Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The good is oft interred

If there are two films you should absolutely NOT watch back to back despite being bored on an airplane, they are The Book Thief and 12 Years a Slave.

They are both excellent films.  They are, however, depressing as hell.

The Book Thief, based on a book I will likely not read because the movie had me sobbing in front of strangers and fellow plane passengers, is about a little orphan girl in WWII Germany. Aside from the German accents done by British actors being pretty bad and some of the characters being rather one-dimensional, the story brutally plays with your emotions. It's narrated by Death, so that kind of sets the tone from the beginning; also, it takes place in the middle of a war, so you know at least some of the main characters won't survive. You just have no idea whether it's the Jewish guy hidden in the basement, the boy next door being shipped off to military camp, the retired father being shockingly conscripted, or anyone else you grow fond of.

So I have no idea why, after wiping the salt and tears from my cheeks and eyes and choking down my sobs, I thought I should follow up a story about WWII bombs with a story about the horrors of American slavery. But I did!

12 Years a Slave was one of the books I could have read in a sociology class in college but chose to re-read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl instead. The movie has a stilted feel to it, and it takes a little while to get used to the speech patterns. As the true story of a free black man sold into slavery,
at least you know he's eventually rescued and returned to his family in the North. Like the protagonist, the viewer sees the institution of slavery through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with its daily horrors and who at the end of the story can close that chapter of history.  I couldn't help but compare the narrative device to Kindred, which also uses the lens of an outsider to illustrate the evils of slavery.

Unfortunately, after watching back to back films about the horrible things humans do to each other, I had no opportunity to watch anything with puppies and rainbows.  The plane landed, and I arrived home in Seattle to our sobering gray and rainy weather.

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