Sunday, January 13, 2013

Django Unchained

I put off seeing Django Unchained before this weekend because, though I liked the story premise, I was wary of Tarantino's extremely violent style. I mean, he's entitled to his artistic vision, but that's also why I've never watched one of his movies before. I can handle watching some horror and gore, like in Daybreakers, if I like the story well enough, but not on a regular basis. So knowing that Django would probably be a hit and last for many weeks at the theatre, I initially spent my time on The Guilt Trip and Promised Land instead.

But finally I saw Django Unchained on Saturday, and I enjoyed much of it. There are great darkly comic moments, like how Dr. Schulz the bounty hunter hands his rifle over to a slave, who is too stunned to know what to say. After Schulz buys Django, he throws the keys to the shackles to the remaining slaves and lets them keep his rifle so that they can choose to kill their injured slave driver and free themselves. The movie is very appealing in these absurd moments, and also in its role reversals, like when Django whips an overseer who had previously whipped his wife Broomhilda. However, there are still moments that are hard to watch, such as the brutal "Mandingo" fight, where two slaves have to fight to the death for the amusement of their white owners. I've read since that such brutal fights are fictional, and if so, I'm greatly relieved, because I couldn't stand to watch the repeated close-ups that seemed to last forever. That and another scene where the villainous Candie owner has a slave torn to death by dogs, are the worst in my opinion. (And I lost much sympathy for Django when he decided that it was necessary to not save this slave, in order to keep Schulz's con game going. At least shoot the guy dead to end his suffering!) There are some moments during the shootouts where we see lots of blood and gruesomely exploding flesh, but it's so cartoony as to be unreal.

Anyway, it's exactly as advertised: a pseudo-western, revenge fantasy film, and you have to watch it while ignoring the historical inaccuracies. (The sad truth is that in real life, Nat Turner's slave rebellion, which killed many white families in Virginia, resulted in white Southerners being terrified of more violence, so they enacted harsher laws and conducted many bloody reprisals against slaves wholly unconnected to Nat Turner.) So while Django's actions would feel like a blow for freedom personally, the consequences would be dire for many more black Americans, both slave and free.

One real historical fact that the movie contains, is that "Alexandre Dumas was black," which I did not know prior to seeing this film. It surprised me, and there were skeptical reactions in the audience, so I had to look it up afterward just to make sure. I get too used to thinking that Dumas is just French, without remembering that he also had African ancestry, through his paternal grandmother.

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