12 years a slave analysis essay

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Release Date: November 1st, 2013 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Steve McQueen Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt

n “12 Years a Slave,” the audience witnesses the atrocities of the 1840’s American South through the eyes of the African American Solomon Northup. The events are undeniably heart-rending, yet the protagonist views the tragedies, as does director Steve McQueen, from an emotional distance. Rarely does Northup interfere with the lives of the other slaves. His goal is survival, plain and simple, and while several opportunities arise for extreme moral dilemmas and dispiriting melodrama, the film shies away from the confrontation. Overt manipulation often cheapens the effect, but in this film so little influence is utilized that moments aching to be profoundly moving lack the potency required to elicit such a response. The subject matter lends itself to compelling stories, but the characters that suffer the worst injustices aren’t the primary focus and receive no closure.

A free black man living in Saratoga, New York, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) enjoys a comfortable upper class lifestyle with his wife and children. When two men claiming to be traveling entertainers convince Solomon to accompany them to Washington on a lucrative business venture, he agrees, only to quickly find himself the victim of a deplorable scam. Kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon is transported to a sugar cane plantation in the South where he is subjected to heavy labor and brutal working conditions. While he manages to use his skills in engineering and music to gain favor with Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), Solomon is soon transferred to the cotton fields of the notoriously cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Witnessing a new level of barbarity and torture to the slaves under Epps’ control, especially the frail Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), Solomon determines never to allow despair to overcome him as he patiently waits for his chance at freedom.

“12 Years a Slave” seems to purposely aim for historical retellings of largely popularized antebellum Southern atrociousness. It tackles its text with so much detail and unwavering focus that it forgets to entertain. Perhaps McQueen isn’t concerned with anything outside of merely educating (or reeducating, or reiterating). But in approaching the adaptation by John Ridley in such a manner, the audience is subjected to more than two hours of egregious callousness, predominantly absent of the small wins that orchestrate a dynamic moviegoing experience involving stark tragedies. While following his source material, he fails to illustrate concepts not seen before (1977’s “Roots” most memorably served as the apotheosis for extreme slavery woe) – resulting in an echoing of factual, dejected victims and their hellish bondage.

Pitiable is not a strong enough word for the indescribable levels of inhumanity. Yet despite the identifiable time period and barbarism motifs, McQueen still manages to infuse his signature, frank acknowledgement of sex. It’s also problematic that recognizable character actors, including Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt, pop up throughout the scenes. Their performances are adequate but their faces remind audiences that it’s just a movie, taking away any hope that people will be uninterruptedly immersed in the harrowing accounts.

McQueen does, however, make excellent use of his studious camera and its exhaustive meditations, dwelling on faces as if to unearth their innermost thoughts, and music, which provokes anticipation and foreshadows continued despair, few hopes, and great adversity. On the other hand, an increasingly standardized jumbling of the timeline insinuates that projects seeking awards can’t be told linearly. What he doesn’t reveal is his own perspective, instead standing on the sidelines to let the audience soak up the calamity and interpret the agonizing endurance – without the guilty pleasures of revenge, redemption, or justice.

12 Years a Slave Essay

Without doubt, watching movies is among one of the most popular ways of spending leisure time. Although, we are watching it for entertainment purposes, the amount of hours spent for this activity has a profound impact on our culture, taste and perception of life overall. Good films are not only source of positive emotions, but also critical analyzes of certain events. The film directed by Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave” is a great example of this genre.

The film “12 years a slave” is not only an exceptionally good screened, but also provides food for thoughts to its audience. There are few contexts in this movie that triggers viewer`s reflections on given subject. The director depicted the problem of slavery on three fundamental levels – historical, personal and moral – to create full experience for the audience.

This scene provides historical insight to the life-style of white people of United States of 19th century. The action takes place in the mid-19th century, when some states of America were already free, while other, were still slave owner states. We can observe the duality of America of 1840`s when freedom and slavery lived hand-in-hand. We can see that kidnapping of African Americans from the free slates were the usual thing and you can lose everything you worked for over the night. From the dialogues of Mr. Ford we can understand that people of the South deeply believed that there is no way the Afro-Americans can have the same rights as they do, even if they had a feeling there is something wrong with this fact. The issue of slavery depicted here with all terrifying honesty and clarity.

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The second layer of the movie is to show the disruptive impact of this reality on certain life. Solomon Northup is a free-born African-American from the New York State. He lives honest live, trying with his own work to ensure his family`s bright future. From the scenes at Parker`s shop and flashbacks from Solomon family life style we can say that Mr. Northup is a dedicated family man. Also he is a proud man as it hurts him that his wife, Margaret, has to cook for another family to earn money for the family. This was the main reason why a talented musician agreed to work for travel circus. As honest man as he is, it is hard for him to realize how brutally his companions sold him to slavery. At first he is even certain that his partners, Hamilton and Brown, will come back for him.

