A Brief Thought on Django Unchained
I saw and quite enjoyed Django Unchained last night. It contains a lot of the usual Quentin Tarantino witty banter and campy ultraviolence. I see Django as a companion piece to Inglourious Basterds – the revenge-fantasy realization of Jews slaughtering Nazis are not so far removed from that of a freed slave slaughtering slaveowners. But it’s more than just a revenge fantasy and campy violence – there’s a shared earnestness running through both films, a revulsion at the violence underlying both Nazi Germany and the antebellum South.
This is one of the things both films do so effectively – the terrifying sense of barely submerged violence at all times. Christoph Waltz, as Fritz Landa, personifies it in Basterds, particularly in the absolutely transfixing first scene. Leonardo Dicaprio, as slaveholder Calvin Candie, serves a similar role in Django. Each delivers their lines with the implicit threat of violence never seeming very far away. It’s even more potent in Django because it’s illustrated at every turn that brutality is an integral part of the slave society. It’s a recasting and subversion of the genteel imageof the antebellum South.
Django is a pastiche of Blaxploitation, spaghetti Western, revenge flick, epic love story, and buddy film. But it’s also a compelling portrait of a very sick society.