Django Unchained had everything that we’ve sort of gotten used to expecting from Quentin Tarantino, the over-the-top visceral violence, clever-pants chit-chat between arch-villain and hero, uncomfortable and goofy humour from the most inappropriately funny settings, and an endless list of obscure popular-culture Easter eggs for people who are as nerdy about films as Quentin himself.
Besides the usual set of awesome, Django stands out as the most sombre and serious of all the Tarantino films, specifically because it deals with something so terrifying and deeply rooted into American sub-consciousness. Django comes from Tarantino’s long-time desire to make a shameless spaghetti western, as well as deal with the unbelievably uncomfortable topic of American slavery.
Django, who is acted beautifully by Jamie Foxx, is a slave who becomes freed by a German bounty hunter, and quickly finds out he’s incredibly talented at delivering bloody, visceral retribution from the barrel of a gun at white slavers, while setting out to find his wife, from whom he has been separated.
Of course, the juicy, shocking violence comes in two very distinct varieties in the film, which are both portrayed in the nastiest possible way. The first way is the one practiced by Southern slave owners and traders, oppressing and exploiting the black slaves with sadistic glee, which is much more disturbing in the film. Probably because of the terrible background knowledge that this time Tarantino did not have to come up with any scenarios involving gimps, Southern rapists and a selection of Katana swords and chainsaws, because he had an almost infinite source of historical knowledge on all the unpleasant methods of discipline practiced at the time, and quite a bit of it nastier than anything he’d come up with.
The second category of violence is what Tarantino calls the cathartic retribution against the slave masters and the entire slave owning upper class of whites, getting blasted into shreds with awesome gunfire, screaming and over-the-top blood spray. For a lot of the film, we are left witnessing the injustice and abuse, waiting in anticipation when Django is going to pull out his gun and release the built up tension. So when he finally does, it is so much more awesome for the build-up.
The most commendable aspect of the film is handling something as arseburningly uncomfortable as American slavery in a natural and unpretentious way, probably making it the best film dealing with slavery since Amistad.
American slavery is a very jumbled and awkward subject in both the national subconscious and ultra-conformist media, and Tarantino has chosen the exact right approach to dealing with it. Slavery and the long history of racism in the US is something it has become an absolute faux pas to mention in any context, except in hushed sombre tones reciting historical facts like you’re reading a fictional script of something that happened on another planet, ruled by a race of oppressive unicorns, shooting lasers and racism from their eyes.
The revenge fantasy that Django Unchained is, returns an emotional dimension to history and roots it back to gritty, ugly reality, while extracting some real fun out of horrible things and ideals. Like the clan-members fighting about their hoods you can’t fucking see out of, or the repeated joke about a nigger riding a horse.
The topic is like a big red button in the middle of a room. Like the N-word. Or the N-bomb if you prefer. One of the most problematic words is English, it is so overloaded with emotion, history and attitudes, that its use is restricted with rigid, unwritten rules about who is allowed to use it, when and why. It has ended up becoming an immensely powerful and frightening word, empowering to two particular sets of people, and absolutely terrifying to everyone else: one, angry African Americans, and two, racists. To the other, a symbol of shared heritage and solidarity, us against the honkies; to the other a wonderful warm feeling of supremacy and power, used bonding with other like minded racists over cheap beer, talking about wife-beating, guns and hating shit – where Jimbo doesn’t have to feel out of place, and can relive simpler times, when people had respect, niggers didn’t get uppity and the state didn’t recognize rape within marriage.
All these things are like a big, red button in the middle of the room, that people try not to look at, in case of anybody sees them and thinks they are staring. Where people don’t know what happens if you press the button, except that shit is going to go down, and everyone prefers to pretend it’s not even there. Then Tarantino comes and slams the button as hard as he can. And the most fun part is the reaction, when people have to recognize what has happened, and actually talk about slavery and violence as real, grown-up things.
Tarantino and Jackson have had a lot of fun with interviews, where conformist reporters are clearly uncomfortable talking about the film, and respond with generic lame questions about violence and “how was it working with whoever”. Tarantino butt-straight refuses to answer the generic bullshit question about movies and the link to gun-violence, and Samuel L. Jackson starts teasing an idiot interviewer who mentions “the n-word”, and refuses to answer his question, until he agrees to say the word nigger out loud. The reporter just flusters and moves on to the next question, as if he was demanded to say Voldemort’s name out loud, and his prime demographic was a core-group of Deatheaters.
Anyway, Django Unchained is an awesome movie, everyone in it is awesome, so points to Tarantino for another great movie, and his most hilariously pointless cameo yet, with an Australian accent.