|Poster by Federico Mancosu.|
Django Unchained reminded me why we should watch movies in theaters, in the company of friends or strangers, where the distractions of real life melt away in the dark.
It's the most fun I've had at the movies all year. To be fair, I've only seen 4 of 23 movies in a theater*, and the rest at home on a television or computer screen. I had the option to watch Django during that rush before the Oscars, when bets were being hedged and screeners ran aplenty. But something told me to wait for the theatrical run, and I am very pleased that I didn't give in to instant gratification. Because Quentin Tarantino created a visual spectacle, and it's the only way to appreciate it is to see it
the way it was intended.
Django Unchained is part spaghetti western, only set in the American deep south. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, he talks about his plans to make a "southern":
I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me.
It's also a road movie that involves the unlikely journey of two men on a mission. It's a revenge fantasy that takes on something that about a country's past that is so shameful, it could only be talked about in a big, sweeping serious historical epic. *coughLincolncough*
But Tarantino was never interested in an historically accurate depiction of the slave trade or racism in the Midwest or the deep south. This is the guy who made an alternate universe where a Jewish girl and a band of basterds separately plotted to take down possibly history's greatest villain. Of course, it's going to be funny, it's going to shoot people in the knees and then poke in the wounds repeatedly, and there will be blood--lots of it. For every sweeping mountain vista, with our guys making off like Marlboro men, we get a scene where Schultz teaches Django how to be a good mark by shooting a snowman.
The movie's trailer bandied around Leonardo diCaprio's participation, yet his Calvin J. Candie only showed up halfway through the movie. I didn't mind. The most interesting relationship was between Schultz and Django. Why does a white man, a bounty hunter at that, take interest in what becomes of a freed slave?
Christoph Waltz's character Dr. Schultz** could have parted ways with Django after they had successfully hunted the Speck Brothers down. Schultz replies that he has never handed anyone his freedom before, and because of that, he has become invested and interested in how things turn out. Schultz rode with Django side by side, reminding everyone they encountered that Django was a free man, and must be treated as such. He taught Django his trade, trained him to shoot, and said nothing when Django picked a bright blue suit as his outfit. Let a man wear what he wants.
So when Django told him he wanted to get his wife back, Schultz could not let him do it alone. Django couldn't just waltz in a southern plantation and get her back, could he? Or maybe they could, but they needed a ruse, an elaborate one that was hinged on the flattery of a greedy plantation owner, a francophile who couldn't speak French but loved his slave girls in French maid's uniforms.
While watching the movie, I was actually surprised that except for the exaggerated blood spurts from shoot outs, it was relatively tame for a Tarantino movie. But I spoke too soon. He saved the bloodbath and the big boom for the finale. When Candieland went up in flames and Django and Hildy rode off into the horizon on their horses, you got a sense of fulfillment. Their story was the exception. In reality, it would be a few more years before the American Civil War and slaves are granted their freedom. It would be a hundred more years before the color of one's skin stopped dictating what one could do.
If this is how Tarantino takes on the questions of history, first with Inglourious Basterds which I loved to bits*** and then this, I want to see what he does next. Perhaps an irreverent take on the Revolution, or chicken pox, the Mayflower, a ship crossing the ocean to the New World? Or maybe he would jump ahead a few years, decades, centuries and worlds into the future. Whatever journey it is, wherever he's headed, I want to go to there. Just make sure the blood doesn't get on my popcorn.
*2 of 4 movies involved Nicholas Hoult wearing hoodies and one involved torture by live singing and being forced to stare at Anne Hathaway's pores. Surely, there are better reasons to watch movies. I need to get out more.
**Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter in Django + his Jew Hunter in Basterds = evidence he can pull off the mercenary who grows a conscience role swimmingly.
***True, I had a moment of doubt somewhere between Kill Bill Pt. 2 and Death Proof, but Basterds restored my faith in Tarantino.