(2012, US, d. Quentin Tarantino)
This is why I want to make movies. This is also why I don’t want to make movies.
Once a year, you watch a film in theaters that reminds you of watching movies as a kid. It reminds you of movies in which every plot twist was treated with surprise, every swear word made us flinch, every tear touched our heart, when every gun shot quickened our heart beat. It reminds us of what movies could do.
But over time, we become desensitized. The same things don’t do it for us anymore. And while movies come and go that do make us feel a strong, singular emotion, rare is the film that can capture the range of them.
Quentin Tarantino’s new movie is Django Unchained, the story of a freed-slave-turned-bounty-hunter named Django (played by Jamie Foxx) as he begins a journey to rescue his enslaved wife, Bromhilda (Kerry Washington), with the help of fellow bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).
Part western and part blaxploitation, Django walks a fine line between reality and fiction. And though Tarantino is never afraid to throw history out the window (much as he did with 2009’s Inglorious Basterds), Django falls into an interesting controversy: is Tarantino glamorizing slavery? Is he infusing it with the dose of pop culture only he could and actually make life back then look better than it was? By making us laugh during intense depictions of cruelty, is he trivializing a deep-rooted American issue?
That’s just the argument. I, however, disagree. Do I think the ignorant viewer should be informed of what slavery actually entailed in real life? Absolutely. But if you don’t know that coming into the film, this film really isn’t for you in the first place.
Much as he did with Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his the historical setting, in this case: the pre-Civil War period, as a backdrop to explore themes of vengeance, subservience, and survival of the fittest. Sure, he infuses every scene with such distinct panache it becomes easy to point fingers, but I don’t think he deserves blame. In fact, I think it’s laudable that something as alien and removed from modern society (can you imagine that the Holocaust was only 70 years ago?) can be made so relevant. But let’s get back to the review.
Django Unchained is a wholly original film – and another masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino. Much like his other films, it borrows from a hundred before it, but is still able to create something new and gripping. Its ability to blend humor with extreme tension over a single conversation about whether or not to shake someone’s hand is unparalleled.
The performances are riveting. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Walz, and Samuel L. Jackson stand out as a few names that will most likely be unappreciated in the awards season, but deserve as much attention as they get. “Unhinged” would be the word that came to mind when describing them, especially DiCaprio, who plays ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie. For most of the film DiCaprio allows himself to be overshadowed by Waltz and Foxx – as Candie himself is looking to make some serious money off them – but let me just say: when the sh** hits the fan, it hits hard.
Django Unchained is clever, hilarious, and horrifying – often at the same time. It’s the perfect blend of high style and confident storytelling and Tarantino’s signature, and developed maturity, is inscribed deep in every frame.
This is why I want to make movies. If you’re at a movie theater when this is playing, walk in and take a look at the audience’s faces. Watch how they contort from fear to happiness to laughter to sadness to repulsion to laughter and back to fear in just a few minutes. As a filmmaker, that’s the dream.
But it’s also why I don’t want to make movies. Because if something this good exists, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
Of course, I plan on taking the first route, but I hope you get the point: go see this movie. With a hard R-rating, it’s one hell of a ride.