It's hard to imagine the nightmare the real-life Solomon Northup faced as a free man who was tricked, drugged, and sold into slavery in 1841. But 12 Years a Slave, the Oscar-winning film based on Northup's 1853 biography, offers valuable insight into his experience.
The movie picked up the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay trophies at this year's Academy Awards — along with a Best Supporting Actress score for ingenue Lupita Nyong'o, who brought heartbreaking courage and vulnerability to the role of Patsey.
The movie was filled with important lessons about love and life, especially from the resilient Solomon. Here are just a few that we took away.
1. Never miss a chance to tell your loved ones how you feel.
Though it's told through flashbacks in 12 Years, Solomon (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a family man through and through. And keeping their memory alive in his heart was his key to surviving. After the abuse and torturous work, his previous life as a free man could have felt like nothing more than a dream. It's his memories of his wife and kids that helped set him free.
2. Friendships are sometimes the most important relationships.
Solomon met and bonded with a few fellow slaves. At first, he planned to go up against the ship's crew that transported kidnapped slaves to the South, but the first man to attack was stabbed and killed immediately. Then, there's Solomon's bond with Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o ). It's both heartbreaking and beautiful. She turns to him in her darkest hour of despair. Just one look between the two of them reveals their unspoken feelings. And in the end, you felt how badly Solomon wanted to save her from the fixated wrath of Epps, their master.
3. You will find people to trust you and believe in you.
Before his kidnapping, Solomon was a well-respected man in his town. Then, he saw the inhumanity of the white slave owners in the South. He didn't allow this reality to change his perception of all white men and women. He certainly would not have been rescued had he not taken a leap of faith and confided in a traveling white Canadian carpenter and abolitionist. At some points in your life, you have to follow your gut and hope for the best.
4. Love can keep you alive.
One of the most unforgettable scenes in the movie? When Solomon carved his wife and kids' names into the violin gifted to him by his first master. The simple ability to keep his family in his heart without showing his heartbreak was key to Solomon's resilience and survival.
5. Love can be lost, but never forgotten.
Though it's no spoiler that Solomon did regain his freedom after 12 years of slavery, his family had to eventually move on when they couldn't track his whereabouts. They didn't move on right away, but his kids grew up and started families of their own. When they are reunited, Solomon speaks first by saying, "I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years." Despite all he's been through, he doesn't ask for sympathy. He wanted them to know he didn't leave them or ever stop thinking about them.
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