12 Years A Slave: We are not finished yet

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Recently I had the privilege of seeing 12 Years A Slave with our church film club.

I say privilege as to say pleasure somehow doesn’t feel right.

What I witnessed was not just a film but a gut wrenching, emotion packed, beautifully shot piece of work that will to my mind be one of the films spoken about in the future as a true classic.

Once the film finished I was left emotionally drained and speechless (not an easy task) and felt unable to leave straight away. I was  compelled to sit, to ponder, to reflect.

To be honest I still don’t feel as if I have fully processed everything I saw.

Much was written about the brutally realistic depiction of slavery so I was aware of what I may experience going in. However I wasn’t prepared for what would trouble me most.

The graphic nature of the film is a contributing factor t creating great unease in the viewer. The scene showing Patsy (one of Epps’ slaves) being whipped first by Solomon and then plantation owner Epps was particularly graphic. Patsy’s screams are part of the film that will stay with me for a very long time and it was not easy to sit in comfort watching the flesh tear from her body.

Even more disturbing for me though was the section in which Epps (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender) stands in front of his slaves and with all authority available to him, reads a Biblical passage using it as a justification for the treatment of his charges.

This disturbed me more than the scenes of physical abuse as it was done with such conviction, such belief, such authority that I was horrified that it made me feel physically sick.

I think the main reason for my reaction was the realisation that this biblical justification is sadly not time bound. Watching 12 Years A Slave left me contemplating not only what have Christians justified away ‘biblically’ in our past but also in our present.

For all the progress we have made as a society we still have a long way to go.

Slavery still exists, albeit in a different form, in today’s trafficking of children and adults across the world. We still have a way to go.

Issues such as equal marriage are dismissed by some who stand declaring their faith openly in government and quoting scripture as infallible. We still have a way to go.

Communities are still divided and treated with suspicion and demonised by their opposites and neighbours. We still have a way to go.

We have progressed but 12 Years A Slave also does not let us off tht lightly. It also shows us that we as human beings are all unfinished, imperfect and ultimately still work in progress.

Are you sitting uncomfortably…..great!

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Next week sees the return of our church film club for 2014. First up is going to be 12 Years A Slave.

Have to say I am excited. I have said in previous posts why I love our little film club but this is one I’m really looking forward to.

Not only am I looking forward to seeing the film even more than tha tI;m looking forward to the discussion afterwards. A trip to the cinema for enjoyment is great I’m a big advocate for that. Stressful day at work the new Marvel comic book film is out perfect. Losing myself in a fictional world  and letting stress melt away is perfect for me.

This is going to be different. This is going to be difficult, emotional, graphic and hopefully most of all thought provoking.

Director Steve McQueen has never shied away from difficult topics. The Hunger Strike in Northern Ireland, the death of Bobby Sands in his first film Hunger and sex addiction in Shame have been covered in his previous two releases.

He does not make comfortable cinema.

He certainly does not make film appropriate for a church group like ours to go and see as part of a film club.

Or does he?

I would argue that McQueen absolutely does make films that should be watched by groups like ours.

To fully engage with our culture around us we need to be able to talk about issues like sex. We can’t do that if we shy away from issues like those depicted in Shame. 

Here in Northern Ireland we need to watch Hunger, we need to understand that story. We need to understand why it is revered on one side of our community and despised by the other. We need to reflect and where appropriate show grace to those wronged.

We need to watch 12 Years A Slave and cringe at the lack of humanity in the atrocities carried out and as a church group look at the biblical justification for slavery and discuss how our faith has evolved.  

I understand that these films do not provide all the answers and there are bigger stories than those that can be depicted in a couple of hours on screen but we do need to watch these films.

To start the difficult conversations maybe we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Review: American Hustle

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There is a theory that bringing together those who are on the top of their game brings out the best in those involved.

American Hustle is the film that does just that. 

The names on top of the poster would have been enough to get me through the door. Each name is a bankable star in modern Hollywood. Each name has performances we all love. To see them all together and watch with a tangible sense of each actor ‘challenging’ each other in every scene to push that little bit more makes American Hustle a must see event. 

