I know, you loved it. I know. How do I know? Because you’ve deluged me with your praise. I’m lathered up with your recommendations to see it. That’s why I made such haste to do so. And while I like you, and like your recommendations, this movie sucked. (And of course spoilers to follow)
No, this isn’t going to be a diatribe about if the movie is inherently racist or not. All I know is that Quentin Tarantino’s fetishization of the word ‘nigger’ continues unbounded with a movie that lets more white people say it than his usual movies (which is also a lot).
I just disliked this movie because I consider myself a western aficionado, and this western wasn’t very good. Revenge is a common theme in westerns, and a western about a freed slave who gets to go after slave owners seems like pretty ripe fruit for the picking. But with Tarantino’s casual, stylized violence, the deaths have no weight. When the gleefully villainous Leonardo DiCaprio is finally shot, it has all the impact of a punchline. There’s no satisfaction in any of the revenge. Held against movies like ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘The Proposition’, ‘Django Unchained’ is just a cartoon of a western, which is pretty unforgivable given its premise.
But, like most movies I dislike, ‘Django’ also trips over its own stupidity. It seems to know that it’s stupid right from the start, since the opening subtitles let you know that 1858 was two years before our Civil War. But the most glaring example of magical dumb is when the brilliant, scheming bounty hunter Schultz (who up to this point has been several steps ahead of his adversaries in every situation) decides to waste his sleeve Derringer shot on the unarmed DiCaprio instead of shooting the only man in the room with the gun. Why not shoot the armed man who isn’t even looking at you, then dispatch DiCaprio afterward? It’s such a stupid decision that it makes you wonder if the movie was ever screened for anyone who might have held up a finger and said, “Wait, this makes zero sense.”
Finally: Who are these revisionist fantasies of Tarantino’s aimed to please? ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (a film I enjoyed considerably more than this one) gave us the ridiculous death of Hitler in what was probably supposed to be a cathartic machine-gunning. But Hitler wasn’t gunned down by Jewish heroes, he killed himself in his bunker. Just as there was never a bad-ass, gun-slinging freed slave who exacted vengeance on slavers. There was only horrible slave owners who treated other people like property and abused them at will. So who watches ‘Django Unchained’ and feels unburdened? It’s sort of the guiltiest pleasure, grinning away while Klansmen debate the size of the holes in their hoods (Which of course I did).
I realize it can be hard to craft ideas in Hollywood, so I came up with some of my own revisionist history plots for Tarantino to use in the future. Enjoy:
‘Iron Nan’ During the Rape of Nanking, a young woman named Nan discovers she can turn her skin to iron and thus become unrapeable. She repels the Japanese invaders single-handedly and saves the 300,000 Chinese who were murdered in the real version.
‘The Sand Creek Triumph’ When 700 U.S. calvary soldiers attack the peaceful American Indian camp at Sand Creek, a geriatric Indian named Black Wind gathers up a fighting force of 100 women and young children and successfully defends the camp until help arrives.
‘Never Forget’ When hijacked passenger planes collide with the Twin Towers, a hang gliding manufacturer on the 75th floor quickly dispenses hang gliders to ferry people to the ground safely instead of burning alive.
Are these ideas stupid? Yeah, I thought so, too.