I saw Inglorious Basterds at BAM in Brooklyn at an almost-full screening dominated by Hasidic Jews. This was a heightened experience to say the least. As a Jew myself I was approaching the film with hesitancy, as well as my own feelings about the history of my people. But being in the theater with loud cheering and laughing every time a Nazi was killed was just surreal enough to make me think it was the exact viewing circumstances Quentin Tarantino intended for the film. I walked out of BAM Rose Cinemas that night in a strange fog, unable to speak for almost two hours afterwards. And once I started talking about the movie, it was difficult to stop.
After watching Django Unchained, I find myself in a similar fog. Except it’s more that I have so much to say that I don’t know where to begin.
The movie opens in full Scope glory like an old Western. We’re in for a Good Guys versus Bad Guys story, complete with horses, cowboys, guns and stand-offs. Christoph Waltz immediately delivers, from the first scene, with a delicate mix of humor and seriousness. He is extremely likeable, the opposite of his Nazi character from Inglorious. Along with Jaime Foxx, as the title character Django, they create a buddy chemistry that is quite pleasurable to watch.
Django is also a love story. Django’s flashbacks and visions of his wife Broomhilda are filled with tenderness. His quest to find her and free her is compared by Dr. Schultz to a German legend of the Princess Broomhilda and her hero Sigfried who saves her because he is not afraid of any danger that stands between them, because Broomhilda is worth it. “I understand,” Django says after Schultz tells him the tale. “I’m beginning to see that,” Schultz answers, and he is moved to help Django in his quest.
Many people say they don’t like Tarantino’s films because of their extreme violence. Usually, I am not a fan of violent movies and can often be found cringing in my seat at every gunshot, covering my eyes until the bloody parts are over. But you know what? Slavery was violent, hideous and dirty. Far more so in real life than anything Tarantino could come up with. His violence, while a bit overwhelming, is also campy– the blood looks more like buckets of red paint being splattered everywhere. When approaching a topic like Slavery in the United States, I think it’s our responsibility to get dirty with it, because it was a dirty and awful time in our history, and we have to acknowledge that, remember it, make sure it never happens again.
The idea of a hero taking revenge on historic oppressors is two-sided for me. On one hand I worry if stooping to the level of killing, even if it’s killing really bad people, is just as bad? Dr. Schultz tells Django about what it’s like to kill people for a living. He describes their evil deeds, the reasons they deserve to die, and the money offered in exchange. Django is initially hesitant, but quickly finds himself okay with this moral grey area. On the other hand I think, why not have a fantasy movie about slaves killing slave-owners, or Jews killing Nazis? Is it cathartic? Does it make us feel good to see someone fighting back, to see the bad guy get it in the end? It is like Superman and Batman killing off the bad guys for the sake of the greater good?
Will Tarantino continue with this theme for his next film, with the Native Americans, perhaps?
See Django Unchained at Images Cinema, 2/1 – 2/6 at 4:30 and 7:45pm every day– and on 2/7 at 7:45pm only.
Also– at 2 hours and 45 minutes, I was fully engaged, and the time flew by.