Saturday, 19 October 2013


When Mr. Moon arrives at Edwin Epps' plantation to rescue Solomon Northup from the ages upon ages he has spent in bondage, it's only more surprising for him than it is for us. Has it been 12 years? Has it been mere weeks? Has it been an entire lifetime? It has, one way or another, been a very long time, an eternity, an infinity. He has been suppressed, compressed into something resembling just the wreckage of a human being, no longer seen as one by the world around him. As an object thieved from individual existence and bound into effective worthlessness as a conscious entity, he is not so much a victim of racism as of plain inhumanity. If this is finally the film that America, the world's most famous, prolific and successful filmmaking nation, needs, if this is finally the challenge it ought to have met so many years ago, it too is a part of that infinity, not to explain nor apologise for the sins mankind once committed nor to deter use from committing them again, but to reflect, with honesty and urgency, and cruel, brutal force. And it's not just America that must meet this force, and succumb to it. It's all of mankind. Steve McQueen is foremost an artist, and he deals with artistic convention, crafting a work that is a familiar story told using familiar tools but to unfamiliar ends. Immediately, it is a dazzling meeting of sound and image. Cumulatively, it is riveting. It is also the first of his films to relate directly to the world in which it is situated, and we too. The unbearable pain that Northup experiences once rescued, the bewildering terror of reacquainting himself with a life he struggled for so long to see again, cannot compare to the hopelessness that has consumed the lives of so many around him and, as McQueen refuses to permit us to forget, so many others. And so a portrait of the ordeal of one man becomes a portrait of the whole human race, of the enslavers and the enslaved, of pure humanity and pure inhumanity, of pure intelligence and pure stupidity. The reason you can't turn away? It's simple - 12 Years a Slave isn't just about Solomon Northup. It's about you.