overseer Tibeats (Paul Dano). Tibeats thrives on his power over the slaves and takes great pleasure in being able to beat them and taunt them. But Solomon cannot help extending his knowledge on ways of improving work at the mill to Ford, who is overjoyed but Solomon goes too far and pushes Tibeats over the edge. Ford is forced to sell Solomon to a different plantation in secret after Tibeats nearly beats Solomon to death one night. And with that, Solomon's next life begins.
Things weren't perfect with Ford..but they were better than where
Solomon is being sent to now.
Solomon's new owner is a cotton plantation owned by the name of Epps. Epps (Michael Fassbender) is no where near the kind master that Ford has been. He works his slaves hard and beats them even harder when they so much as step a toe out of line. But Epps tends to be kinder when Patsey is around. Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o in her Academy Award-winning performance) is not only the hardest working slave on the entire plantation - she picks 500 pounds of cotton every single day - but she is also the forbidden, but not so secret, love interest of Mr. Epps. And Epps' wife (Sara Paulson) despises poor Patsey for it. Patsey is denied food and soap by Epps' wife purely out of spite and suffers horrible injuries at the hands of that awful woman. And Solomon has to sit by and watch all of this unfold. Years pass and life is hard for everyone, but Solomon is determined to survive.
Just another day working for Epps.
At the beginning of his captivity, Solomon believed with his whole heart that the men who bought him could be reasoned with and convinced that he was a free man. If these men saw how talented and educated he was, Solomon could easily be set free! But when this hope is shot down again and again, Solomon decides that the only way to get home to New York and his family is to simply run away. But Solomon is always caught, thankfully though he is able to back track and prove that he was really given an order so he narrowly escapes being hanged. But then that's it. Solomon has no more options. The only men with the power to free him are white men who either call him a liar and kick him to the ground, or are too afraid for their own lives to try and help Solomon. And Solomon cannot risk being killed. So he gets by. He keeps his head down and works. He keeps his head down and is beaten. For 12 years, this is Solomon's life. Until the kindness of a Canadian carpenter named Bass (Brad Pitt) extends his hand to Solomon and helps get this man freed.
Solomon will find a way to get home.
This movie is the definition of raw. I was anticipating seeing whippings and beatings, but not at this frequency. Which is kind of jaded of me, because of course conditions for black people in that time were horrific! I wasn't prepared for such an accurate portrayal of slavery, and I wasn't prepared for the emotional toll it took on me. The actors in this movie are all superb and did such an incredible job but I think of everyone, Paul Dano and Michael Fassbender were the most impressive! Such malice and conviction! I really hated these men during the movie, well done fellas! But what really rubbed more salt in my freshly ripped wounds was that at the end of the movie I learned that all of this was based on the REAL LIFE EVENTS THAT HAPPENED TO A REAL BLACK MAN!!! Seriously?! This man was kidnapped and sold into slavery and his family has to go on 12 whole years without any clue as to where he was?? How awful! And being subjected to this kind of evil?! It's almost unthinkable... I highly recommend this beautifully, painful movie - it's an amazing history lesson, an incredible true story filled with drama and danger, and something that just should be seen. Amazing.
An emotional roller coaster, but an amazing one!