Facing Up to Bleak Films and Historical Atrocities on Screen…

The Den of Geek website took a more-than-well-deserved Christmas holiday and that meant I didn’t offer up a weekly film column for a few weeks. That holiday has passed, however, and the Geek Den is now fully-operational. Thus, I’m back with my first article of 2014: a look ahead to some of the depressing films due in UK cinemas in January and February. We’re in ‘Serious & Sombre Season’ which coincides with Awards Season and that means that a lot of heavy duty, heartbreakingly bleak and weighty movies are appearing on screens. You can read the column for extra thoughts and a look forward to some interesting-albeit-unhappy-looking pictures if you like…

As an extra note, I did get to see 12 Years a Slave (one of the films on the bleak-list) the other night. I’d urge others to seek it out at the cinema if possible because I think it’s important and stands as an artwork that needs to be experienced. That experience is a very unpleasant and distressing one (though there are, erm, some beautiful shots and nice period production design details). I spent a lot of the film squirming and silently pleading “Cut! Cut! Please, no more!” but I’d argue that we need to go through these ‘ordeals’ (relatively speaking, watching upsetting films is not an ordeal) and confront brutality so we not only come to terms with actual reality but also historical fact.

I’ll restrain myself from a grandstanding soapbox moment (I am not a Master of Soap Boxing and, to be honest, I’m more interested in being a teetotal Master of Drunken Boxing). I’ll leave it at this: I’m happy (for want of a better word) that slavery as an incomprehensible historical taboo is being tackled more on film. We’ve got to face the atrocities of the past and cinema is an ideal medium by virtue of its viscerality and multi-sensory nature. Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave is even more affecting than any other movie about institutionalised inhumanity I’ve sat through because of his meditative style. What the audience is presented with is an unflinching and brutally realistic picture made up of long, passive sequences where we have no choice but to just watch and absorb the ugliness before us. We’re forced to feel the pain and endure the torment of the characters (even calling them “characters” feels glib and inappropriate). We need to experience works like this so we remember and so we can learn and develop as human beings.

I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious or soap-boxy. As I say, I recommend it and, in general, I recommend tremendously disturbing, bleak films. They’re good for your soul…

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