(Disclaimer: As always, I talk in-depth about movies that I have seen. If you have not seen the movie referenced and don’t want any “spoilers,” then navigate away from this page now.)
I watched 12 Years A Slave this last weekend. It was easy to see how it won so many awards as well as garnered so many nominations. It truly was the best picture from last year… and that’s hard for me to say with The Wolverine coming out last year, too.
Without recapping the whole story, the general plot is one that was familiar in pre-Civil War America. Solomon Northrop, a free African-American man, is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He is learned and talented but those are not things prized in a Louisiana slave. He’s forced to hide his gifts, keep his head down, and perform the brute labor that he’s been bought to do. The story has many twist and turns as Solomon seeks a way to get word to his family in the North about his plight. With the help of a wandering Canadian carpenter, Solomon is finally able to get word to his friends in New York.
The movie climaxes with a carriage pulling up to the cotton plantation where Solomon lives. He’s working in the field when he’s called over to identify someone. It’s a man he knew a life-time ago in his home, Mr. Parker. Solomon is asked a few more questions to verify that he is who he says he is. Once Mr. Parker is sure that this is his friend, he forcefully guides Solomon Northrop to the waiting carriage. But not easily. The plantation owner, Mr. Epps, sees a $1000 investment trying to walk off his land. In a short but violent scene, Mr. Fisher forcibly asserts that Solomon is free while Mr. Epps argues that Solomon belongs to him. The scene is short and, I believe, a sort of filler to get to what the director wants to really portray: Solomon’s leaving of another slave, Patsy. But don’t move past that interplay between Mr. Parker and Mr. Epps too quickly. It’s there that you’ll find a wonderful chance to talk about the Gospel.
That interaction between Mr. Parker and Mr. Epps is a fantastic embodiment of the classic Latin theological phrase: simul iustus et peccator which means, every man is “simultaneously saint and sinner.” There is a constant argument over identity that wages inside each and every one of us. On the one hand is Satan and his minions who are like Mr. Epps. They curse at us, swear at us, tell us that we are nothing but a slave to them. They spit and fume and fuss. They tell us that they own us. They tell us that we aren’t worth anything and we aren’t going anywhere. They remind us that we are sinners. We have always been sinners. We will always be sinners. They seek to keep us in slavery.
On the one hand there is Christ and His Holy Spirit who are like Mr. Parker. They tell us that we are free, that we are not meant for a life of slavery, that we are loved beyond all measure, that we are worth much more than $1000… or whatever price we think has been paid for us. Christ reminds us every day that we were always intended to be free men but were kidnapped by sin and sold into slavery. This is was never our intended state. Christ tells us every day that we are saints, forgiven men and women, because He has paid the price for our redemption. We are saints and we will live with Christ in holiness forever.
“For freedom Christ has set you free…” –Galatians 5:1 The theme of slavery and freedom has always been part of the lives of God’s people (cf. The Exodus) and that theme is driven home beautifully in the movie 12 Years A Slave.