Having been tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon Northup a free man finds himself going through the process and horrors of slavery, of experiencing not just the unjust, cruel, physical appropriation of 'himself' which no longer exists, but in how being stamped as a nigger he is placed just above animals but below white human beings. Solomon's account also gives us some detail of the politics and economics that surrounded the trade, as well as the normal practices that would serve to really wake modern audiences up to the horrors of that period.
Every so often a film comes about that gives us a historical account and that just tells the story as it needs to be told. There is no MTV style editing to make the film more flashy or grotesque or a grand musical score induced to bring on a greater emotional feeling. In fact the film has a very much appreciated stillness which is a credit to Steve McQueen's direction. The greatest moments in this film come about from just showing the matter-of-factness regarding the events. McQueen does not try to explain the history of how slavery was conducted, the shocking scenes of the trade are just part and parcel of the background, in the same way as if you were watching a film on Napoleon's Naval Tactics, the narrative (hopefully) wouldn't be patronising enough to try and explain to you what a ship was before you could get into the story.
"12 Years covers many intricacies regarding the types of relationships that existed during those times, but it does not dwell, linger or ask for sympathy in its exposing of the cruelty and very much shows that these were some complicated times for everyone."
Also essential to the story are the changing dynamics of human interaction between the masters, plantation overseers, house slaves, field slaves, head slaves, slaves who have now been promoted to concubines, sellers of slaves, freemen and the wives of masters. All this adds up to trouble when complexity of these relationships are fuelled by the ingredients of ego, lust, sadism, religion, law, justice, dogma, trauma, desolation and unsound minds. But what I liked most about 12 Years A Slave is that it always remains a human story no matter which character the story is focussing on.
12 Years covers many intricacies regarding the types of relationships that existed during those times, but it does not dwell, linger or ask for sympathy in its exposing of the cruelty and very much shows that these were some complicated times for everyone. I praise McQueen for not adding extra atrocities to nail the point in deeper as that would have been overkill and I believe audiences would have disengaged.
There is no mention of child rape, homosexual rape, male castration and a whole heap of other torture and day to day practices that existed for disobedient slaves. It also doesn't talk about the societies subversive measures in appropriating the grade and title 'Nigger' for the purposes of free labour, but all this would have lead to the film being too preachy and probably 10 hours long. But more importantly, if Solomon didn't talk about these things, then the film is remaining true to the book.
Overall 12 Years A Slave is a very worthwhile film on 2 fronts; one an unapologetic, true account of slavery and two a biopic that by itself is a story of survival, perseverance and courage.