Saturday afternoon cinema is one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day in London, and a solo trip is an extra treat. A pure self-indulgent couple of hours to myself with the luxury of no conversation; a totally selfish disconnection from the world is gift to myself more precious than a column with Vogue.
On this solo Saturday, after watching Steve McQueen's '12 Years a Slave', I hurriedly left the theatre fighting back tears with a lump in my throat, numb to the people around me, ran to the toilet locked myself in a cubical and burst into tears.
I sat there unable to think of anything other than the scenes I had just witnessed. My body and mind felt similar to when I had a car accident as a teen - I was functioning but I could not believe what just happened. Never has cinema affected me in this way, and I've been around a while. As I finally left the cubical and passed a queue of burning eyes on me, I saw a black lady by the hand dryer where we exchanged a knowing look of the pain we had just soaked into our minds, and I felt ashamed of my origins.
I went out onto the street in a daze, like a ghost wandering aimlessly without purpose unable to see past the information I had just ingested. I have never experienced such feeling by watching; it was like a surreal shock that wouldn't leave. On seeing a passing bus with a poster for the film, I had to look away like a guilty villain full of regret. Hours later at home, I was telling myself 'it's okay, it's alright,' but the mental whiplash didn't subside until the next morning, or fully leave me for days. I didn't talk to anyone that night, email or text - I wanted to recover from the story of Solomon Northup presented by Steve McQueen with such life altering effect, alone.
I'm not easily shocked, a light weight, or of a particularly sensitive deposition, but I write this for my own cathartic needs as the sheer level of an internal emotional earthquake I feel for this movie cuts through me as though I was directly involved, when all I did was watch - watch the unbelievable strength and courage on screen in the luxury of a London cinema.
Steve McQueen had my cinematic heart from his first feature 'Hunger' in 2008. He translates the rawness of the truth in such a way that makes you feel as if you too are in there. 'Shame' left me awe with his ripping open of the subject of sex addiction so far removed from the sniggers of the ignorant mind, and showed it for what it is: a hideous life altering illness. And with '12 Years a Slave', he does what no other filmmaker has done on the subject of slavery - he shows the horrendous everyday reality of life as a slave. The struggle Northup wrongfully endures not only for physical survival, but also the hard won mental battle to keep his faith and belief that he will be freed is the essential fight he refuses to lose. McQueen encases both the horror and nobility in a display that will surely go down in cinema history.
I was due to write a piece on the Chanel Spring collection hopeful as always that a glossy will pick me up, but after this movie, it felt redundant for me to write about pastel colours and waistlines when my very core was rocked by the shameful actions of plantation owners, and the most remarkable film I have ever seen. At 36, I wonder if I will ever react to a movie this way again? I very much doubt it. I wonder also if anything could match the beauty and the heartbreak of this story, which I for one will never forget and never want to.
Thank you Steve McQueen for bringing Solomon Northup's story to the silver screen and into my life, may we never forget him. X