In 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen blends hostility and passion simultaneously during the duration of the film to produce a sense of time passing slowly.  One particular scene in which this is evident is when Tibeats (Paul Dano), an abusive slave driver sings a racist song while overseeing the cotton fields and then there is a quick transition to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an African American slave playing a fiddle to perform a classical piece of music.  This draws the audience in, producing a sense that not only time but also progress for Solomon has slow down drastically and there is no escape for him to return to freedom.

Memorable and single shots drawn out to lengths enable the audience to become quiescent in observing the realities and brutal action of inequality long after the initial shock. A memorable scene involves the camera focusing on Solomon in the far right corner of the screen as he looks out into the distance.  There is no music being played and you are unable to identify what he is looking at.  His body language along with the camera shot resonates a sense of being powerless and hopeless towards regaining his freedom.  Similar shots occur repeatedly throughout the film producing a painful lingering and sometime uncomfortable feeling as you wait for the next event. In particular the scene in which Solomon is hung from a tree and he prevents suffocation by remaining on the tips of his toes.  The camera shot is set at a distance so that the audience can see the other slaves meandering in the background.  It also captures their lack of interest depicting this event as the norm.  Once again the audience must witness this event as the camera shot is held for a few seconds making it seem like eternity.

The intermixed shots found throughout the film such as that of the cotton fields, streams, trees and other elements of nature demonstrates how time and Mother Nature continues on despite the injustice and inequalities of the world. The long drawn out camera shot provides emotion but also appreciation for which Steve McQueen developed the film.  McQueen’s camera shots are plentiful but are not over worked and are very effective in eliciting an emotional response with the audience.  Finally there are times in which the different camera shots assist in providing perspective from the different characters’ points of view.

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12 Years A Slave. Dir. Steve McQueen. Perf. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender. 20th Century Fox, 2013. Film.


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