Sunday, December 30, 2012
Tarantino Deconstructs Slavery in Django Unchained
Jaime Foxx is the titular character, Django, and he and his wife are slaves that get split up in a trade. While he's being transported with a group of other chained slaves, we meet Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist/bounty hunter who needs Django to identify a trio of brothers that have large bounties on their heads. So he buys and frees him, and the two team up in buddy-comedy style fashion. The two work well of each other. Foxx plays Django as a quiet man on a mission. Will Smith was actually offered the role of Django, but Foxx is a better choice: his gruff stares and I've-been-through-everything confidence makes you hopeful for his inevitable revenge. Waltz, just as he chewed every scene in Inglorious Basterds, is the best aspect of Django. But that's just as much a testament to Tarantino's script, specifically his signature dialogue that allows for comical pauses and mannerisms that really suit Waltz's acting style.
The first half of Django Unchained has some comical scenes that are hit-or-miss. It's great first meeting Dr. Schultz, with his horse carriage that has a large fake tooth on a spring on top, swinging back and forth signifying that he's a dentist. A less funny scene involves some Klanish men complaining on and on about how they can't see out of their white hood eye holes because the notches are not cut large enough. It's not unfunny because it's offensive--it's just repetitive. Though there is something to be said about how uncomfortable it is laughing at certain aspects of Django in a theater with a bunch of other white people. No punches are pulled: the N-word is used in all matter of scenes, joking or serious. But this is how these men and women would talk during this time period in this location. They wouldn't hesitate using this type of language without even thinking twice about it, just like we don't think twice about any normal word we use on a daily basis as Americans living in the year (almost) 2013. Spike Lee can cry all he wants--it's an honest and unflinching look at certain aspects of the horrors of slavery.
Like in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Django Unchained builds inevitable Tarantino tension to a final showdown that involves over-the-top violence and hundreds of gallons of blood. The killings are not too serious or realistic: gunshot wounds spurt gobs of blood that would fill up a bathtub, almost like a bullet entering the body would shoot out every ounce of plasma out of the sizzling hole. It's cartoonish and eventually grows a bit tiresome, mainly because the shootouts are not quite as innovate as the large-scale combat in Kill Bill Vol 1. or the intimate basement bar scene in Inglorious Basterds. And that's a good sum up about how I feel about Django Unchained: it's got the typical moments of fun brilliance that Tarantino is known for, but it never really matches the highs of his previous cinematic oeuvre, and at nearly three hours, it's a bit overlong too.
Another problem with the film: for a movie called "Django Unchained", you would think the character of Django would become "unchained", become empowered, become something larger than himself. But that doesn't really happen. It's more of a white man's fantasy film: the white Dr. Schultz frees Django, he helps Django, and when an important moment of standing up to tyranny occurs, its the white Dr. Schultz that takes action instead of the former slave. Foxx's Django rarely does anything meaningful in regards to taking control of his situation. He's perfectly happy with Schultz leading the way. Ultimately, though, this is just a fun film about slavery (seems like an oxymoron) that is full of both horror and humor. I just wish Django had taken a more serious stand against that horror. (B+)