My decision not to see "Twelve Years a Slave" in a theater was purposeful. To this point, I've avoided going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for a similar reason - a concern about losing control of my emotions in a public place. Over the past few months I borrowed ""Twelve Years..." from the library several times, then returned it unwatched because I still didn't feel ready.
This is a film that clearly deserves the accolades it received and the ensuing conversation it generated. Just as clearly, I was wise to wait to see it in private. The unthinking cruelty and debasement are graphic - I was overcome many times. Even so, I knew it was critical to keep reminding myself that my reactions to what was being depicted were meaningless next to the actual experiences of a man like Solomon Northrup. I'm morally obligated to learn and re-learn that lesson from movies or books dealing with slavery.
The dramatization of Northrup's emotional reuniting with his family at the conclusion is wrenching and triumphant. But then come the end notes. And as difficult as it was watching "Twelve Years A Slave", in his postscript Director Steve McQueen saved the larger tragedy - what happened to Northrup and his tormentors after the twelve years - for last.