Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave finally arrived in my part of the country last weekend, so I was able to see what all the fuss was about, and whether I thought the film deserved all the Osar consideration it is already receiving.
I encourage you to go read Daniel’s smart, and thoughtful review of 12 Years a Slave. Few on the Internet can deconstruct and assess a film as well as Dan, which is why he is assigned most of the prestige films on the site. Instead of ripping the guts out of a film and analyzing them, as Dan does so superbly, my reviews tend to wrap my own emotional experiences with the films around bare-bones plot descriptions, why is why I am typically assigned the shitty movies and/or romantic comedies.
I know my place, and I am comfortable with it. Still, I do think there is often some value to one’s knee-jerk emotional response to a film, and I had a very visceral reaction to 12 Years a Slave, as I suspect anyone would. They were not fully-formed coherent thoughts backed by evidence from the film; they were simply unprocessed gut reactions regurgitated without filter.
1. This is one of the most unpleasant film experiences I’ve ever had. Everyone should see this film, but only a sick, depraved person could watch it twice. Who needs to spend another $12 anyway to revisit scenes that will be permanently seared into their brains? And you’re telling me that scenes had to be cut in order get the movie an R rating? You mean, it was worse than this? How? HOW?
2. Michael Fassbender is so good in this, and so repulsive, and awful, and terrorizing, that I doubt very much that I will ever like Michael Fassbender in another role again. I will never be able to see him without thinking about what his character did in this film, and the snarl he adored while doing it. I want him dead, and I don’t even mean just the character. Right now, I want Fassbender dead. I’m not feeling a lot of love for Sarah Paulson, either. I’ll never confuse her for Monica Potter again, that’s for damn sure.
3. I’m very confused about how to feel about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. He’s a slave master, but he doesn’t personally beat anyone, and he has some sympathy for the plight of the lead character, Solomon Northup. On the other hand, not enough to actually sacrifice his property. Is there a grey area when it comes to slave ownership? Am I suppose to appreciate that he was one of the better men of his time, or should I disregard him because evil is evil. It’s so hard to disregard Cumberbatch. THOSE CHEEKBONES. But GAH. I don’t care if he felt guilty about owning slaves, HE STILL OWNED THEM.
4. How could anyone see this film and argue that somehow white people have paid their reparatory debt? Come back in another 170 years and make that argument. The stain of slavery still persists, and we have a lot of sins to make up for. How is it possible that this level of brutality was legal? We put people away today for treating their pets this poorly, and it was sanctioned in the 1840s. In the grand scheme, it’s not that long ago. Don’t tell me that the inequities perpetuated by historical wrongs this egregious have already been resolved.
5. I am not a religious man, but it’s movies like these that make me wish that I was, because if I believed in heaven, it would mean that I believed in hell, and it’s very satisfying to think that the people who perpetrated these atrocities are burning in eternal hellfire. They deserve longer than eternity. Also, I have never wanted anything more than to see Django peek around the corner, and blow all these f**kers away.