Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★★★

It is always an interesting intellectual exercise to attempt to review a film using only a handful of images to support your take. As much as Django Unchained can be taken apart in a multitude of ways using this strategy, on this particular occasion (and it has to be noted that it is probably my second-most watched Tarantino) I chose to analyse it using the following three visuals: the unveiling of Django’s scarred back as he rids himself of the blanket given to him by his handlers, the close-up of blood spurting on the field of cotton as Christoph Waltz’s character pegs off the third of the Brittle brothers and a cheeky visage of Django with his shades on and a cigarette in his mouth as he smiles gleefully to the camera while Calvin Candie’s house is reduced to smouldering dust.

Together these three images inform the viewer that, perhaps for the first time in his filmmaking career, Tarantino decided to encapsulate something universally important within the narrative of his story, but he nonetheless decided to do so using the language he feels the most comfortable with. Therefore, I happen to be of the opinion that Django Unchained says more about the utterly horrific chapter in American history than many prestige movies. This spaghetti western fantasy once more harking back to Sergio Leone and his many disciples is a profound, cathartic, violent meditation on the subjugation and dehumanization of millions of people. I think it is completely inappropriate to dismiss it as tasteless exploitation; though it is hard to disagree with the assertion that Tarantino decided to use the visual language and tone of exploitation cinema as one of his main storytelling tools to carve out the narrative. However, what he accomplished was far greater than a genre apotheosis of on-screen violence. What he ended up crafting out of little bits of inspiration drawn from various corners of popular culture is a modern myth that empowers an unshackled slave in his quest for revenge against his oppressors.

Thus, I can’t help but love every minute of this film. It is a fantastic show of Tarantino’s filmmaking acumen that successfully married his signature stylized language, characteristic sense of humour and a cavalier attitude with the truly sombre themes encased within the narrative. It is a great example to show that gratuitous approach to violence and a hyper-stylized atmosphere don’t necessarily have to equate disrespect to the subject matter. On the contrary, Django Unchained shows unequivocally that a genre film can give the viewer a time of their life and still leave them with a lot to chew on.

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