12 Years a Slave :The Most Powerful Film in a Generation?

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Saturday 1384  – 18.01.2014

 I saw the film 12 Years a Slave today and what an impact it had on me.  I knew it was going to be a tough film to watch but was completely knocked for six by the power of the story telling. In case you haven’t heard of it here’s an extract from the Internet Movie Data Base :-

“Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, )as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.”

It is absolutely gripping but also extremely hard to watch as it does not shirk from showing us, with stark honesty ,the physical, sexual and emotional brutality against slaves that enabled them to be controlled and the slave trade to be sustained . In my opinion, Chiwetel Ejiofor (above) who plays Solomon, puts in an Oscar deserving performance as he shows the full range of emotions ; fear, anger, despair, hope and joy.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (below) gives a mesmerizing performance as the abused cotton picker Patsey, which leaves you feeling bereft,especially at the end of the film.

woman in 12 years a slave

One of the things that really sets this film apart for me, is the brilliant camera work. It’s often intimate and as it draws you in ever closer you really feel as though you are there.. a ghostly figure standing close enough to the actors to feel their gasps and the lash of the whip.  It’s very unnerving.

There are some really understated scenes too, like one where something terrible is happening to someone in one part of the shot while in the rest of the shot everyone is going about their normal business. It’s chilling and harrowing in its effectiveness. 

There is another scene which seems to last several minutes. It’s just a close-up of Solomons face but the stillness speaks volumes because of Ejiofor’s ability to say much, just with the minutest of changes to his facial expressions.

This is a very brave film and, like Schindlers list before it, vividly shows the dark side of human beings with their ability to inflict the most terrible cruelty on another.

If you do see it, don’t kid yourself that it couldn’t happen today ( human trafficking continues)  or that racism has gone away; it hasn’t but it certainly should have.. The ignorance and white supremacist attitude, that gave rise to the slave trade,  sadly persists to this day.

I think this will go down as being one of the most powerful  and debated films of the 21st Century and I commend it to you.

Make sure you bring plenty of tissues though as you may need them. I unashamedly wept!

As ever I welcome your thoughts especially if you have seen the film or read the book.

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Saturday girl signing off.

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You can find my photography blog Photomania here 

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2 comments on “12 Years a Slave :The Most Powerful Film in a Generation?

  1. scillagrace says:

    Haven’t seen the film, but I remember being absolutely gripped by “Roots” as a young teen when it was aired on TV. I wrote a sort of manifesto in my diary after that, promising myself never to be racist. I was 14.

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