Django Unchained (2012) d. Quentin Tarantino

, 2013-05-07

As someone who was introduced to the films of Quentin Tarantino in the 2000s with Kill Bill, I have always been more familiar with the indulgent fanboy side of him. For a time during his post-Jackie Brown hiatus, many believed his next work would be something even more low-key and maybe even profound. But all he has done since is lower expectations with increasingly violent homages to cult sub-sub-genres of movies he grew up with, even indirectly remaking two of his favourites, as part of a Spaghetti Western trilogy: Inglourious Basterds and now this, a loose remake/homage to the 1966 Spaghetti Western Django starring Franco Nero, who features in a cameo here. It begins with the slave Django being unchained by German-born bounty hunter 'Dr' King Schultz. A giant tooth wiggles atop Schultz's carriage impertinently throughout the picture, though unusually for a Tarantino flic', he at no point performs any impromptu dentistry on the crackers and rednecks he's gunning for. Schultz promises to free Django from slavery upon collecting several bounties across the Deep South and then repay him by rescuing Django's conveniently German-speaking wife Brunhilde from Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie (played with devilish menace by Leonardo DiCaprio) of Candyland.Jamie Foxx relishes executing every evil white man, reminiscent of every Fred Williamson blaxploitation character while Christoph Waltz gets to take off the Nazi uniform from his last QT collaboration and play the guilty-ass white man. He is the most interesting and complex of all the characters herein (though that may not be saying much) as his arc of development reflects that of the European-American. He deals with his guilt at not having done enough in the latter half of the movie when he witnesses a slave's tearing apart by dogs and one Mandingo warrior gouge out another's eyes for the pleasure of 'Monsieur' Candie.As with all Tarantini, revenge is served with bombastic effect. If there is anything unconventional in the violence of the movie it is the disproportionate meting out of cruelty to the slaveholders and Uncle Toms, who only receive gunshots to the heart or unceremonious kneecappings while innocent slaves are mauled, gouged of their eyes and beaten with hammers or robbed of dignity in the aforementioned Mandingo fights and of course, their heritage. Perhaps this is Quentin's way of reminding us his stories take place in unjust worlds not unlike the ones we live in.Unlike most blaxploitation pictures set in the era, the slaves of the movie are only freed after being bought with money by a white man and this is why it could be argued it is a blaxploitation movie for white audiences, coming to terms with the history of racial oppression in the US and a new era where the 'minorities' of yesteryear collectively comprise the majority but the white plurality is rapidly becoming marginalized politically. Blood splatters white lilies, cotton, and snow to remind us how white America got where it is. A black-n-white President may symbolize the transitional phase the county is in but the transformation has not yet been realised. The debt owed by many Americans is not merely a monetary one.Although after pondering these issues, the film proceeds for another half-hour wherein any remaining do-badders are riddled with bullets or blown apart by dynamite in a fairly unimaginative and convoluted way. Watching the weak climax one longs for the return of Sally Menke's guiding hand to guide a pair of scissors over the 2:15 mark and graciously snip it loose. QT is definitely missing that woman's touch dearly: those scenes deleted could have sold countless 'Extended Edition' DVDs.As a genre film however, it is an excellent meshing of two deeply entrenched yet juxtaposed American icons: the cowboy and the slave. The former symbolizing America's unity and freedom after the Civil War somehow entwined with one representing America's division (then between North and South; a century later, between largely urban and rural) and tyranny. In a movie ending on the eve of the Civil War, the future and the past. Hip hop music is played to the desired startling effect over images of Django's horse seemingly strutting him into the Candyland plantation but everything else has been seen before in one form or another.It must sully the memories of cineastes who were once so electrified by the jarring chords of the Miserloo nineteen years ago and the overnight globalisation of that treasured American epithet, Motherf*cker, to see what little Quentin Tarantino has done to show he's learnt anything since. Postmodernist masturbation may be enough for audiences these days who disregard 'elitist' critics and their analyses but if this is the case our filmmakers should unchain their own minds and emancipate viewers worldwide with a cinema of meaning.