12 Years a Slave"12 Years a Slave" is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, directed by Steve McQueen and is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality. The running time is 2 hours 13 minutes.
Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), and his unflinching cinematic eye, delivers a film filled with shame, guilt, hatred, anger, rage, torture, anguish and tears. It rips your heart out of your chest and holds it before your very eyes. It's a painful watch and one I won't likely run to visit again, but this doesn't detract from its quality. Thanks to those few seconds where our eyes lock with Northup's, it makes for a moment where the entire audience is forced to reflect on what they've seen and interpret it in their own way. It's a look that asks you to see Solomon not as a black man, but as a free man, no different than any of us, and it isn't the first time the idea is addressed in the film, but it is the first time the onus is placed 100% on the audience and it's a stroke of genius.
Yet, what must absolutely be mentioned and reiterated is the absolute horror this movie is to watch. A scene involving a hanging leaves a man dangling, with only the tips of his toes negotiating the muddy ground below serving as the difference between life and possible death. Choking and gasping for air, the soft squish of the wet mud is like needles in your ears. McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt first focus on his feet, then move to a wide shot as fellow slaves in the background get back to work, leaving the man to hang, afraid to interfere. A couple white people stare from the plantation windows and porch, the whole time the wet squish beneath the man's feet continues as he chokes for a sliver of air. The scene goes on, and on, and on.
Similarly, a scene where another character is whipped, the flesh ripped from their skin into bloody tendrils, is one I had to close my eyes during. Yet, the sound of leather on flesh remained. I stopped counting at 35 lashes before it ended, I maybe saw ten of them with my own eyes, but couldn't avoid the sound of the other 25.
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