In the months since first watching this film, I have acquired a different viewing perspective shaped by time, my readings and brilliant professors that have caused me to have a change of heart. And I feel it is drastic enough for me to have to correct myself. I misinterpreted important themes displayed in the film and egregiously allowed myself to be a fan first, rather than a critic.
Tarantino is an inspiring filmmaker, who I will forever hold a debt of gratitude for contributing to my love of cinema. However, I would be doing an injustice to myself and those of you who kindly read my reviews to grant any filmmaker immunity from an intelligent analysis of their work. For this reason, I must apologize. This review does not reflect my current opinion on Django Unchained or Tarantino. I hope you will forgive me, as I attempt to correct an ignorantly conceptualized review.
As I continue with my education and attempt to find my niche in film writing I hope to find a comfortable area that allows me to incorporate more theory in my reviews, because as more time goes by I feel myself gravitating towards theory rather than criticism. I'm currently planning a theoretical essay on racial stereotypes in American cinema that I hope will address my concerns and regression with Django Unchained that I will post here on this blog. I will keep you updated.
For those of you who read my reviews, thank you for indulging me. It's both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to find a platform that allows me to write about something I'm passionate about.
P.S. An extra apology to Spike Lee (in case you're reading).
The 2:50 showing was packed with theater goers wrapped in holiday scarves that were surely under the tree earlier that morning; even though we arrived there 20 minutes early, my family and I almost didn't get seats together; I had failed to notice the nearly three hour running time and didn't eat before leaving the house; and the guy next to me wreaked of cigarettes, but I didn't care. I was happily waiting for director/writer Quentin Tarantino's pre-Civil War revenge/drama to start. And let me say, he did not disappoint.
Set in the antebellum South, Django Unchained follows Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter, disguised as a traveling dentist, searching for three brothers who only our protagonist and titular character (Jamie Foxx) can identify. In acquiring Django's help, Schultz sets him free and offers him a third of the reward for helping kill the men Schultz is looking for. We learn Django takes great pleasure in getting paid to kill white folks, as he puts it, but also discover he yearns to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and rescue her. What ensues is perhaps the most controversial and violent love story I have ever rooted for.
Tarantino is no stranger to controversy or even racial themes for that matter, i.e.: 1994's Pulp Fiction. But as uncomfortable as a subject this may be, he allows his audience to laugh, balancing brutality with some comical moments. In one scene, we see a group of KKK members struggling to see through their white hoods. Then, he quickly plunges us back into the seriousness of this era, particularly with flashbacks involving Broomhilda. How does he manage this? By rewriting history and turning ex-slave Django into a sort-of superhero, of course. Think Captain America with *eh-hem* some obvious differences on the ideals of freedom. Violent scenes are shot with a comic-book style. The blood that squirts out of Django's targets are so grotesquely glamorous, we awe more than cringe. We want to see it.
Tarantino is also no stranger to rewriting history. He killed Hitler after all, in 2009's Inglourious Basterds. There are some parallels to be drawn here: in Basterds, the Jews were the heroes, conspiring against German Nazi's, and here we watch a freed slave acquire a blood lust for slave owners. However, he's also playing off his theme of redemption with his actors. Here we have Waltz playing a slavery hating, German bounty hunter, where in Basterd's, the film that won him an Oscar, he played Col. Landa, a merciless "Jew Hunter." See how Tarantino reverses roles? Just take a look at his name: Dr. King Schultz. Or consider (my favorite character) Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) an aristocratic plantation owner with a deplorable hobby in making his slaves fight to the death. With DiCaprio, we're so used to seeing him as the leading man/hero it's almost scary how much fun he appears to be having encouraging his fighter to kill his opponent.
Tarantino also marks this film with his trademark style. It's hard to make pop-culture references in the 1800's before pop-culture existed, so we get some nice historical references to the like of Hercules, Alexandre Dumas and German folklore. This also allows freedom in the music department, featuring a soundtrack with classical pieces like "Fur Elise" and a track from Rick Ross. There's also a beautiful Alexander Nevsky homage, specifically the "Battle on the Ice" sequence when we see the Klan members riding over a hill. We're also indulged in Tarantino's fascination with spaghetti Westerns and his employment of his trademark quick zoom on our gun-slinging hero is not lost on us. Waltz's character is perhaps the most enjoyable to watch, well versed and with a colorful vernacular, Tarantino puts his witty dialogue to good use with his character.
It's difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, so I'll just address it. It's easy to see how some audience members would accuse this film of negatively exploiting African American stereotypes. At times, the film did teeter-totter on the line of what is acceptable and what is socially deconstructive, but if we look at Tarantino's history, there is nothing to suggest the latter. For example, Tarantino's character in Fiction (and yes, expect him to make a cameo here again) goes on a rant filled with racial slurs when he finds out there's a dead black man in his garage and wants him gone before his wife comes home. Unbeknownst to us, at the time, his wife is, in fact, black. Is this racist? Probably, but we have to look at his intentions. In Django's depiction of slavery, did he go too far? I don't try to assume I know what goes on in the mind of a genius, but with a filmmaker as bold and as outspoken as Tarantinto, I can only guess he would justify it by asking if slave owners went too far. Oh, wait. I don't need to; he said it here in a recent interview. Maybe the film did go too far, but I didn't go see this hoping Tarantino played it safe. That's not his style, man.
The film also stars, Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, Franco Nero (the original Django), David Steen, Dana Michelle Gourrier, and Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson, giving a memorable performance as Mr. Candie's slave and confidant.
Unfortunately, 2012 is nearly over and I have yet to cross off all the films I had planned to see this year. Now, unless the Oscar-hopeful The Guilt Trip manages to surprise, I think it's safe to say Django Unchained is my favorite film of 2012.
Sorry Spike Lee, but this is why I go to the movies.