Quentin Tarantino has got to be at least a little bit insane. What else can explain the writer/director/actor’s obsession with splattering the cerebral cortexes of his movies’ characters all over the scenery?
I went today to see Tarantino’s latest box office magnet, Django Unchained, starring Jamie Fox. I was prepared for a strange experience, similar to my viewing of one of my all-time favorites, Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill, both I and II, certainly didn’t even remotely resemble a romantic comedy.
What I was not prepared for was the wide range of emotions I would run through during a violent movie that had me laughing at some of the oddest times.
Django is a slave who was separated from his wife in a slave trade. The plot has Django freed from his chains by a German-born bounty hunter who needs help that only Django can provide to capture or kill three wanted brothers who had once owned the feisty and intelligent slave. The two become partners, mostly because Django’s skill with a firearm proves a valuable asset to the glib Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz.) In exchange, Schultz agrees to help Django go back to the plantation where Broomhilda was sent to free her.
If you are a movie buff, imagine A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western) combined with Natural Born Killers – then throw in some very unexpected and royally out of place jokes.
This movie is not for the feint of heart. If the sound of the N-word makes your heart stop, you probably shouldn’t see this one. And, of course, if blood and guts make you too queasy to finish your popcorn, either skip the snacks or skip the movie. I consider myself a pretty stoic viewer of cinéma vérité but when the camera watched a pack of vicious dogs turned loose against a slave who insisted he could no-longer fight in what the slimy slave owner Calvin Candie (nailed by Leonardo DiCaprio) called his fight-to-the-death Mandingo Games, I spent the next three minutes with my head buried in my hands.
Tiny little Kerry Washington (TV’s hit series, Scandal) said in an interview I watched last week that she allowed herself to actually be whipped in the scenes that Broomhilda is brutally “punished” in one scene. It shows. I don’t know any actress or actor alive who could manufacture that blood-curdling, primal scream as that whip flicked and licked her bare back.
What turned my stomach more than even all this, however, was Samuel L. Jackson’s award-worthy turn as an Uncle Tom Big House trusty, a slave in his 80s who was the second in command over all the other slaves on the “Candieland” plantation. “Steven” had been in service to Mr. Candie for so long, he had become familiar enough to actually argue with the Master with a unheard of amount of cheek. His unapologetic cruelty to the other slaves made the taste of bile bubble to my mouth.
No movie I have ever seen – not even Roots – has ever come closer to depicting the reality of American slavery. The indignities visited upon black slaves, when shown in such raw detail, had me cheering on what turned out to be a single-handed massacre by a man who had a taste of freedom, had the intelligence to embrace it and was simply not willing to take it anymore.
On the trip home, where I do so much of my thinking about the film I’d just seen, I thought this: It’s really not hard to understand the congenital rage that young black males seem to carry from generation to generation. The lucky ones who are born into families who have managed to fight their way toward a more middle class existence in a still-racist society generally do not manifest that rage as overtly as the street-thugs who are robbing, raping, killing on a daily basis. But, when one of those lucky ones is passed over, wrongly accused, and kept in his place by oblique institutional carryovers from the times of slavery, you can believe the rage comes bubbling up.
If you can handle it, I highly recommend Django Unchained.