No, slavery is not a Spaghetti Western, so it’s a good thing Django Unchained is also a Horror-Comedy-Bromance-Blaxploitation-Myth. And since American Racists have been extra mouth-foamy post-Obama, Django‘s also a very-necessary 165-minute assault on their heinous idiocy. Not that the racists are gonna watch and learn, or anything. If they do watch, they’ll probably root for the slave-drivers, then walk out before things get real messy, and convince themselves The South Will Rise Again. But maybe, just maybe, some seeds of dread will take root.
Of course Django is appalling and uncomfortable. I’ve rarely squirmed so much in a movie theater as I did during the Mandingo fight scene. (Mandingo fighting may be pure fiction, but as metaphor, it’s apt.) The movie’s funny as hell, too, and frequently goofier than typical Tarantino. Some may think those wacky proto-Klan members create tonal whiplash, but I think the ridicule nestles perfectly beside the raging vengeance.
Sometimes the violence does go so far as to undermine the drama, like during the clusterfucky first climax. So much blood’s a-poppin, danger practically loses all meaning. And for as long as Django is, it feels like a couple of key scenes have been deleted- scenes that would make Django’s journey that much more emotionally satisfying.
In the end, though, it’s still incredibly satisfying: as entertainment, as catharsis, as meta-folklore. “We are what we pretend to be,” Vonnegut said, “so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Django Unchained could add something to that. (Just another one of the many things Tarantino movies have said, in case you’ve been too lazily dismissive to notice.) “Be careful about who you really are as well,” the movie seems to say. “Because someone might pretend to be just like you… right before they get antebellum on your ass.”