By Kendra James
Warning: This review contains spoilers, and discussion of abuse, violence, and rape.
Normally, knowing that a story has a “happy ending” helps to ease the burden of getting through something horrific. 12 Years a Slave is not that movie. It can’t be that movie with the way Steve McQueen dispenses of the conventional methods to show the passing of time. This could be 12 months, 12 weeks, or 12 years and we wouldn’t have known; I even lost track of how long I’d been in the theatre. There’s no clear changing of the seasons; no transition from spring to summer or fall, just once the point made that a crop of cotton has been lost.
Time is marked by the passing of violence rather than the passing of seasons, and it blurs and stretches and bunches together in places as it must have for Solomon Northup (a triumphant Chiwetel Ejiofor) himself. By not providing the viewer with any demarcation of time McQueen effectively puts us in his lead character’s position. How long Solomon’s been enslaved doesn’t matter and there’s no concrete end. Just one dehumanising experience to live through after another.