Day 127: 12 Years a Slave

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Another late evening as, for my first today, I watched number 8 of 9 Best Picture nominated movies, 12 Years a Slave. I had hoped to save this movie for last, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture. But the movie Her doesn’t release until next Tuesday. Although the timing is great, last movie out, last movie to watch, the late release date meant that tonight, I watched this winner.

12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt. It was directed by Steve McQueen. This epic tale was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Costuming, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, Best Actor for Ejiofor, Best Actress for Nyong’o and Best Picture.  It won Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Picture.  The movie is rated R and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutres.

Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, played by Ejiofor, the movie follows the life of this American born free black man who is kidnapped in 1841, at the age of 32, and sold into slavery. Torn away from his family, friends and life, Northup, who is given the name Platt, is sold or traded among the plantations of northern Louisiana. Treated cruelly by most of his owners, Solomon nevertheless determines that he will do more than survive, he will live. A very intelligent man, raised by free parents and highly educated, Northup struggles to adopt the “be silent and lay low” attitude held by the other slaves, bringing wrath upon himself and often, severe punishment.

He meets and becomes the protector of a young slave woman named Patsey, played by Nyong’o in her film debut. Patsey has drawn the unwelcomed attention of plantation owner Edwin Epps, played by Fassbender. Northup’s care of Patsey enrages Epps and nearly costs him his life. Although he never ceases to think of his wife and family back in New York, and makes several attempts to get a letter back home, asking for help, it isn’t until Northup meets itinerant carpenter Samuel Bass that hope arises. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is from Canada and is anti-slavery. He listens to and believes Northup’s story and ultimately, is his rescuer.  Sending letters on Northup’s behalf, Bass prompts the legal powers in New York to at last secure Northup’s release, allowing him to return home to his wife and now grown family. In 1853 Solomon Northup wrote his memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. For the rest of his life he spoke against slavery and was active in the abolitionist movement.

That’s the story. The movie was gripping and very well acted, especially by Chiwetel Ojiofor, whose performance was powerful and gut-wrenching, at the same time. And although I haven’t seen the last movie, Her, for comparison, I can see why 12 Years a Slave won for Best Picture. How can anyone watch this film and not be affected? All that being said, this was a very difficult movie for me to watch. I cannot stand injustice. I cannot understand how one human being can treat another human being in such horrific ways. From his kidnapping until he secured his freedom, I watched Solomon’s story with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Northup was a good man, a talented musician, a compassionate friend. Having spoken this week about living as our shimmering self, rather than hiding behind false selves, I noticed how Northup, in spite of his attempts to disappear behind a blank expression and unassuming demeanor, couldn’t help but shine. His magnificent self would rise, a true testament to human dignity, courage and perseverance. He did do more than survive, he lived. He lived to become a free man once more and emptied himself in fighting for the freedom of all people.

I was deeply impacted by this movie. And lest I point a finger at another and cry “injustice” and “prejudice”, I examined my own heart and thoughts. To see anyone else as “other”, whether because of skin color, gender, age, accomplishments, ability or for any reason, is to isolate myself and label someone else. To grow and learn from this film is to glance inward to abolish any critical spirit or thought that I am more deserving than anyone else or that anyone is less than I am. We are One is more than a sentiment to me, it is my belief. To love myself is to love another. We are the same.

Day 111: Philomena

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Best Picture nominated movie night moved back to Monday this week, due to the holiday yesterday and being out of town. I visited the DVD store with the intention of picking up The Wolf of Wall Street. Then I saw that Philomena had released last week and there it was on the shelf. I shifted…and walked out of the store with Philomena.

This was a movie I wanted to see at the theater. Unfortunately, it didn’t play long at the Joplin theater and I missed it. The previews I had seen drew me, while at the same time, caused me concern as I always felt a deep sadness when I saw Judi Dench’s character, Philomena. However, this year I am not shying away from sad movies. I am discovering these stories have much to offer and that sadness is allowed and tears are not a sign of weakness.

Philomena stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan and was directed by Stephen Frears. It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screen Play, Best Original Score, Best Actress for Judi Dench and Best Picture. It did not win an Oscar in any category. The movie is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.

