12 Years A Slave
Brutal, honest and unmerciful, 12 Years a Slave is a biopic of the rarest kind.
Based on a true story, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor ) is an African-American violin player who was born a free man, living a fortunate life with his family in New York in the 1840s.
Northup receives an offer from two white men to play his violin in a circus, and decides to accept it, travelling to Washington to have dinner with the two.
The dinner, which Solomon misinterprets as a gesture of acceptance, turns out to be a cover for something far more sinister, and as Solomon wakes up the next day in chains, he realises the inevitable truth: he’s been sold into slavery.
“Tell no one who you are and tell no one you can read or write, unless you want to be a dead nigger,” a fellow slave tells him as Solomon is shipped off to Louisiana and into the hands of vicious plantation owners.
British director Steve McQueen’s third film has taken the moving tale of Solomon’s struggles and brought it to life with a perfect cast and this year’s most emotionally charged cinematography.
From a slow walk through a cotton field to a close-up of a slave’s freshly whipped back, McQueen focuses on a steady stream of powerful images to move his audience.
A particularly heartbreaking scene in which Solomon hangs from a tree with a noose around his neck, his feet barely touching the ground, while other slaves walk past in the background ignoring him is one of the most haunting images in cinema the past few years.
Watching Ejiofor struggle to stabilise himself throughout this lengthy scene acts as a potent symbol of a slave’s constant struggle- hanging halfway between death and survival- and one of many powerful scenes McQueen has used to express a slave’s daily struggles.
Instead of initiating viewers to run out of the cinema crying halfway through the filmhowever, McQueen uses a slower pace and lingering images to guide us through the storyconstantly playing on your heartstrings.
Ejiofor’s portrayal of Solomon is incredibly moving, and despite numerous award nominations in his past, 12 Years A Slave has finally given him a role worthy of his talent.
Despite Ejiofor’s powerful performance, it is Michael Fassbender’s performance as a sadist ”nigger breaker” that stands out, resembling that of Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a slave owner in Django Unchained. Watching Fassbender whip a naked girl close to death before saying that “man does what he pleases with his property” is possibly one of Fassbender’s strongest scenes to date.
These false facades also appear through the sets in the film - beautiful Louisiana plantation with large white mansions and a mellow buzz of crickets create a powerful contrast to the vile treatment of the slaves that worked on them.
McQueen lets the images speak for themselves, and unlike other historical dramas, resists the urge to include inspirational speeches, large crescendos and promises of revenge. It never feels like the film wants to lecture you, rather show you an honest picture of the events that took place, evoking emotions rather than opinions.
Poetic moments such as a tired Solomon standing alone in a forest listening to the sounds of nature shows the effects that slavery had on the mind of a slave and not only on their bodies.
With 7 Golden Globe nominations, it is no reach in predicting that McQueen’s masterpiece will lead the Oscar race this year – and rightfully so.
12 Years a Slave is a haunting and powerful history lesson, told through McQueen’s poetic imagery and impeccable cast performances.