A fictional tale, although as the first text message on screen states “Some of this actually happened” American Hustle tells the story of con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that’s as dangerous as it is enchanting.

The first thing to note is the opening sequence in which we first see Irving donning his hair piece. A great opening shot which tells you everything you need to know about him. The rigorous, meticulous cover up of his baldness showing his need to con right from the off. You are repelled by him standing open shirted, belly exposed but have a respect for his craft. This sums Irving up throughout the film repellant in many aspects of his character, but you can’t help but respect his craft and his skills in the cons he carries out.

Cooper playing FBI agent Richie Dimasso has a wide eyed stare all the way through the film, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you never quite know at what point he will crumble. 

Then there is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife Rosalyn. Chaotic and comedic. Beautiful and dangerous. This is a character not to be messed with but a character you are drawn to. An understanding of her character is revealed during conversation regarding her continued use of a certain nail polish and the hold this has on Irving.

Director David O Russell has consistently produced films looking at relationships (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook being two examples) and this is no different.   This is a film about survival as the tangled webs each character weaves serves to do one thing and which is simply to preserve their own existence and their own lifestyle. 

If there are any faults to be found in the film (and I am picking holes here) it has to be said it is a little long and could have lost at least a good 15 minutes. Also the con job becomes so complicated towards the end it becomes difficult to remember who is conning who, though some would argue that is a strength.

Golden Globes have brought success it remains to be seen how well American Hustle will fare at this years Oscars. I won’t be surprised if the film and its stars get recognition. On this evidence they deserve it.  

Hunger Games, Russell Brand, Haass talks and sacrifice.

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One of my favourite films of 2013 was the second instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy – Catching Fire. This for fans of the book was the one we had been waiting for. As books go it was the real page turner of the three. As films go it for me was a great addition to the category of sequels that are better than the first film.

One of the reasons I loved the film so much was the recurring theme of self sacrifice which really got me thinking.  Throughout the film people are sacrificing themselves in order to ensure that Katniss survives because she is the catalyst for a revolution an essential cog in the wheel of change. 

The comedian Russell Brand recently spoke of ‘revolution’ and his issues with government in an interview. In the course of this (and I’m paraphrasing) he stated he did not believe in voting as the system will not change.

I like Russell, I think he is miscast by many and misunderstood he is highly intelligent and can verbalize his thought  process in a way that make me green with envy. However, on this point I do not believe that he is correct. I believe that engagement with the ‘process’ and voting for those whose main objective is for the common good of all citizens is essential in order to change the society for the better.

Haass talks have been and gone in Northern Ireland and sadly issues around flags, dealing with the past and parading remain unresolved. Many are disappointed and angered by this lack of resolution.

Twitter yesterday was an interesting place to be. There were many rants, there were requests for referendums and there was a wide spectrum of comment from all sides. I don’t want to get into the issues themselves, wiser more intelligent commentators than I can do that (and Stephen Nolan will have a go too).However the overwhelming sense I took form looking at social media was that the majority wanted this to work, the majority wish to move on, the majority want revolution. 

Which brings me back to the Hunger Games and sacrifice. The history of Northern Ireland shows a tribal voting pattern based on an ideology of protecting the interests of your community by voting for those that represent ‘your side’.

The next time elections are called would it not be sacrificial to abandon tribal leanings and weigh up the pros and cons of each party on their merits and place an X in the box for those striving for the common good?

Is that not how politics and elections should work in an ideal scenario?

Is this not a biblical way of voting and engaging with politics, loving our neighbour and sacrificing our own self interest in order to see the common good for all?

I don’t want a Hunger Games style revolution and I don’t believe that Russell Brand  is correct in his assertion that revolution will come through means other than a ballot box.

I believe that a revolution in Northern Ireland can only come through the abandonment of self interest and the application of sacrifice. The Haas talks didn’t bring the resolution many longed  for but maybe they could be the spark to a bigger revolution.