At the time all pack of new slaves was shipping to South, the viewer can get acquainted with other characters. Those are quite symbolic figures. There is a man who was born as a slave and does not know what it means to be a free man. He worships his master, even though The Master treats him the same way he treats his pet. He repeats all the time that his master is going to safe him, while Solomon and few others are trying to come up with any idea to escape. At this moment we can see how deep the abyss between those people is and yet they are in the same situation.

The director did a great job by summarizing the immoral aspect of slavery closer to the end of movie. By introducing the Canadian worker Samuel Bass, he showed an alternative view on life, where all people should be treated equally. His conversation with Epps contrasts two opposing views on the life. During this debate the main though of movie is proclaimed: “What is true and right should be true and right for all”.

All in all, the film directed by Steve McQueen is one of the best examples of high-quality work of art. It explained issue of slavery from historical, personal and moral aspects to create deeper understanding and empathy of viewer. This is the kind of movie that makes you realize and appreciate the time you live in.

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According to Drew Faust, author of Culture, Conflict, and Community, There was a slave owner named James Henry Hammond who did not really have any idea of how to control the slaves. He did not know what to do and how to command them. He had been married into it. He began to listen to his friends who had suggested to ‘Be kind to them make them feel an obligation and by all means keep all other Negros away from the place, and make yours stay at home — and raise their church to the ground-keep them from fanaticism for God’s sake and your own.’ So he did just that. He began to tear down churches just so they could assimilate more into the white Churches and hopefully show up by taking their churches away. They began to become less religious for quite some time but then they began to rise up again. They started to act lazy and defiant because of the lack of authority. ‘The slaves, accustomed to a far less rigorous system of management, resented his attempts and tried to undermine his drive for efficiency.’ Because of the disobedience he began to severely punish them. Constantly beat them senseless if they did not follow orders. That was the norm throughout most slave owners. They would casually beat their slaves for disobeying their master and sometimes even for the hell of it. This is evidently clear in 12 years a Slave.
In 12 Years a Slave, an African American man named Solomon Northup is a free man in the North, living in New York with this wife and two children. He is a savvy violinist and is approached by two individuals asking if he wants to perform for a circus they are opening up in Washington which would pay greatly. He agrees but is drugged and sent back to the South under the name Platt, a runaway slave from Georgia. He gets sold to a plantation but is later sent to another. The reason why will be later stated. In this second plantation, his owner John Epps is known as not being the nicest slave owner. He was actually known for being incredibly cruel for those who disobey his order. He interprets the bible in a way saying that if the slaves were to disobeyed their master they would get 100 slashes if necessary. Epps would have the slaves pick cotton. The average pounds picked by slaves were 200 pounds and whoever didn’t meet the average would get whipped. Northup would usually not meet the quota so he would usually take part of those lashings. Epps would lash out at slaves when he didn’t get what he wanted. His wife would also beat one of the slaves because of jealousy towards her.
Now of course most slave owners are not usually that mean when it comes to the way they treat their slaves. According to Faust before Hammond took the course of action to beat the slaves for their disobedience, he began to kind of give slaves some of what they asked for. After he took away their churches and they failed to join the white churches he began to become more lenient and allowed a traveling minister just for slave services. ‘For a number of years he hired itinerant ministers for Sunday afternoon slave services.’ He would also imply a system of reward for those who did well in their task, instead of not getting any gratitude. Of course he would still punish those that failed in their duties but I suppose it is a start. ‘Hammond seemed not so much to master as to manipulate his slaves, offering a system not just of punishments, but pf positive inducements, ranging from contests to single out the most diligent hands, to occasional rituals of rewards for all, such as Christmas holidays; rations of sugar, tobacco, and coffee; or even pipes sent to all adult slaves from Europe when Hammond departed on the Grand Tour’ So as you can see sometimes some slave owners would be kinder to their slaves than most other slave owners.
In 12 Years a Slave, this is evident as well. Northup, during the slave auction gets sold to a plantation owner named William Ford. Ford tries to convince the seller to give sell him the daughter of a woman he was buying just to keep their family together but the man wouldn’t budge after Ford practically begged for her. Once they all arrive to the farm, Northup works and shows his ingenuity by impressing Ford with a waterway that will help transport logs quickly and cheaper. Ford’s carpenter, John Tibeats, said that couldn’t work and when it did he quickly resented Northup for it. One day he began to harass Northup and they both got into a scuffle in which Northup won but Tibeats threatened him. Ford’s overseer Chapin came and told him to stay on the plantation because if he left he would not be able to protect him. Tibeats came back later with two of his friends and began to lynch Northup. That’s when Chapin came and rescued him from the three men and warned them with a gun pointing at them saying that Ford held a mortgage on Platt and if they hung him, he would lose that money. He then told them to leave Northup and run away. Chapin then left Northup on his tip toes just so the noose won’t wring his neck all day until Ford came and rescued him. That night, Ford keeps Northup in the house protecting him and tells him in order to save his life he has given his debt to Epps. This shows how tender and nice some slave owners were compared to some cruel slave owners like Epps.

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