Posts Tagged ‘Django Unchained’


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.”

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“…Tarantino is [a] film-maker who has nothing to say,” says Dangerous Minds’ Niall O’Conghaile. “Nothing to say except for having seen more movies than you.” Now maybe that’s not quite dangerous thinking, but it sure is lazy thinking, and O’Conghaile’s not alone.  Lots of people seem to have half-watched Tarantino’s movies and expressed similar idle criticisms.

Yes, much of what Tarantino “has to say” involves movies, but that’s not nothing.  Movies, like myths, affect us and reflect us.  If words are loaded pistols (as Sartre quoted Brice Parain), couldn’t cinema be a burning theater packed with explosives (as Tarantino said in Inglourious Basterds)?

Couldn’t a “slasher” movie villain wield a car instead of a knife or chainsaw?  Couldn’t a “heist” movie skip right past the heist?  Couldn’t the person who seems to be the main character die halfway through, like in Psycho– but then be resurrected for a flashback that lasts the entire third act?

All well and good, you may be thinking, but those are all still questions that dwell deep inside movie critic territory.  What could Tarantino possibly “say” about more profound matters, the human condition and such, like Bergman did?  And aren’t all those so-called  “statements” actually questions?  Well to answer that last part first, I find it a lot more interesting when storytellers “say” things by asking questions rather than just “saying” them.  As for the first part, here’s some other questions you may find more “profound”:

If history is written by the winners, couldn’t we use cinema to write an alternate history where the losers can at least get a well-crafted catharsis?  And if we did do that, isn’t it possible that such a catharsis might feel a little icky, no matter how justified said catharsis is?  Would the ickiness be worth it?  Might we be better off living in a world where we can achieve catharses with the help of fake movie violence, even if it means a select few maniacs might use that violence to inspire real violence (which those maniacs probably would’ve committed anyway)?  Because, if we didn’t exorcise our bloodlust at the movies (or on TV, or in video games), might that bloodlust find numerous other, more terrible means of escape?  Sure, Goebbels may have fueled Nazi hatred with movies, but didn’t that whole mess start with Hitler’s book? What violent movies did American slave owners watch to feed their vileness?  Oh, they didn’t watch movies back then?  Well, if desperate times call for desperate measures, and if stronger illnesses call for stronger medicines, don’t more violent times call for more violent cinema?

(Full disclosure: Shockingly, I haven’t seen Django Unchained yet.  But isn’t that the cool thing to do these days, blindly commenting on Django?  Regardless, I’m pretty sure this’ll all hold up after I do finally see it.)

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