I cry at lots of stuff. Movies, books, TV shows, even stupid Internet videos can leave me blubbery at my desk. This is not to say I cry all that often. Maybe a more accurate statement would be to say I well up at lots of things. Crying is reserved for only the most deeply emotional moments, though they can also be caused by the aforementioned lot of delivery methods.
I only bring this up because over the weekend I had the opportunity to see 12 Years a Slave. I went with my wife and her parents. This was probably not the best idea.
As Pete Vonder Haar explains in his review of the film, it is both brilliant and devastating, the acting; the editing, the cinematography, the writing all built to induce a kind of suffering for the audience that mirrors the storyline. There are moments in the film that are pure visual torture, not because, like a gory horror film (or gorno for those into that sort of thing), it was bloody and gruesome, but because it depicted a reality none of us want to face and it did so in achingly long shots that felt like they went on for hours.
It is my personal experience that movies, in particular, stick with me over time. Scary films invade my dreams for weeks after seeing them. Wrenchingly emotional movies leave me exhausted and can even occasionally alter my mood for hours after.
It's never overboard. I'm a fairly happy-go-lucky dude, so most things roll off me pretty quickly and I'm certainly not a jerk to my friends or loved ones over it. I've known people whose entire perspective on life can be altered by a single song lyric. That ain't me. But, when a film like 12 Years passes in front of me, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't overwhelmed.
Admittedly, I cried a bit during the film and covered my eyes for one sequence despite the fact that it had no blood or guts or scary demons leaping off the screen. I got the distinct feeling during this particular scene that my fellow audience members would have yelled out, "Please, for the love of God, make it stop already!" if they felt it were appropriate.
At the end, I had to take a deep breath to avoid bawling like a small child -- other members of the audience clearly didn't and were visibly shaken. I, of course, had incentive to hold it in as I was seated next to my brand new in-laws and, to be quite frank, I had no desire to be the only one in our four-person row weeping like I was at a funeral. But, I was speechless, something anyone who knows me will tell you is a virtual impossibility. By the time we got to the car and had left my wife's folks to their drive home, I couldn't hold it in any longer.
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My wife, who has only RARELY seen me like this, patted me on the leg and said, "You really do get emotional over stuff like this." Thankfully, it was not followed by, "I know we've only been married three weeks, but I think we need to talk." In truth, she was affected as well. We both needed a drink (or four) to feel like we were back in the real world again. We discussed how people could treat each other that way and how incredible, despite the awful subject matter, the performances were and the filmmaking as a whole. By the time I went to sleep, I was back to my normal, happy self.
Still, I will file this under "films I needed to see but never want to watch again." It's like Schindler's List, which would have been far more enjoyable had I made out through it like Jerry did in that episode of Seinfeld even if my parents found out and gave me a stern lecture.
Ultimately, 12 Years is a wonderful, heart-wrenching film that portrays a violently disturbing time in our history we'd all prefer to forget, as seen through the eyes of a man who endured it, personally and profoundly. It was a touching portrait of his struggles to overcome not just the unbelievable atrocities committed against him and his fellow slaves, but the reconciliation of his own humanity in the face of the worst kind of cruelty.
I didn't so much appreciate it as endure the experience, but it was completely worth it. And you could not pay me to see it again.