I love that four of the films I’ve watched so far are based on true stories, including this one. Truth can be so much more incredible and interesting than fiction! Give me a story based on real life experiences and touch my heart, making me care, making me laugh and weep, and that story will stay with me for a very long time. Philomena is such a story.

In Ireland, in 1952, Philomena Lee gave birth to a baby boy out of wedlock. Sent in disgrace to an abbey in Roscrea, Philomena is forced into menial labor for years, in exchange for a place to live for her and her son, Anthony. At the age of three, however, Anthony is placed into adoption, without his mother’s consent. For the next 47 years, Philomena thinks of her son daily, missing him, mourning his loss. And she’s searched for him, returning again and again to the abbey seeking information. She carries the secret of his existence until she can’t contain it any longer, revealing at last to her grown daughter that she had a son while still in her teens. Her daughter connects her with journalist Martin Sixsmith, formerly with the BBC, who is out of work and looking for a story.

The two embark on a journey to find Philomena’s lost son. Their search takes them from the abbey in Ireland, where no help is offered, to Washington DC in the US. Martin’s investigation uncovers a dark scheme. The abbey sold babies and children to wealthy Americans seeking to adopt. Anthony was adopted by a doctor and his wife, from St. Louis, MO, and his name changed to Michael. Philomena does locate her son. Not in the way she had hoped to, but find him she does, and the shadowy pieces of his life become clear. Martin and Philomena come full circle, back to the abbey in Roscrea, where Martin’s anger at the lies and the mistreatment of young, vulnerable women is sharply contrasted by Philomena’s grace and forgiveness.

This was an emotional movie. Yes, it made tears fill my eyes. Judi Dench did a remarkable job portraying this wise and yet charmingly naïve woman who loved her son so much, she couldn’t forget him. Her blunt comments, kindness toward others and love of romance novels made me laugh, just when the tears threatened to spill. And Steve Coogan, who I discovered also wrote the screenplay, was amazing, portraying Martin Sixsmith as a man searching for something beyond himself to believe in.

As a mother, my heart hurt for Philomena’s pain and loss and her desperation to find her son. She didn’t want to take him back. She only wanted to know that he was okay, that he had lived well, and that he knew she loved him. As parents, we all hope the same is true for our children.

Day 69: Watch Gravity

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As I watched the Academy Awards recently, I realized I had not seen any of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture. Not one! I believe that might have been a first! I decided to remedy that. My first, therefore, is twofold: watch all nine of the nominated movies and do a review of each film after I’ve seen it. For today’s first, I began this adventure with Gravity.

I was surprised at the number of nominations that Gravity received, including Best Picture. I’d seen a couple of previews and my first impression was that this movie was a space thriller. A couple of big name actors starred in the film, true, but I didn’t see enough to make me head to the theater and I definitely didn’t expect it to receive all the nominations that it did, 10 total. On Oscar night, as I filled in my ballot, I began to just select Gravity in each category it was a contender in. It won seven Oscars, including Best Visual Effects and the big category of Best Director. I was curious now and I had new respect for the film. As the idea formed to view all of the Best Picture nominated movies, I knew Gravity would be the first one I watched.

Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and is directed by Alfonso Cuaron. It’s rated PG-13 and has a run time of 91 minutes.

I enjoyed the movie! It is a fast paced, short film, that had me clasping my hands tightly together as Sandra Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, finds herself facing the unimaginable in space.  On a routine spacewalk, disaster strikes, leaving Stone and veteran astronaut Kowalsky,  played by George Clooney, stranded outside the destroyed space shuttle. I don’t want to include spoilers in these reviews. I will say that the rest of the movie follows Dr. Stone as she fights to survive. It’s not just space that has attempted to defeat her, nor is this the first unimaginable event Ryan has faced in her life.

Gravity is more than a movie about space. It is about what connects us to life, what grounds us to the earth. Tears filled my eyes watching Ryan struggle with the decision to engage or disengage with life. She knew, as did I, that it was not a matter of surviving or not, it was about living, really living. Don’t we all have the same decision to make? Whether we are facing a catastrophic event, or a dullness that has seeped into our souls, we choose whether we will slowly die or truly begin to live. Will we find that which connects us to life and engage, bringing joy and passion and purpose into our lives?  I choose to engage! I choose to reach.

You’ll have to watch Gravity to see what Dr. Ryan Stone chooses.