I will strongly advise anyone planning to go and watch Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” not to unless they’re armed with a pack of tissue. This advice is not only to women but to macho men as well. Never, ever claim that a film can’t make you cry if you haven’t seen this film. On the other hand, you could just grab some tissue from the till when buying the ticket. The staff will understand if you told them what film you’re going to watch.
I have been going to the cinema for as long as I can remember and never have I seen a cinema crowd file out of a screening room before looking like they had just been to a funeral service. There’s usually a buzz after every performance at the cinema with the viewers discussing the merits or demerits of the film. In some cases you’d overhear a disgruntled person talking about a refund of money and time wasted or two friends going over the exciting moments in the film. After watching this film however, there was grave-yard silence among the viewers as they filed out of the cinema, many dabbing their eyes. You could see sober looking men cuddling their sobbing female partners as they groped their way out of the semi-lit screening room. Others were shaking their heads, as if in grief. No one was smiling yet many would jump at the opportunity to see the film again, I know I would.
It’s difficult to say exactly what was the most emotionally provoking thing about the film: was it the indiscriminate lashings belted out to the slaves, the extra-judicial hangings, the portrayal of human beings as mere chattel or the betrayal fuelled by greed and encouraged by that society and their morally bankrupt notion of justice, which turned Solomon Northup, a freeman, into a slave? Or was it the fact that it was a true story?
For me, the cruel irony of the film was slave owners referring to their slaves as animals. Sir, if you believe it’s okay to own a human being like you own livestock, you are the animal because sub-consciously we treat others as we expect to be treated.
Everyone watching the film knew the lashings and the bile inducing lacerations they caused were film tricks but every time the whip landed on the back of any of the black characters you could hear a low wince from the audience. That was the only sound you heard, however, as everyone was completely engrossed in the film patiently waiting to see if or when Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) would obtain his freedom.
Talking about Ejiofor, any nomination he gets would be well deserved and you’d be forgiven for thinking Lupita Nyong’o had been acting in Hollywood blockbusters since the day she was born. No, that was her first major film and she got a Golden Globe nomination for it.
Having read a synopsis of the film and knowing what role Brad Pitt played in it I had never been happier to see his bearded, weather-beaten (Just for the character he played) but still terribly handsome face in the movie. There are actors and there are the likes of Brad-Pitt.
Benedict Cumberbatch, currently playing Sherlock Holmes on BBC, was also brilliant, by the way.
The directing was superb. Steve McQueen had a way of depicting time passage in the film – a close-up shot of the actor (usually Ejiofor) for a few precious seconds, nothing else happening, no dialogue, very little sound and minimal movement – genius!
Once in a while, a film comes like “The Slum Dog Millionaire” or “The Artist” that sweeps away most of the awards. It’s looking as if “12 Years a Slave” would be one of those films.