Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Michael Phillips (2 Stars)  Richard Roeper (A)  TheOnion/AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars - yes it's violent but it definitely has a purpose/Prophetic voice)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips' review
Richard Roeper's review
The Onion/AVClub's review

It's probably safe to say that American racists will probably not much like Django Unchained (written and directed by Quentin Tarantino).  With characteristically blunt, often blood-splattering / bone-crushing humor (the film, like his previous Inglorious Basterds [2009] is definitely not for everybody) he and his cast and especially Inglorious Basterds' academy award winner Christoph Waltz go after the actual savagery of America's Original Sin -- racism/slavery.  Yes, this is not a pretty film.  Both African-American director Spike Lee and the CNS/USCCB's media office have definite issues with its violence.  But whereas Quentin Tarantino has produced films with utterly over-the-top blood-splattering violence with no discernible point at all (Kill Bill [2004] comes to mind ...), IMHO at least (and I know there will be people who will disagree with me) he has learned to "tame" / focus that violence in the service of the story/point that he has been trying to make in Inglorious Basterds [2009] and now Django Unchained [2012]: You don't much like the violence of these films?  Well what about the violence of the Holocaust or of Slavery where the "Fuhrers" / Slave Masters could truly do whatever they want?  I get the point.  I'm sure that the vast majority of the viewers of QT's last two films get it as well.  And I'm positive that both Quentin Tarantino and Christoph Waltz understood (and indeed were making) this point too. 

Indeed, Christoph Waltz plays a somewhat "atoning role" as Dr. Schultz a German immigrant dentist who after coming to the United States in the 1840s-50s decided to go into the "bounty hunting" business instead.  Looking for the African-American slave Django (played by Jamie Foxx) who could identify three white brothers wanted for crimes "back east," he "buys" him promising him freedom as soon as the two are able to bring the three brothers to justice "dead or alive" (and it's actually far easier in the bounty hunting business to bring fugitive criminals to justice "dead" than "alive," assuming that they were identified correctly ...).   It's a deal that Django "can't really refuse," but it's better than remaining in chains forever...

But upon hearing of Django's sad story -- that he once had an wife (also an African American slave) named Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington) who was taken away from him (both were sold off to different owners) at the whim of their slave owner -- and no doubt touched by Django's wife's somewhat surprising and evocative German name (she was named Broomhilda because her original slave owners were German, and Broomhilda is derived from the German mythological maiden named Brunhilde who had been saved by Siegfried from the clutches of the, in this case, vengeful Nordic God Wotan), Dr. Schultz decides to help Django.  He tells Django, "As a German, I'm obligated to help a Siegfried recover his Brunhilde."

In doing so, Christoph Waltz plays in this film not merely a "good German," but honestly a "good white person," who sees the crimes against our common humanity perpetrated by members of his (my) own race and seeks to rectify them.  Many depictions of blood splattering violence/vengeance ensue...

What to make of it?  As I've already written above, let's remember the actual blood splattering violence that raced based slavery and a further century of subsequent Jim Crow segregation entailed: An excellent and thoroughly sober, methodical presentation of the horrors of Jim Crow era lynching is presented in the documentary Shadows of the Lynching Tree [2011].  And that violence was real.

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