Release Date: January 24
I’m not a coffee drinker; I just don’t like the taste. But every few years I find that my curiosity gets the better of me and I say, “Yes,” when someone offers a cup. Invariably I discover that coffee hasn’t changed, and neither have I. I’m starting to feel the same way about Quentin Tarantino films.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, a negro in the southern states of America whom slavers have forcibly separated from his wife. He becomes the property of German dentist Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz. Schultz is actually a bounty hunter who is busy collecting the fees for wanted men, focusing particularly on the ‘dead’ in ‘Dead Or Alive’. Schultz offers to help Django rescue his wife from the infamous ‘Candiland’ plantation run by slaver Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio). They pose as businessmen interested in purchasing male slaves to fight to the death, but when the traitorous house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) exposes Django and the doctor’s cover, the rescuers find themselves in need of rescue.
If there is an up-side to Django Unchained then it has to be the free-wheeling way that writer / director Quentin Tarantino switches genres within the film. From the opening credits you feel like you are watching an homage to Spaghetti Westerns like A Fist Full Of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Classic western fonts and singer belting out the hero’s backstory complete the picture. In fact the hero’s name is drawn from a 1966 classic by Sergio Corbucci. However just when you get comfortable with the style it begins to slip into the conventions of 1970s blaxploitation films like Shaft and Mandingo. Offensive white characters, loud clothing and funk-soul soundtracks add to the feel. But it’s all too clever by half…
It’s not long before Tarantino’s fascination with excessive, artistic violence comes to the fore. A single shot produces buckets of blood; a semi-naked black woman is whipped by a maddened overseer; a slave is torn apart by ravening dogs. Tarantino even introduces himself into the film as a bit character so that he can be blown up with dynamite. Oh, how we wished we were watching a documentary… The final scenes are literally drenched in blood and then blown to smithereens in an off-hand, comic way that only Tarantino could achieve. It’s not much of a commendation, though.
Tarantino has overstepped the mark – again. I thought that it couldn’t get much worse with the release of the two part Kill Bill but Inglourious Basterds proved me wrong. The latter film came under fire for turning the persecution of Jews during World War Two into a plot device that presented torture as a justifiable response and lauded fictional American heroism. In Django Unchained Tarantino purports to highlight the plight of negroes prior to the American Civil War but actually uses horror stories of the slave trade as a means of diverting 21st audiences. This is no Amistad or The Colour Purple where the persecution of an entire race is handled sensitively and with an eye on the larger moral issues. No, Tarantino’s camera delights in their suffering. And though he teaches us to laugh at his collection of stupid white racists, he also entertains us with their suffering and so turns his audience into accomplices. The hero may ride away having brutally dispatched his enemies, but Django Unchained is actually the antithesis of sympathy.
The Christian response to evil is to let the light of the Gospel shine through our good deeds. The Christian response to suffering is sympathy and comfort, knowing that sin is the root cause and but for the mercy of God we might be experiencing the same fate. The Christian response to perpetrators is to bring the law to bear, not mirror their behaviour however justified it might seem and warn them of an even greater judgment to come. In short, the Christian response leads to complete and lasting freedom, whereas Tarantino’s pitiless, indulgent philosophy leaves Django and his audience in chains.