Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

Cinema-Maniac: 12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

Slavery remains a troubling issue so much in fact that we feel more comfortable viewing dozen Holocaust films than a single film on slavery. It’s an certain period in human history no one is proud off and willingly attempt to prevent from ever occurring again. However, simply labeling this film with a single intention is saying very little of its true power. What many hailed as being the greatest film about slavery I dare say is an essential statement on humanity. It’s not just a film about slavery, but rather about the common man.

12 Years A Slave is set in antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Its biggest strength is being able to depict slavery how it is without feeling exploitative. This film always walks on a thin line of being one hanging, one whiplashing, one beating from being deemed tasteless. All the more praiseworthy when its difficult depiction is pulled off successfully. On paper it’s easy to sympathize for Solomon Northup just as a slave, but that was not the intention. Solomon is not just a free black man; he’s a common man, with common features, common dreams, sharing a common will for the desire to live in his harrowing endeavor. Sympathizing with Solomon for who he is and not what he became. Enduring as much as the human spirit could living and entrapped in a cruel world that coexist with his former one. Much like Solomon, we never forget the freedom we have while attempting not to lose the shred of humanity we have left as the world around become engulfed in seemingly never ending tragedies. We feel what Solomon feels and think what Solomon’s thinking. Reflecting upon Solomon with ourselves of how something like freedom no matter the world around you can be taken for granted.

Interpreted directly “12 Years A Slave” is a harrowing and even inspiring story. Beyond that interpretation are many metaphorical meanings both simplistic and in depth. The “N” word for example is not simply use as a profane word. Its first usage in the film is profoundly powerful. Perhaps for some it will be the first time ever truly understanding the strength behind this single word. Being able to reduce a loving father, skilled musician, husband, and highly intelligent human into an animal to be bought and sold. Another subtle use of metaphorical symbolism is a fiddle. What it represents is rather simple and difficult to miss. On the surface the fiddle represents freedom; however, music present another form of hidden expression. What you hear can be calmly and joyous while in context that piece of music being played comes across differently. As a form to remind slaves of their oppressive position, provide a small taste of freedom, or further reminds them of the consequences if attempting to run away. Music expresses many emotions and has the same power to conceal truth; it can be use to hide the ugly nature of the person’s intention or in this film as a form to defeat racism.

Steve McQueen direction is relentless and one of sheer brilliance. His decision in not telling the audience the passage of time directly is genius. Only giving audiences subtle visual clues on how long has time has past never eliminating the sameness of Solomon endeavor. Getting across that perhaps there is no end in sight in this dehumanizing time. Utilizing long, steady single shots to emphasize various emotions. When events on screen become their most horrifying and ugly is when his camera becomes the most unflinching. One powerful scene involves an excruciatingly long shot of a punished Solomon. When Solomon is hanging on the tree the other slaves go on with their business, seemingly oblivious to the man literally hanging in their midst, until one slave woman gives him a glass of water and meekly scurries away. Showing the true fear and power the slave owners possessed over them. Agonizing scenes like these can make audiences become increasingly uncomfortable in a situation we desire to be removed, but powerless and unable to realizing the outcome if we do. Capturing the rawest of human emotion feeling, thoughts, and seeing how Solomon views things. Even when it draws to a close were left to ponder the long forgotten thought of what does freedom mean to a free man?

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting excels with facial expressions you realize when he succumbed to his situation versus how he emotionally fought his sudden twist of fate. A mentally and physically challenging role becoming cold himself and attempting to conceal his own emotions completely understanding and sympathizing him. Spacing out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes at times with no spoken words. Ejiofor I’ll dare even say provides one of the best performances not just in his career, but in one of the best of the decade. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a slave owner yet he treats his slaves humanely. He makes you ask yourself if neutral people like him are good or bad for progress. Michael Fassbender is a raving dog one minute, and calmly ordering everyone to dance the next, he knows he can make these slaves do anything, they are toys to him, puppets. It is that controlled rage that makes his performance have an eerily threatening presence even when he’s not on screen. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the most devastating performances. She retains a level of innocence that only heightens the tragedy of her character. The cast is flawless no matter how small or big the role is.

12 Years A Slave is brutally honest and heart wrenching for a that does not chooses to play by traditional rules. It’s more than a film about slavery and more so a statement on humanity in its gloomiest state never losing sight of one’s self. For some it’ll be difficult to watch, but even harder to accept the honest truth that McQueen presented to the world. With all the hype surrounding “12 Years A Slave” it might be easy to forget that it’s a humble film. Truly deserving of its praise, but should be seen without the hype for it never presents itself to be bigger than life. Rather it presents itself honestly with good intentions and heartfelt emotions for many who can’t share a similar story.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Hunger (2008) Review

Certain places and people are given labels that define them. Those labels are not always accurate of what they represent. In prisons it is commonly associated that the prison guards are providing protection while the prisoners are a deadly force. While not the first nor the last film to challenge that notion it is a film you experience rather than simply seeing it.

Hunger is about Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. Like mentioned earlier Hunger is more of an experience than it is a traditional film. Minimal dialogue, a deliberate slow pace to build up an atmosphere, action speaking for emotion, and a non-traditional narrative. It shows very little of anything that occurs outside of prison working towards it purpose. Attempting to emulate the same isolation, dreary, and violent mood of the very harsh Maze prison its representing. Becoming able to get across characters psychology without much words. Slowly demoralizing the inhabitants both who are entrapped in it and those working there. Yet despite all of its desolate emotions a glimmer of hope is given resulting in a difficult viewing of Bobby Sands decaying body to serve a greater good. The hardest thing to stomach is not what the film does show, but rather what it doesn’t show. We’re introduced to a prison guard in the beginning of the film who becomes minor character. He’s never given an arc of any kind that shows his psychology or what drove him to commit his action. Another character introduced is newly incarcerated inmate Gillen whose vision of the prison never comes full circle. Gillen serves to present how one would first view the dreadful room that traps and consume sanity, but shifts in focus to follow another inmate forgetting his part of the story. Hunger does not say allot words which it makes up for how it chooses to express itself.

Steve McQueen is relentless and cold in his depiction of the Maze prison. His frequents use of one-point perspective and wide shots remain motionless for lengthy periods of time. This technique is wonderfully engrossing allowing to witness harmful treatment and environment detail for great lengths of time. Never do we see the outside of the prison, giving the viewer the impression that our characters have been locked away so long that they don’t know how the outside even looks like anymore. Becoming claustrophobic into isolationism where the sight of a cells smeared with feces becomes routine instead of seeming out of the ordinary. Another technique that McQueen uses is showing brief snippets of a scene, then cutting away, to let the viewer imagine how the rest will play out; but the key is that he never cuts too early, so that the viewer is left to imagine as to what is going on. Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Bobby Sands: to make his hunger strike credible the actor lost weight to the point of emaciation, and yet this physical portion of his role, appalling though it is, does not compare to the nonverbal language of his face while he ends his life.

Hunger narrative doesn’t match its atmospheric strength and focus, but visually captures the harsh reality of its environment. It’s as moving as it is depressing to see becoming routine seeing the true ugliness a person’s life can be reduced too. More than just film you view as Hunger is a dreary, but absorbing atmospheric experience.

8/10