DAY 3 – 12 Years A Slave

by 12daysofmovies


“Listen man, I know being a slave and all seems shitty right now, but just riiiide it out. At the end of this road is a big mountain full of Oscars for everybody here. Just riiiide it out.”


I thought watching and writing about 12 Days of Movies was going to be a gauntlet, but man, it’s not nearly as bad as 12 Years as A Slave.

Day 3 brings us to the unofficial mascot of our blog (due to the similarity in naming scheme), and, by far, the best movie yet to appear on it.

These last three days have been full of lots of cinematic violence. Millions of Orcs beheaded mid-sneer, kids getting hacked and slashed senselessly on a fictional reality show, but the violence in 12 Years a Slave, though not including even a single decapitation or explosion, was by far the most gruesome and visceral depiction of what one human is capable of inflicting upon another.

Steve McQueen’s (director) background as an experimental visual artist serves the film well. The experimental outlays in cinematography and editing that he deploys in this film never feel overbearing or forced, but fresh, creative, and vital. Film, like any hugely commercialized art form, needs to get shot in the arm every once in awhile to keep it moving forward. And no, it won’t be the blockbuster Hobbits or Hunger Games kind of movies that accomplish this inching forward. It’s also nice to see a movie with such heavy subject matter allowed the freedom to have its form toyed with.

There’s a scene where Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is dangling from an attempted lynching, and his feet are tip-toed in the mud, dancing precariously between life and death. Most directors, I would suspect, would utilize this image for maybe a 2 second cutaway, but McQueen lingers on it for what feels like an eternity, and then, unexpectedly, switches the angle, and shows from whose viewpoint the audience has been watching the scene all along. It’s chilling stuff.

In less time than it takes Bilbo Baggins to get from the Dark Forest to the Lonely Mountain, McQueen manages to tell Northrup’s story clearly and freshly, and for that, I’m just fucking thrilled and stuff.

Since this is an Oscar-type movie and lots of really smart people have already written lots of really smart things about it, I will just give up here and move on to random notes, I mean, I’m halfway down a bottle of wine and I have no plans of turning back now. So, just see the movie if you like good stuff. I liked it.

Random Notes:

1) My Dad, who is the one supplying the free-movie passes for this venture, keeps bringing candy to the theater, hidden in his pockets. My God, if I eat another Rolo I may die. It’s really taking it’s toll on me. I keep going to the gym and going on long walks and I know that I am losing this fight.

2) In the early parts of the movie, there was some pretty glaring ADR weirdness. At one point, while Paul Giametti is selling naked slaves in a nice parlor with fanciful music, somebody manages to say something like “yes sir” without his mouth moving at all. THAT’S NOT HOW TALKING WORKS.

3) Everyone speaks in the movie like one of those beautiful Civil War letters you read, all very heavily influenced by the King James Bible, since that’s most of what people read back then. I really liked the way the dialogue was written, and sometimes we forget that every time someone says “Hey buddy, put the girl down,” in a historically-based movie, it’s a huge inaccuracy. People just didn’t speak like that before the last 60 or so years (or something like that).

4) I learned that if you’re a slave, trying to get pen and paper to write a life-saving letter, and then getting it safely mailed off, was slightly harder than trying to take notes in a dark movie theater.

5) Michael Fassbender, who plays the insanely evil Edwin Epps (Northrup’s second owner), managed to make me laugh more than a few times during the movie, and no, the baboon joke was not one of those times (sensitive!).