Friday, November 15, 2013

Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave"

I am failing miserably at my New Year's resolution of seeing one movie a month in the theater (in an attempt to have a life outside of school and art). Not only is it a luxurious form of escape, but highly influential in my creative process. I will try to complete the unlikely task/dream/goal of viewing twelve this year by packing in six in the next few weeks (providing that they come to a theater near the hinterland though I have been known to drive three hours in one direction to see a film). Last weekend, I met Amelia in Indy to see one of the most challenging movies, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave.

There are many scenes that will remain with me for a very long time: 1) Chitwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup hanging from a noose for hours with his feet barely touching the slick, muddy ground; 2) the most authentic and brutal beatings, a constant reminder of how difficult this movie was to watch (let alone make), and 3) the men, women and children bathing in the gray morning light before they are shipped to Louisiana from Washington DC, not yet knowing their fate.

One of the most memorable scenes is also the most subtle. It is one of complete stillness: Solomon staring past the viewer, pausing in the middle of activity, while the swampland behind him slowly shifts in the breeze. All the humiliation, the hopelessness, the fear and the pain is visible in his face. It is a profound moment, where seemingly nothing happens, but everything is about to change. We know then that twelve years of hell are about to end but we do not yet know how.

As hard as this was to watch (it was not only a tearjerker but a near sobbing experience), it was well worth it. Thank you, Steve McQueen, for 12 Years a Slave. Thank you, Chitwetel Ejiofor, for bringing such life to Solomon Northrup. I love the fact that an English video artist with a cast of predominantly English actors made one of the memorable films on American slavery.

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