In 2009 I watched The Road at the AMC in Manchester on a cold and grey Autumnal day. The film has never been far from my thoughts, mainly because I have a morbid fascination with post-apocalyptic/dystopian literature. It’s a fascination which probably stems from reading Frankenstein in Year 8 at high school, followed by Lord of the Flies in Year 9.
Anyway, not since watching The Road have I been so affected by a film until I went to watch 12 Years A Slave at Ashton Cineworld on a cold and icy Winter’s evening. Prior to watching the actual film I tried to inspire some English students to go and watch it on release by shoehorning YouTube clips of the trailer into discussions on ‘Crooks’ from Of Mice and Men. Not one student has said they’ve been to watch it.
Steve McQueen’s film is based on the remarkable and emotive biographical account which begins in the year 1841, when Solomon Northup, a black African-American freeman of the state of New York, is forcibly taken into slavery and transported to the cotton fields and sugar plantations of Louisiana.
I think the film should win the award for Best Picture 2014 because:
- Incredible Cinematography
Bass, a white carpenter played by Brad Pitt, saves Solomon Northup from his incarceration. In the novel Solomon doesn’t hear from Bass for nine months and in the film this is transposed with a lingering shot of Chiwetel Ejiofor staring into the camera. The shot is archetypal of McQueen’s confrontational style (think the shit-cleaning scenes or Fassbender’s chain-smoking in Hunger). In 12 Years, Ejiofer should win the Oscar for Best Actor on this shot alone. His eyes convey a true sense of personal desolation and they also confront the audience with the past – that every slave has felt like this – and that we cannot look away. In McQueen’s acceptance speech for the Baftas he made this his core message.
- 2. Incredibly Moving Screenplay
The script itself deviates little from Solomon’s ghost-written account of his own incarceration and every character in the film uses dialogue borrowed and adapted from their equivalents in the novel. The movie left many at the Ashton Cineworld in tears, including your humble narrator. The scenes when Solomon and Patsey are horrifically whipped are extremely distressing and shocking. As are Patsey’s pleading at Epps (see below) to not be punished for going to another plantation to acquire soap to wash with, after his jealous and sadistic wife makes her life a living hell.
3. Incredible Supporting Cast
Michael Fassbender’s role as the malevolent and sadistic Plantation owner, Edwin Epps, (who hates his wife and hits the bottle) should earn him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Luptia Nyong’o’s role as the object of Epps’ affections (Patsey) should earn her the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.