Last night I met George, his wife, Parris, and some of our dear friends for dinner, and then we went off to see DJANGO.  Overall critics have loved it, but there have been some reactions that it trivializes slavery, and reactions over the levels of violence.  I was curious.  Overall I like Tarantino’s work.  I didn’t care for KILL BILL 1 & 2, and TRUE ROMANCE left me cold, but PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN, INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS — good stuff.  Well add DJANGO to the list of Tarantino films I like.  As with so many of his films this is a love letter to the Western, particularly the Spaghetti Western.  There is even a theme song just like there was for Have Gun Will Trave, or Rawhide, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, etc.  That alone had George giggling because he and Gardner Dozois used to make up songs about science fiction authors set to the theme songs of old television shows, and many of them were westerns.  But back to this film.

Christopher Waltz who won an academy award for his performance as the chilling and charming Nazi Colonel Han Landa in Inglourious Bastards is just wonderful as the German/dentist/bounty hunter in Django.  Charming, funny, kind, but with a dark streak.  Jaime Foxx really comes into his own in the second half of the film, and Samuel Jacksons turn as an old plantation slave is amazing.  Leonardo diCaprio has a wonderful time playing the villainous plantation owner.  The script is good — Tarantino has a real flair for how to tell a story, and he makes sure that one small thing that happens early on in the film pays off in a big way at the end.  I love that when a writer makes it work.

Is it violent — yes.  But not in the way you would expect.  The gun play is actually so over-the-top and unrealistic as to seem cartoonish.  Blood will literally fountain three or four feet into the air when each bullet hits.  Balanced against that is the violence done to the people in shackles.  That is done with chilling realism.  The hideous and horrifying metal contraptions that were strapped onto the heads and necks of recalcitrant or runaway slaves were horrifying.  The depiction of what ankle shackles will do to human skin.  That he did not trivialize.  Of course this was a deliberate choice.  My guess is that Tarantino was attempting to downplay the revenge fantasy aspects of the film, but use that as a way to get audiences to actually look at what was done to human beings in our country.  Slavery is America’s Original Sin, and we still haven’t expunged the stain.

As with all Tarantino films he has wonderfully comedic, talky moments.  In this film it’s the argument about the white raiders wearing bags/hoods as they attempt to wreak vengeance on Django an Dr. Schultz.   My companions and I were howling with laughter.  There were also places where I had to cover my eyes.  I couldn’t watch.  I’ll tell you this much it wasn’t the fountains of blood scenes.

After it was over we lingered briefly in the lobby, and I had a moment where history, like a choking poisonous mist, reached through time to wrap around the six friends gathered in a movie theater in Santa Fe N.M. in 2012.  Two of these friends that I attended the film with are African-American.  The eldest of them and I were discussing when we had to cover our eyes, and she said (paraphrasing a bit) “When I saw some of those scenes I wondered about my ancestors.  Which distant great, great, etc. grandmother endured that?  Which great-great grandfather died trying to escape?”  I tried to process what that would mean.  To know that your ancestors were brought to this country in chains, and endured the most inhuman treatment because of course they weren’t viewed as human.  I couldn’t of course.  And I bear the sin in a different way.  My mother was southern.  South-east corner of Oklahoma.  I know that several of my distant great, great uncles owned slaves.  My great-grandmother was full blood Cherokee, and there was one particular Cherokee chief who was the largest slave holder in the Oklahoma territories.  Were any family in my direct line also slave holders?  On my father’s side my great-great-grandfather was a Yankee cavalry officer.

What struck me was that this small group of six friends encapsulate much of the American experience.  George and Parris come from the 19th century immigrant tradition — Italy and Ireland respectively.  And in the two youngest members of our party was the new America.  My friend’s daughter is, like our President, an amalgamation of many backgrounds.  She’s an exquisite golden child.  Her gentleman friend is a child of the south, but carries none of those attitudes.  We’re getting there.  We’re talking more, and even though it’s just a movie I think Django might help start some of the conversations.




  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Something that I really need to add, and forgot to put in the body of the post. There are no women in this movie. Oh, yes Brunhilda is a vision, the thing that drives Django, but she has virtually no dialog, and she’s there to be rescued. Given her status and the era maybe that’s appropriate, but I am very aware of films with no female content or perspective. Given that they are playing out the Sigfried myth, again maybe it’s appropriate since Brunhilda had been placed in a deep sleep, and could only be wakened by true love’s kiss.

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