Friday, January 11, 2013

Quentin Tarantino's Violent, Bloody, Political Entertainment: Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's new movie Django Unchained tells the story of a European bounty hunter (Christopher Waltz) who buys a Negro slave (Django, played by Jamie Fox), and enlists his help in bounty hunting - killing white criminals, with a high powered rifle from a distance if possible, using deception as needed.  They make a deal because of the slave's natural ability with guns.  The Europen frees his slave.  They agree to share the bounty money, and after the winter to free the slave's wife from an evil southern plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The film stands as a monument to blood splattering violence, in a long line of similar monuments in Quentin Tarantino films over the past 20 years.

Django Unchained  (2012, 8.7 viewer rating) stands with Inglourious Basterds (2009, 8.3 viewer rating) as political statements against institutionalized bigotry and inhumanly brutal domination of others the bigots consider inferior. 

Inglourious showed an American officer commanding a group of GI and German assassins who murdered Nazis during WWII, and a German Jew survivor of a Nazi massacre of her family who worked with the American Officer's group to corner Hitler and his top brass in a French theater and burn them all alive.

Django showed the bounty hunter and Django slaughtering white criminals for the bounty, and Django slaughtering every white person on a plantation for the brutality of the owner toward Django's wife, a slave.

Both films seemed to make the statement that goes like this:

"Your crimes against humanity have become so egregious that you do not deserve to live, and like a nest of scorpions in the home, nothing can rehabilitate you, so you must suffer extermination.

In both films Tarantino masterfully gave the exterminations an air of immediate and dire urgency.

Both stories constitute fantasies.  The culminating extermination of the evil antagonists did not happen and never could have happened.  They remind me of "Scenes I'd Like to See" from Mad Magazine that my brother Darryl and I enjoyed back in the 1950's.  Most modern viewers probably believe the protagonists got exactly what they deserved and wished it could have happened in real life. 

THAT makes the films irresistible to those who crave justice. And so, I have concluded that Tarantino uses the violence and blood to entertain.  And he uses the just cause of the retribution to make the entertainment excruciatingly gratifying to the psyche. 

Along the way in Django, Tarantino created a Punisher-like folk hero for the descendants of American slaves.  I would expect to see Django action figures flooding the store shelves, but... will parents actually let their kids watch this bloody mess?

I note here that Spike Lee criticized the film without having seen it because of its inordinate use of the term "Nigger."  I explain the silliness of such a complaint in my blog. The Huffington Post called Lee and his views hypocritical.  I say that everyone in America has intimate familiarity with the term Nigger, and its various offensive and inoffensive uses in reference to Negroes.  As with the terms "fuck" and "motherfucker" with which Django's characters liberally salted the movie, stay away if you can't stomach them. I don't consider this a movie for "pussies."  And hey, since the uppity Spike Lee didn't complaint about them, neither should you.

As to the klutzy interview above by a British Negro journalist, Tarantino made him look like a fool for suggesting the film violence had an adverse effect on viewers.  Tarantino said he had explained his attitude on movie violence for 20 years and would not do it on that show.  He had consented to the interview to sell the movie.  I loved seeing him put the supercilious journalist in his place.

I don't believe watching fantasy drama about a people terminally freeing themselves from brutal tyrants has a deleterious effect on anyone.  All of us should show ZERO tolerance for unjust or brutal tyranny.  That makes these films the poster children for righteous indignation and uniting to stand up against and exterminate iniquitous authority.  That fact alone makes these films into great entertainment because the heroes terminated the tyranny for the good of society.  Or so it seemed.

The films might have served as great propaganda against slavery.  But they don't deal with the issue of what happens to all the feckless slaves once free.  We live now in the aftermath of Lincoln's liberation of them at the cost of a million dead in the War of Northern Aggression.  Have most of the descendants of those slaves who have no white ancestry become better off now than then?  In what ways?  How about the rest of society?  How does a society preserve the benefits of the Law of Survival of the Fittest after government seriously disables it?

Oh, what troubling conundrums Tarantino's movies raise.

Bob Hurt
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