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December 27, 2012

Django Unchained: One More Thing...

I’m not a hundred percent sure I should be bringing up this topic, but since I left it off the main post I figured I’d be doing a disservice if I just ignored it.  So let’s quickly go through this…and pray that I don’t make myself look like a fool.

But hey, what are the chances of that happening?

*looks at sidebar on right*

Oh.  Pretty high, I guess.

(Hey, what do you know?  No spoilers in this post.  Well, unless you’re the type to intuit entire story events from a handful of words.  In which case, quasi-spoilers!

...Or if you prefer, quasar-spoilers.)

A quick glance at the bottom of the Wikipedia page for the movie says that there’s some controversy surrounding Django Unchained.  Notable names like Spike Lee and Tavis Smiley aren’t too happy with the product because it’s an inaccurate depiction of slavery at the time, or because it’s painting those times in a much-too-cheerful light (by virtue of its main character running and gunning across the U.S.), and things of that sort.  And there are opinions that Django is a way to celebrate killing white men -- all of whom are apparently evil, while the black characters (most of them, at least) are inherently good.  It certainly doesn’t help that Jamie Foxx made a “joke” about how he got to kill so many white guys throughout the movie.

Honestly?  I kind of see where they’re coming from.  There’s a pretty high body count, and a massive percentage of those deaths are abrasive (to put it lightly) white men.  This is more or less a revenge fantasy -- one with lots of merit and deeper ideas than just “go here, shoot this bad guy”, but a revenge fantasy nonetheless.  There’s one, maybe two sympathetic white characters throughout the entire movie -- and it’s a friggin’ long movie.  If you’re looking for a realistic depiction of slavery and the social politics surrounding them, you’re much better off reading a history book; there’s some nasty stuff depicted here, but it’s more than a little obvious that it’s for the sake of style instead of accuracy.  Django himself is frequently a maelstrom of destruction when the need arises, to the point where one wonders if he was written as a teenager’s OC for a fanfic.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about too extensively.  Is there stuff worth getting angry about?  Probably -- especially if you’re the sort who gets in deep with racial relations and historical precedents.  But just as the violence in the movie is designed to be visceral, guttural, and instinctively unsettling, so too is what’s on display here.  Things get painted in pretty black and white terms (har de har har) for virtually the whole movie, but at least two of its central characters break out of the expected roles of their race and balance things out.  Adding in some shades of gray, if you will.  And Django himself doesn’t exactly get off scot-free; given the things that he does over the course of the movie to both races, and the fact that he’s clearly not role model material (as Tarantino’s non-violent viewpoint would suggest), I’d say we’re not meant to root for Django with anything resembling blind admiration.   You could make a pretty good argument that Django is actually the villain of the movie.

But with all that said, I wonder if there’s a certain…unpleasantness to Django Unchained that lies in the undercurrent.  You know what I mean -- something that your brain notices, even if you don’t consciously dwell on it.  I can’t help but feel like it’s the support of white people -- active support or not -- that Django becomes anything remotely resembling successful.  The start of the movie has him in chains and left virtually helpless; if not for the nigh-random intervention of a white man, he would have likely been tending to more fields in the next week or so.  From then on, there’s the question of how much of his character and culture he has to sacrifice to get what he wants; is he still black deep down and gains strength from his heritage?  Or can success only be found if he abandons those ways and embraces the social mores around him?  Is he realizing his full potential on his own?  Or is he just playing copycat, and getting everything that makes him Django the ultra-cool, ultra-smart gunslinger thanks to the prodding of the race he resents?  Is his mission really one born out of justice, virtue, and goodness?  Or just biting the hand that feeds him?

There are a lot of complexities and issues to Django Unchained thanks to its setting.  And there’s no way that the movie can address each of those issues satisfactorily -- chiefly because this isn’t a movie that’s a hundred percent about slavery, or a hundred percent about race relations.  But you know what?  That’s all right, at least in my opinion.  None of the things I mentioned, or the movie’s detractors have mentioned (or will mention), are things that instantly make the movie unwatchable or worthless or insulting.  They’re just things to think about at the end of the day.  There are plenty of points worth discussing and debating amongst friends and peers, and that in itself is something that gives the movie more merit (if not credibility).  I can only assume that Tarantino’s chief goal is a simple one, and one that any creator has in mind: telling a good story.  And he told a good story.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the problems the movie presents should be glossed over, or that the anger or disdain expressed should be dismissed.  Much like the movie itself, they’re things that can and should be observed.  And that’s about all I can say, really…at least, all I can say without requiring the consumption of both my feet.    

Voltech, awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! *jumps out of window*

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