An abstract for a book chapter I’m going to write

Recently I was asked to contribute to an upcoming book on Marshall McLuhan and philosophy. My role is to write on McLuhan and film narrative. It just so happened that shortly before I received this request, I watched Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained. Like his previous film, Inglourious Basterds, I was so struck by his effort at subversion on a massive level (and virtually every critics’ inability to appreciate it as such) that I simply had to write something about it, so this book will provide the perfect opportunity. Perhaps this chapter will become the foundation for an entire book on Tarantino’s work some day. At any rate, here’s the abstract:

American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is often criticized for glorifying violence in his work, and perhaps not without reason. From the ear-amputation scene in Reservoir Dogs to the pawnshop basement rape scene in Pulp Fiction to the “Bear Jew” scene in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has certainly carved a bloody swath across the cinematic landscape. However, by examining Tarantino’s latest work, Django Unchained, through Marshall McLuhan’s theory on the relationship between violence and identity, this chapter suggests that despite its graphic depiction of extreme violence, Django Unchained actually subverts and rejects the revenge fantasy that gives the film its structure. This sets the stage for a reevaluation of Tarantino’s entire body of work not as a glorification of violence but rather as a relentless critique of our tendency to use violence as a substitute for legitimate self-actualization.

Update March 14: After getting some feedback from my editor, I’ve since updated the abstract to make McLuhan more central and to include references to Rene Girard and Ernest Becker in the piece.

Marshall McLuhan is well known for suggesting there is an essential connection between violence and our search for meaning, as exemplified in the following quote: “Violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful. The less identity, the more violence.” Interestingly, both Rene Girard and Ernest Becker have converged upon a similar insight, observing that human beings tend to scapegoat those who pose the greatest threat to their “immortality formula.” Nowhere is this connection between violence and identity more apparent than the cinema, particularly in the work of American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is often criticized for glorifying violence in his films, and perhaps not without reason. From the ear-amputation scene in Reservoir Dogs to the pawnshop basement rape scene in Pulp Fiction to the “Bear Jew” scene in Inglourious Basterds, he has certainly carved a bloody swath across the cinematic landscape. However, by examining Tarantino’s latest work, Django Unchained, through the lens of McLuhan, Becker and Girard, this chapter suggests that despite its graphic violence, Django Unchained actually subverts and rejects the revenge fantasy that gives the film its structure. This sets the stage for a complete reevaluation of Tarantino’s body of work not as a glorification of violence but rather as a relentless critique of our tendency to use violence as a substitute for legitimate self-actualization.

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" and "After..." In addition to his work in film, Miller has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.


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