Django Unchained: A Well-Acted Cinematic Atrocity

Simply put, Django Unchained is pathetic and vile.

As a bit of background, I come into a critically-acclaimed movie like Django with a bit higher expectations than, say, if for some unknown reason I’m paying money for a movie entitled “Prom Massacre IV.”  In other words, you don’t go to a Tarantino movie expecting to see nothing more than a well-acted blood splatter flick.  Tarantino is supposed to be a “filmmaker” who knowingly and self-counsciously takes B movie techniques (zoom the camera!  Make the music loud!  Exaggerate everything!) and turns them into Oscar bait.

The first of his flicks I saw was Pulp Fiction, and I liked it and hated it.  I laughed in spite of myself and couldn’t take my eye off the screen.  But after another movie or two, here came the pattern:

Kill Bill Volume I: Vengeance!  Blood!  Grotesque killing!

Kill Bill Volume II: Vengeance!  Blood!  Grotesque killing!

Inglorious Basterds: Vengeance!  Blood!  Grotesque killing!

Django Unchained:  Vengeance!  Blood!  Grotesque killing!

It’s almost as if Peter Jackson came to a studio every couple years and said, “I have a great idea, a really short (guy, girl, guy-girl combo) is going on a lonely quest with a few friends to destroy a sacred object in (Germany, Mississippi, Okinawa). It will be revolutionary!”  And then studios weep with joy at the originality, and critics swoon at the boldness.  In Tarantino’s case, we all stare at slack-jawed amazement as a profane, arrogant man replicates movie themes that if we saw them on TNT or TBS at 1:00 a.m. would make us question our meaning and purpose in life for staying up so late to watch such utter garbage.

So that’s the pathetic part.

Then there’s the vile part.  The man doesn’t just love the N-word; he glories in it.  He marinates in it.  And don’t tell me that it’s “accurately reflecting” the times because — as we know — there’s basically nothing else in that movie that “accurately reflects” anything.  He made up one of the film’s central atrocities (“Mandingo fighting” didn’t exist), he made up the role of the bounty hunter in criminal justice (I loved seeing the bounty hunter as sniper), he even made up the setting (Did you see the mighty mountains of Mississippi in the film?  Hilarious.)  But doggone it, if he’s not spewing the N-word every nine seconds, well then he’s not “keeping it real.”

This is of course completely consistent with his other highly-stylized works of fiction.  Throw a black actor into a Tarantino film, and the N-word flies.  This goes to something I absolutely loathe about our culture of political correctness:  there is one standard of offensiveness for the plebes and another standard of offensiveness for the hip.  If you’re cool enough you can get away with virtually anything.

But that’s not all!  While I’m not shy about violent movies, not all violence is created equal.  I’m not someone who goes “yay!” the higher the arterial spray.  What’s particularly cheap about his movies is the way he often takes the “right” kind of villains (Nazis!  Slavers! Murderous Japanese mobsters!) to essentially give him carte blanche to explore the limits of creativity in simulated sadism.

His saving grace is that he’s somehow able to lure some of Hollywood’s best actors to his movies.  The stars of Django are so talented they could make Freddy versus Jason reasonably compelling

But not even Jamie Foxx can save Django.  Keep your money.  Or, better yet, go see Zero Dark Thirty instead.  Now that’s a good movie.

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  • srocha

    You seem to have entirely and completely missed every single interesting and beautiful thing about the movie. In a way, I think Tarantino wins this one, much like the mixed reception of ‘Inglorious Basterds.’ I have my reservations about the film and I am not a fan of the Tarantino’s stylish use of blood, but there is a serious and playful art here and also some very powerful interventions into questions of race and history and, yes, even the N word. The movie is quite musical, too. The idea that you found it vile says more about you than him, I think.

  • winston

    You can rest assured, as much as men love wagering and combat, that such things have occurred more times than we can imagine. (Just think of what the Romans did with their slaves and ‘outlaws’ ).-Point is, he doesn’t say it’s central to slavery which obviously it wasn’t. Certainly well before 1858 Africans were treated under the law but any intelligent person could obviously see that blacks and whites were basically the same. So they made up nonsense to justify the black man’s inferiority,, -which led to eugenics. LDC is great in that scenes.

    I don’t know how you found Zero Dark Thirty any less disturbing. Django is revisionist history; a revenge fantasy that shows the ways things were and might have been. ZDT is a film about the very real and terrible crimes being committed by our nation right now and since 2001.
    ZDT basically condones torture by suggesting that it was the basis by which we gained the intel required to eventually kill Osama Bin Ladin. Which we know is just flat wrong. And we know that torture has led to all kinds of false leads and lies.. People will say anything to stop torture.
    That is our government TODAY with our tax dollars. Torturing, murdering at the level of, Crimes Against Humanity! 90% of those killed in Iraq & Afghanistan have been civilians. If you all use is TV to get informed then you’re never going to get properly informed on a host of issues.
    9-11 being a perfect example.

  • Nancy French

    Um… My husband doesn’t use TV to get his information about military issues. He’s in the military, is a JAG officer, and was deployed with a combat unit…. So perhaps you should realize that your condescending — and false — criticisms against the United States military are actually being directed at him personally. If you all use is liberal talking points from TV to get informed, you’re never going to be able string together a real critique of our military.

  • Jake

    A surface level understanding of film does not make you a critic, this is the worst film review i have ever read.