12 YEARS A SLAVE Movie Review
Those of us familiar with American History are aware of it’s ugly hidden past, but how often do we honestly reflect and imagine ourselves in uncomfortable situations? Any human can relate to oppression on a certain level, however often seem to get distracted in our own irrelevant self-importance. Steve McQueen doesn’t just want us to personally identify with the cruelty of having our identity taken away but understand the importance of selfless unity and relying on love through pain with your fellow victims of the grim human condition.
Based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, we get absorbed into the harrowing journey of Solomon’s plight, portrayed with undeniable elegance and conviction by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a man living educated and free with extraordinary musical talent, only to be lured under false pretense in the promise of playing his violin in a travelling show. Solomon finds himself awake in chains and is now forced to live as Platt, a runaway slave from Georgia that is mercilessly sold to a Louisiana plantation owned by a sympathetic Baptist preacher that admires Platt’s natural gifts but can’t bring himself to sacrifice his own security by risking his neck for Platt’s freedom. Platt’s worst nightmare comes in the form of a spiteful overseer named Tibeats, courtesy of Paul Dano. Dano’s brief but effective performance reinstates what I believe to be his importance to modern cinema. He is masterfully convincing at playing the insecure bully that’s victimized by his own self-entitlement and has the power to make you truly despise his abuse of undeserved authority, yet at the same time let you understand his jealous point of view. When Tibeats gets his revenge on Platt, McQueen refuses to let us turn away unscathed as we get a disturbingly quiet and uninterrupted moment of a helpless man barely surviving on his tiptoes in the mud with his impending death wrapped around his neck. This is one of many necessary moments that McQueen lets us experience without apology and the execution accomplishes exactly what these moments are meant to make us feel. After being rescued, Platt is regrettably sent to the sadistically unforgiving Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and throughout his horrific tribulations, manages to keep his will and spirit together in one piece. When we come to a moment at a slave funeral, we witness his spirit being broken as he gives into a moving rendition of Roll Jordan Roll that is so intense, it genuinely mde me ache in pain and feel the relief through this reflective moment of clarity.
Filmmaker Steve McQueen has created a soulful and genuine cinematic experience that deserves to be absorbed and understood without safety. Nothing here is easy to watch, which is exactly the point. We must accept to have our spirits broken and embrace the torture to appreciate Platt’s salvation. This film reminds me of the power cinema can have by letting us reflect on cruelty and think past our own comfort. 12 Years A Slave shows that the antebellum nightmare is an unpleasant truth that holds a mirror to society and is a reminder that McQueen refuses to sugarcoat in any way, which that in itself is a remarkable achievement.