A review as a segue into a plea for responsible adult behavior
In writing this, I run a great risk of coming across as bafflingly, incomprehensibly stupid. Of course there are greater risks than this, but we can only see a certain distance in front of us at any given time. My sight happens, right now, to end on idiocy; my own, no less. And it’s not so much a matter of writing it well, or writing it poorly — rather, it’s a matter of choosing to do the writing in the first place, and I fear that I am immensely unqualified to do this.
This, the self-immolating stupidity I fear I’m courting, is one born out of presumption: a presumption that I, a low-middle class WASP with a master’s degree and obsessions with — in this order — craft beer, combat sports and Game of Thrones, know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to The Big Issues, slavery and gun violence/control/worship the ones I’m particularly concerned with at the moment. I.e., what do I know about suffering, aside from the inherent version 99.9 percent of us are born into, and do our best to resist/deny/usurp for the rest of our lives? My most egregious daily difficulties top out at soreness in my calves from running, and figuring out how my wife and I are going to buy a house someday. Those are difficulties I’m happy to endure.
“Django Unchained” is a good film. A great one, even, and I’m happy to have seen it this morning with the two dozen other people in the theater at 10 am. It is also gruesome, unsettlingly violent, hilarious, ugly and disconcertingly casual in its casual fetishism of firearms. Every problem, monumental or slight, is solved with a bullet or 60, in some admittedly fun, imaginative ways: Christoph Waltz’s character keeps a mini-pistol on a zip track inside his coat sleeve; when it kills a man, the wound it leaves looks like a tiny rosebud. Quentin Tarantino’s obligatory cameo is ended when Django shoots a load of dynamite Tarantino is holding at the time. The sniper kills are beautiful in their minimalism.
There’s one scene, further, that particularly stands out, in that it is the embodiment of the moral, social and historical quandary in which I find myself (as should anyone, I don’t mind saying, with half a conscience). In the penultimate climax — an oxymoron, but a true one — Django is engaged in a shootout with a few dozen armed guards employed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie on his plantation. Django drops several early, including wounding one man in the hip, who writhes on the floor in pain as bullets buzz around him. When he is hit in crossfire, at least four more times during the shootout, the camera jump-cuts to the blood gout, and the whole thing comes off as brazenly slapstick.
To add insult to hilarious injury, a fat man falls on him after being shot and killed, where he remains for the rest of the scene, the camera occasionally cutting back to the wounded man during the gunfight in some semblance of comic relief.
And I laughed. Every time, or at least snickered. On the one hand, you have to consider the context, even of that scene alone. The man was working on a plantation, had been seen earlier in the film beating, berating black men and women. At one instance, he watched a captured runaway torn apart by Candie’s trained dogs. What he got — several bullet wounds and a dead fat man to staunch them — he certainly deserved, several times over. Furthermore, what we are meant to laugh at is not the gunshot wounds themselves — guns, in and of themselves as objects, should gnaw at our passions as much as a clod of dirt — but the sheer ridiculousness of the man’s misfortune, seemingly compacted there, all at once.
It’s the more extreme version of seeing a man constantly stepping on rakes: the same instance of pain, repeated enough, crosses the line easily — so imperceptible it seems only natural — into comedy. Ergo, the combination of violence and tedium — specifically, the repetition of a violence — is worthy of our laughter. If not, pure callousness remains.
Of course all this film school jargon and proselytizing doesn’t translate to the real world. No film truly can. Yes, the best ones can pinpoint socio-cultural undercurrents and contextualize them in a way that is both entertaining and honest (speaking of which, you should see “The Silver Linings Playbook”), but the two universes, regarded empirically, are mutually exclusive.
There is a massive disconnect between the types of entertainment I enjoy and my own personal politics. I love watching combat sports, but hate to fight. I listen to Pig Destroyer, Cannibal Corpse, Toxic Holocaust and Burzum, but you’re much more likely to find me out on a run, watching “Chopped” on Food Network or reading. Some of my favorite films and TV shows cake their art in ultra-violence: “The Raid: Redemption,” “Dredd,” “Game of Thrones,” pretty much the entire respective oeuvres of Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, etc., even though I’m a gun control advocate.
I may enjoy the hell out of seeing the spines of nameless henchmen flap about in the wind after their heads are ripped off by a chainsaw-grenade launcher in “Tokyo Gore Police,” but assault weapons have no place on the open market. None. Handguns don’t either, but, y’know — baby steps, America.
Because it’s pulp, make-believe. The cinematic universe — be it populated by reptilian thugs, manic pixie dream girls (looking at you, Zooey), street drugs that slow down time — exists apart from our own, and we must regard them as entirely separate landscapes. We must be intelligent enough to understand that the fantasy of the armed civilian vigilante is just that: a fantasy. Once we’re past that, we’ll all be able to, in the years-old words of our president, “just get along.” You Might Also Like: