12 Years a Slave 2013 ★★★½


Las Vegas Weekly review. Better than I expected, as odd as that may sound given the overwhelming acclaim—it seemed likely to trigger my well-known allergy to victimization narratives, which I contend are fundamentally anti-dramatic. Only partially falls into that trap, thankfully (key line: "I don't want to survive. I want to live"), and I cried and shuddered in all the right places. Still, there's nothing even remotely challenging or unexpected here, and McQueen's so awed by his subject that he even forgoes his usual creepy aestheticization (though he can't resist some stunning shots through a moving paddle wheel) and kinda turns into Norman Jewison or somebody.


  • Norman Jewison can only dream of accomplishing something even close to this. Just because it deals with a subject that Jewison dealt with doesn't mean it is mediocre and sanctified. This is a masterpiece.

  • I feel like *everyone* here is wildly underrating Norman Jewison. The guy made ROLLERBALL, ffs! Yes, he can veer off into maudlin at the drop of a clapper, but that's a serious body of work.

  • Calling a slave story a "victimization narrative" is pretty damn crude.

  • I suspect you're interpreting the word "victimization" in a way that I don't intend. My point is merely that characters who are primarily acted upon and have little agency don't make for compelling drama. That does include slaves, and unlike many people I don't consider this an untouchable subject that's inherently worthy. Suffering per se is of no interest to me.

  • I am interesting in human suffering (not in a perverse or anything) but I found this film very safe, too safe for a film about slavery. McQueen/screenwriter make all of the white people evil, monsters, making oppression seem like it was something of this time and will no longer happen if we keep this evil, monsters in check. It did not depict slavery as an institution that had a life of its own outside of the slaver owners personal feelings. The film allows us to feel good about ourselves because we can say we aren't as bad as these white slave owners in the film. Unfortunately, the memoir that provided the basis for the screenplay had a much more nuanced depiction of the slaves and slave owners that McQueen/screenwriter changed for 12 years a slave.

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