If you haven’t heard of this film, have you been living under a rock? I recently saw this film and can’t get it out of my head. Steve McQueen can currently do no wrong in the filmmaking world with this, masterpiece. This Steve McQueen’s third feature film, and of course, it stars Michael Fassbender.
12 Years A Slave tackles the difficult subject matter of slavery, but is also based on the extraordinary story of Solomon Northup, a man kidnapped and sold into slavery. This is the very basic, bare bones of this tale. Solomon Northup, (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is from Saratoga in the state of New York and he is drugged and kidnapped and subsequently sold into slavery in Louisiana. This begins the hardships Solomon has to suffer for the 12 years that he was a slave.
Steve McQueen made the reality of slavery during these times present, sure the audience knew about the hardships, but McQueen had it when Solomon first arrived to be collected by Theophilus (Paul Giamatti) he sees other slaves locked in chains, scars on their faces and the most shocking seeing a slave with a missing hand. Of course, include this with the four-minute whipping scene, it’s clear Steve McQueen is not shy to use the more graphic scenes for emphasis.
With the subject nature, a powerful performance would always be on the cards, and with the cast there is no difference. With Steve McQueen’s previous works of Hunger and Shame, the performances from Fassbender have been key to the film, 12 Years A Slave is no different, but this includes the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor and and feature film debutant Lupita Nyong’o, who played Patsey. Admittedly, the Michael Fassbender performance leaves the vivid image in my head.
“I do not want to survive, I want to live”
Not only are the performances of everyone that is top billed captivating and powerful, the essence of the people during this time is captivating. The idly standing by of everyone, whilst Solomon hangs from a noose, but then to counteract that Solomon joining in with the singing around the grave. Which is also a captivating scene in itself.
The score blended in nicely to what was happening, although sometimes it felt it was there to highlight the emotions that you should feel, rather than thinking for yourself, but overall, it worked. And of course, the shooting was nothing spectacular, but all flowed nicely. Some long, drawn out shots worked really well, like the one at the end, with him staring at you in the cinema. (I heard someone say “That kind of made you feel guilty, didn’t it?” to someone)
I hadn’t worked on this post for around 5 days, but this was also an advantage, because it gave me time to think what I remember about this film. And the thing was, the things I remember the most was the lifestyle that slaves had to live. Steve McQueen had an expert on slavery present whilst filming, so this depiction of slavery is closest thing we shall see on the screen I would imagine. With the like of Django using slavery as a subject matter, I felt 12 Years A Slave the much better project of the two when dealing with slavery.
Taking that into account, and with the captivating performances of Lupita and Chiwetel and of course Michael Fassbender, this film is excellent. Obviously, if you dislike images that may upset your stomach, you may want to shy away form this film as McQueen has in turn not shied away from showing the true plight of the slaves. This also felt different to his other works of Shame and Hunger, but it works, it shows an expansion of directing, instead of sticking to the niche that has been seen in the past.
If you think I’ve left anything out that needed mentioning let me know! Or if you’ve seen this and think differently!