Earlier this month another potential Oscar contender opened at the Arclight, the critically acclaimed 12 Years a Slave. It’s not an easy film to watch, with all the cruelty of American slavery brutally portrayed on screen.
Based on the autobiography written by Solomon Northup in 1853 of the same title, 12 Years a Slave recounts the true story of a free man born in New York State but kidnapped and sold into slavery. For the next 12 years Northup was forced to work on plantations in Louisiana before eventually regaining his freedom.
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, the film is packed with names including Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, who wowed in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt. The outstanding acting and brutal imagery captured by director Steve McQueen serve to make 12 Years a Slave one of the best ever depictions of slavery on the big screen.
By showing Northup’s comparatively idyllic home life as a violinist before being sold into slavery by kidnappers, the film elegantly juxtaposes the difference between North and South. Frequently in films, the brutal reality of America’s slave era takes a backseat to the main thrust of the story but 12 Years a Slave brings it to the forefront, showcasing the harsh life up close and personal.
Northup’s ordeal begins when two men hire him for a violin gig and then get him drunk. When he wakes up, he is in a dank hole. His ordeal only gets worse from there as he is trapped in his mind with the outrage of a free man, but is forced to hide his feelings with those that believe him to be no more than an animal.
The film follows Northup’s adventure, through highs and lows, all carefully directed by Steve McQueen, who also directed Shame and Hunger.