Django Untamed: The great slavery and violence debate, or maybe we should all just watch Disney
The one emotion I had when I left the cinema after watching Tarantino’s latest was; ‘what is everyone’s fucking problem?’ I perhaps should have been thinking more about the film itself and my enjoyment of it, although to be fair as the last hour or so goes on for too long your mind starts to wonder.
Weeks and weeks before I got to see it (which was a few weeks after the UK release and then another month after the States) I hungrily soaked up the initial reaction to the film. Partly because it was Tarantino, and while I’m not one of his bum boys (a view mirrored by my fairly vanilla appraisal of most of his work post Pulp Fiction) - this was going to be a major event whether we liked it or not, and in addition it was because of the ‘hot potato’ subject it tackled. A phrase now so over-used on the back of the film it no longer makes much sense. Perhaps in future we can say ‘scalding pints of piss’ in reference to a topic so controversial it would be as tricky to handle, as say some pints of scalding piss.
So we are delivered a rare mainstream take on slavery and all its horrible facets. We are also supposedly delivered a gore-fest, a film so apparently laden with blood and joyful want of explosive violence that I thought it might leave me as shaken and twitching as one of the limbs I expected to be physically thrown at me by an Odeon employee. I don’t have a problem with dealing with big topics, as long as the film treats said topic with respect. This it seems is where the dividing line lays. Before we get to the violence, the biggest talking point in America it seemed was how sections of the black community flocked to the film, while others, namely Spike Lee berated it for making light of the horrific history black people have faced in the US and across the world.
The film I saw, for the record, was a heady and entertaining but no less brutal account of slavery in the middle of 19th century America. The form of the film, the script, the performances and direction added the entertainment, and the no holds barred portrayal of the disgusting way in which human beings were treated like, no, less than, animals added the historical significance. I found some scenes hard to watch, and in a way I am grateful of the experience so I can now call myself slightly more educated about this time in our history than I was before. The fat, bald, four eyed prick who countered Charlie Brooker on his Weekly Wipe stated that ‘well I thought about slavery for 45 seconds after the film so that’s more than I did before’ can quite literally go to hell. Anyone who was not disturbed, and snapped out of their comfort zone of funny scripting and fine acting has some real issues.
The film that other people might have seen was something akin to a cross between Natural Born Killers and a scene from Clockwork Orange. Lively, mindless and blood-soaked action combined with fairly light hearted imagery based on suffering, and in no way amusing content. I can see how, on paper, you might think that the subject matter was not given the old Schindler’s List treatment and made as horrifying as possible, and filmed in black and white to make sure you felt really miserable. That perhaps a big Tarantino vehicle – a director brand that brings violence, cult following, apparent cinema cool and cross-genre fictional pulp – is not befitting of something as serious as slavery in America. You would be right too, if it wasn’t for the fact that everything that happened in Django Unchained made me feel nothing but hate, and sickened confusion as to how people could be treated like this.
Put it this way, had it been the late Tony Scott or even Michael Bay in charge I think we could have all been a worried well in advance. The big debate around the N word, the raw and physical delivery of some of the scenes set around slavery perhaps bring the topic too close to bare, when in fact the point is to do so to make sure that this time, you’re listening. If we are never to deal with the hard facts of our horrible histories are we all just to watch Two And A Half Men and dribble ourselves to sleep? Harsh facts require a harsh reality to be portrayed, and let us not forget this no doubt wasn’t the half of it.
And now we move to the violence. I refer back to Schindler’s List as an important barometer. One of my favourite films, nothing really provides such a bleak and exposing account of perhaps the most awful event in recent history. Yes the documentary-esque, artistic take on the holocaust is a more subtle cover for Hollywood to approach a real life genocide of millions, but if it weren’t for people taking on these difficult subjects and bringing them to millions of people’s attentions then where would we all be? In SL people are shot in the head, with blood spurting out at various angles and with differing quantities, but it’s historical so its fine.
More to the point the plethora of horror remakes, and new innovative torture porn films provide us with loads of fantastic scenes of people being cut in half, or gutted, or eaten, or beheaded, or having their skin torn off, or their faces, or in the case of The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film much, much, much worse. I can’t see anyone kicking off about these being in our cinemas or on Lovefilm in the same brazen way Channel 4 went after Django. I refuse to watch pointless evisceration in films that exist only to fuel the hunger people have to see it. For me these are much more likely to set off some mentalist than someone being shot in the face, almost comically, in a film where frankly this is integral to the time and place of the story – the wild west.
This takes us handily along to gun crime in America. Where the wild west got it all started. After the numbing and awful massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, I read up on the various arguments for and against gun control, and in summary it is literally that the NRA and gun toting Americans are mental, while everyone else in America is not. But it goes deeper than that. Ever since America gained independence, the right to bear arms has been at the heart of all that means. Now it also means that to protect yourself as an American, you should bare arms in case someone attacks you with the arms that they are themselves baring. The NRA’s answer to school attacks is to put more guns in schools for example. Good one.
This isn’t a blog about school shootings, but this list I looked at to check on the above killings is really, fucking, scary:
A problem clearly exists before we watch films and play games, based on the fact that everybody already has lots of fucking guns. In the UK, you don’t see an outbreak of people being tasered as that’s the next best thing. Its not in our makeup, I mean sure, we’ll have a city-wide riot every other summer and burn half of London down, but hell, that’s just letting off steam. So when people turn round and say Django was soooooooooooo violent, question that of the run time there were only a handful of violent scenes, and the baring the film might have on people vs. something that has infinitely more violence in it – like a b movie with 90% shooting (that does nothing about bringing slavery to the public conscience) might be not as big as perhaps the films box office and reputation suggests.
In an age of mindless violence, perhaps we should spend more time focussing on why people kill through mental disorders and access to an battalion’s worth of arms, such as their mothers rifle. In the meantime we can focus on more important issues with Django like it losing pace halfway through after an excellent first hour, and that after you get past the anti-climax at the end there are great performances and scripting to enjoy. If people don’t want to hear about the big issues, there is a whole back catalogue of Disney (and now its been sold to them - Star Wars) films to enjoy. I recommend the Lion King, gets me every time.