Academic Film Review of Django Unchained essay

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Django Unchained

As a screenwriter and filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino has long been considered the ultimate auteur. His style and content are uniquely his own and are marked by edgy, graphic content along with fast, memorable dialogue. There is a rapt attention paid to pop culture and popular slang that all of Tarantino's films bear, and of late his films have paid attention to dark historical events. Inglourious Basterds (2011) focused on World War II and the multiple forms of carnage that this event encompassed. Django Unchained marks yet another foray of Tarantino into one of America's blackest historical marks: slavery. Like Basterds, Tarantino puts his unique stamp on this dreary historical subject by couching it from a unique and meaningful perspective: he portrays the events of slavery with the imprint of a slave who becomes a type of bounty hunter, and kills white men. This is strongly evocative of the Jews in Basterds who killed Nazis (burning them alive in the cinema). The problem however, with Django Unchained is that it lacks the richness in detail of his earlier films. Like Tarantino's entire canon, Django Unchained is smart and fast and filled with precise dialogue. However, the film markedly does not possess the gory elegance of Basterds nor the cleverness of Pulp Fiction.

Django Unchained is a portrait of pure gore. On the one hand, the gore and each repulsively violent scene after the other appear to be warranted, given the subject matter. The violent reckoning and the fascination with spurting blood could be argued to be the best response to the pure repulsiveness of what American slavery was. Elsewhere in the world, slaves were treated as indentured servants; in America they were treated like chattel for centuries. "Slavery in America was different from any other corner of the world primarily because in America it was viewed early on as the primary foundation upon which an emerging republic could solidify its economic primacy in the global commerce of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two hundred and twenty-eight years of free labor will assure business success anywhere in the cosmos" (Foster, 2004). Many have argued that no other civilization used slavery in such a manner as America in order to achieve long lasting economic prosperity. More than that, the inherent nature of American slavery was unique in that it orbited around a systematic, mental dehumanization of these individuals. Slavery in America meant that each slave had become dehumanized to the point that they were specified as the personal property of the slave-owner. In that sense, Tarantino is engaging in a form of intensified justice through the creation of Django and the sense of retribution and with it, justice that Django is able to engage in.

On the other hand, there appears to be an intensified sense of self-entitlement that Tarantino engages in. The violence and gore of the film are unrelenting. They reach such a crescendo that they appear to not even serve the overall film anymore, but just function as tools for horrifying the spectator. Tarantino becomes overindulgent in his use of gore and violence in this film; their presence no longer serves the film but their utility is just to shock, titillating only Tarantino, no doubt.

Tarantino's over-usage of gore is synonymous with his over-usage of the n-word. On the one hand, one could argue that he is able to dis-empower the n-word in that all races in his film get to use it: whites say it, blacks say it. It becomes a word that is used for a variety of purposes -- not just to demean African-Americans. However, as one critic pointed out, there is something else at work in this film when it comes to the usage of the n-word. "There's something gleeful and opportunistic about his slinging around a word that now offends all but the congenital racists. How much of this n-wording is faithful reporting of the way people talked in 1858, or necessary dramatic emphasis, and how much of it is there to titillate and razz the audience?" (Denby). The degree and the wide variety of situations in which the n-word was used in the two hours of the film made the film feel saturated with the expletive, so saturated that it made the spectator wonder if Tarantino was just trying…[continue]

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