Thursday, 13 March 2014
12 Years A Slave
This year's Academy Award winning Best Picture, '12 Years A Slave', is based on the experiences of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
The film opens with Northup already in servitude. A short flashback sequence then provides images of his family life as a free man and in general terms how he was kidnapped. From that point the film focusses intently on life as a slave.
I had held off seeing this film, released in Australia some time ago, because I felt the material would be harrowing to view and that's how it transpired. Director, Steve McQueen, has crafted a stunning film that relentlessly reveals the shocking abuse inflicted on those in servitude. The images, shocking enough in themselves, are made all the more powerful, book ended as they are by static images that are almost portrait and landscape works of art in appearance. It is as though McQueen is daring the audience to watch whilst the camera lingers for uncomfortably long periods on the sickening behaviour.
Ejiofor retains an almost saintly dignity throughout in a performance commendably devoid of excess theatrics but I found the pick of the performers to be Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o and Paul Dano. The only discordant aspect in casting is that of Brad Pitt in a short but key cameo near the end which smacks of celebrity tokenism.
Whilst the events depicted in the film date back to the 19th Century I could not help but reflect on current day injustices - some sadly not too far from home - where humanity remains badly lacking.
This film is not an entertainment but it is an important reality check on past and present instances of discrimination, abuse and intolerance. The lessons of history which we never seem to learn.