Mon. January 7
Django: A Tad Unhinged
by R. J. Moeller
1 Off the chain – Out of control, wild fun. Just like when your pitbull gets off the chain in the back yard and tears through the neighborhood. (Source: UrbanDictionary.com)
Nobody makes a fake historical blood-bath-of-a-flick quite like Quentin Tarantino. In the newly released Django Unchained, the eccentric director becomes that pitbull described above and tears his expedient way through the unpopular neighborhood of the American pre-Civil War South.
As was the case with his previous film–the wildly entertaining and inventive Inglourious Basterds, Django is a nearly three-hour “wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back in time and kill those we now clearly recognize as having been evil” fantasy trip down memory lane.
Jamie Foxx stars in the titular role as Django, a slave freed by German-American bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (played masterfully by Academy Award-winning Christoph Waltz) who is initially on a quest to find the elusive Brittle Brothers Gang and bring them to justice. Dr. Schultz, having never seen the Brothers Brittle, nor having any idea what they may look like, enlists the help of his new pal Django, who, as luck would have it, used to be a slave on the very plantation the three sadistic overseers previously worked for.
And then a whole mess of people get themselves killed, mighty quick!
The rest of–nay, the bulk of–the movie centers around the dramatic undercover mission Schultz and Django undertake to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (named after a character in a German legend) from the viciously sophisticated plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Without a doubt, Django Unchained is an exciting, engaging piece of movie-making. It’s visually stunning, has an unexpectedly awesome soundtrack, and succeeds in transporting the audience into a different time and place. The casting is near-perfect, despite Foxx’s refusal and/or inability to convey any emotion but “chip on the shoulder” arrogant. It is, on the whole, an above average film.
There are two things I do not like about this movie, however, and I’m going to tell you what they are.
First, it was far too long. This is something you say when a movie runs for 165 minutes, but only has about 138 minutes of worthwhile content. Long movies that maintain a strong pace throughout don’t seem so long. Granted, those 138 minutes of quality content in Django are pretty sweet, but the final act drags on a considerable bit and the only “pay off” we receive for our endurance is Tarantino appearing on-screen with a horrifically bad Australian accent and an awkwardly long “Django Undressed” scene with a completely nude Jamie Foxx.
Thanks, but I’ll pass. Wrap it up, Q!
The second problem I had with the film touches upon a sensitive subject: race. Most critics, including the perpetually grumpy Spike Lee, are displeased with stuff like the number of times the “N-word” is used on-screen in Django. These tend to be the same type of “free speech loving” folks who want publishers to “clean up” the original version of iconic books like Huckleberry Finn. But the racial slur quota controversy is not what bugged me. In the context of the story–one set in a world where to avoid such language would be, pardon the expression, white-washing historical realities–it feels no different than when one hears similar rhetoric in one of Mr. Lee’s “joints.”
What did bug me about the way race was dealt with in Django is that Tarantino went so far down the “killing white people who deserve it is awesome” rabbit-hole that, by the end of the film, you started to dislike the main character you were supposed to have sympathy, empathy, and pity for. What began as a noble rescue mission that the audience could buy into became an indulgent mass execution and blood-bath.
All of the white people in the film–save the immigrant German bounty hunter who is painstakingly shown to be more enlightened than the average American–are made out to be the epitome of evil and/or gratuitously stupid. Django, on the other hand, instantly goes from frightened, illiterate slave to articulate, cunning dude who somehow knows how to use his wits and weapons to best all comers. Tarantino then takes this miraculous hero, sends him off on his righteous quest, and eventually turns him into a vigilante mass-murderer. And we’re supposed to look past all of the brutal carnage and be happy for Django in the end because slavery was a bad thing?
I know that Tarantino wasn’t setting out to mend racial fences with his film –nor would anyone want him to. But I’m afraid what he did succeed in doing is to further confuse an already sensitive, largely misunderstood topic and chapter of American history.
Slavery is immoral because it is wrong, not just because white people in the South engaged in it. And, just as the maniacs who murder abortion doctors cross an unforgivable line among 99.9 percent of pro-life supporters when they snap, Django (as a character) loses whatever sympathy capital he had accrued throughout the film by how homicidal he chooses to become.