Let me begin by stating Django Unchained is an awesome movie. The Blaxploitation spaghetti Southern about a slave freed by a bounty hunter who goes through hell to rescue his wife from a plantation is if not the best movie I’d seen in 2012 certainly in the top five (along with Moonrise Kingdom, The Intouchables, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Sessions) and definitely the best Quentin Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction.
Django Unchained is an honest to goodness epic showing how a slave became the fastest draw in the South and how he reunited with his true love. There’s a back story of a wide enough world that would make The Godfather proud. The nearly three hour running time flies by without any conventional structure.
With this movie Quentin Tarantino reminds us of the two major ways he has influenced popular culture. The first impact is the way our culture now blurs the lines between paying homage toward its influences and stealing their work. Just as musicians sampled works from earlier songs and like www.pablochiste.com snags photos (that’s the sheriff from Blazing Saddles up there) to make it easier to create a mood for the audience, Tarantino peppers Django Unchained with familiar soundtracks, images, and actors. This is accepted as smart filmmaking now as opposed to the theft Tarantino was accused of twenty years ago when he popularized his homage cinema.
It is rather because of Tarantino’s second impact on our culture that makes me feel guilty for liking the movie. It has nothing to do with the controversy that Django Unchained belittles slavery. Slavery still does not look like a glamorous lifestyle. Nor is it because of the generous helpings of the N-word (though you will flinch with the ease that Leonardo DiCaprio sprays the word). It is the movie’s fetishizing of guns that makes me feel like a hypocrite.
I’ve used this pulpit for some time as an anti-gun forum. I truly feel if we are ever to be a civilized society we need to ban guns. After all the shooting tragedies of 2012 I thought the year’s biggest jerkoff was the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre who held a press conference saying the gun manufacturers and dealers who line his pockets with silver are not to be blamed for gun violence, rather it is violent video games and movies. The culprit LaPierre named was the Tarantino scripted Natural Born Killers which came out in 1994 when the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooter was two years old. As despicable and self-serving a political tactic as LaPierre used after seeing Django Unchained I have to admit there is some truth to his words.
Watching Django get his revenge on the men who did him wrong makes you cheer. You get excited every time he reaches for his gun and celebrate when he murders. How can you not expect this to influence people? When someone gets fired, gets cuts off on the road, or spies someone suspicious walking in their neighborhood might they think what would Django do? Didn’t his gun help him accomplish all his goals from smiting his enemies to getting his girl.
And so Django Unchained leaves me with mixed emotions. It is solid entertainment that put a smile on my face, but if it leads to even one death is a movie, no matter how great it might be, worth it?