MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz
If we were living in the 1970s and Quentin Tarantino’s movies were 90 minutes long, they would be considered worthy examples of exploitation films, well made but dispensable. Writer-director Tarantino has spent twenty years creating movies that reference and celebrate the genre pictures he rented out when he worked as a video store clerk. His dialogue is precise and musical (and well-served by the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who won an Academy Award as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s 2010 Inglourious Basterds) and the violence in his films is usually intended to be ironical and humorous.
Django Unchained take place in the South, just prior to the Civil War and tells the tale of a slave (Foxx) and an assassin/bounty hunter (Waltz) who join forces, first to capture and kill fugitives and then to reunite Django with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is a slave on the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). That’s about there is to the story, but it will take close to three hours for Django to mete out his revenge. Samuel L. Jackson and many other familiar character actors make this goofy film very entertaining at times.
I am puzzled and more than a little offended by critics who are treating this film as something special simply because it uses slavery as a subtext. When Mandingo was released in 1975, everyone at that time seemed to agree that is was a silly and sensational movie that trivialized the practice of slavery. I simply cannot honor Django Unchained as a film with higher moral attributes.
As Christians, we follow Jesus, who invites us to life in the Spirit, in which we all are called to serve one another in humility and love. There’s nothing sensational about this kind of behavior, but it does brings the hope that is ours when we allow God’s love to reign.
Tarantino’s last five films have all been revenge fantasies. As I watched Django’s mayhem and carnage unfold, I compared its worldview to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which presents the historically complicated and hard-fought process to abolish slavery in place of the immediate and temporary catharsis of retribution. (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay to Django Unchained over Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln.)
Recent mass shootings as well as the ever-present specter of war should shock us into seeking a better way than violence to solve our problems. And its time for Quentin Tarantino to come up with some better story ideas.
Two halos: Great performances and scenery chewing all around, all in service to a violent and sensational historical exploitation movie.
Four pitchforks: Extreme violence and bloodshed, nudity, torture, and swearing.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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