It may be surprising to some people but “12 Years A Slave” directed by Steve McQueen and “About Time” directed by Richard Curtis are two movies that are fundamentally different. Two big things that they share are: they both recently entered wide release and they are both movies I have seen.
“12 Years A Slave” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who gets abducted and sold into slavery. The story is based off of the autobiography of the real Solomon Northrup. The majority of the story deals with his experience as a slave for 12 years (spoilers) as he moved from one master to another interspersed with flashbacks of his normal, leisurely life with his family in the North.
“About Time” stars Domhall Gleeson as Tim Lake, an awkward British guy who has lived a mundane life with his family while vainly looking for love. On his 21st birthday, his father, played by Bill Nighy, tells him a family secret: all the males in their family can time travel. The movie chronicles Tim’s journey as he experiences life, love and death.
As someone who knew a few things about Steve McQueen, I came in with certain expectations but I could have imagined the powerful, uncomfortable, and agonizing scenes that I experienced in “12 Years A Slave.” There is one shot in particular that I instantly think of whenever the movie is mentioned. It is one of those images that is permanently burned in my head. I will try to avoid too many specific details so as to not detract from the impact of the scene. Solomon is continually being harassed by one of the people who help keep the farm running. He gets fed up and attacks the help. The help runs off to gather his friend and attempts to kill Solomon in retribution. They are stopped by the overseer but Solomon is left in this precarious position – with everyone going about their day around him, everyone trying their best to avoid looking at him.
This scene encompasses the most powerful elements of “12 Years A Slave.” The scene is painful to look at. It was so painful that I started hoping – praying – for the camera to cut to anything else. I turned away and closed my eyes but it refused to move or change. On more thought, it serves as a reminder that the pain and suffering endured by the slaves during this time will not disappear when we turn away. We can only look and, hopefully, be better for it.
As a fan of romantic comedies, I understand that rom coms are not the most mentally draining movies nor the most original. “About Time” fits the rom com tropes but it is so much more than that. Time travel is a big element of the story but is not the element that the story revolves around. The story revolves around the mundane elements of Tim’s life that most people have to deal with. He uses his powers to get a sister’s friend to like him though he realizes that time travel cannot make someone love him. There are limitations to it and Tim finds out throughout the movie that all the powers in the world cannot change some things in life. Rachel McAdams and Domhall Gleeson are quite possibly the cutest couple on the silver screen. The whimsy, teasing but serious nature of their relationship made me simultaneously smile with joy and weep for how awful my relationship is. Time travel is more of an element that adds some flavor to the dish but the dish itself is already quite flavorful. “About Time” will leave anyone with a heart satisfied and content.