Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Despite wilful ignorance, gross error and prejudicial omission, this 'full-blooded' film entertainment speaks volumes about the hurt and rage of injuries past and present as well as the yearning for renewal.

Mutiny for the Bounty. Film review – Tom Jennings
Tarantino continues pandering to overblown celebrity with cartoon super-heroes and -villains in overlong overreach, here mashing up Spaghetti Westerns, cult exploitation cinema and Blaxploitation in a blistering, bloodthirsty saga of brutal degradation, action and reaction combining verbose and vicious banter, freewheeling comic overkill and a romantic happy ending. Jamie Foxx's eponymous recaptured escaped slave is freed by German dandy dentist Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on pain of assisting his murderous bounty-hunting – demonstrating proficiency meriting apprenticeship and then partnering. Their ethnic dualism mirrors the monstrous Stephen (Samuel Jackson) Uncle Tomming for corrupt Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose Candyland plantation houses Mandingo death-duels and all manner of other mortal humiliations as well as Django's estranged wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Having already dispatched the many despicable white morons they've encountered, our premier grifters blag their way into the Deep South big house. Schultz succumbs despite killing Candie, but Django eventually completes the carnage and the reunited spouses fade into the sunset.
Hollywood sporadically sanctions superficial riffs on race relations, from chain-gangs (The Defiant Ones, 1958) through conmen (The Skin Game, 1971) to contemporary disposable Black action-buddies still playing second fiddle – which Django Unchained flirts with before overturning. Yet elevating a European aristocrat to heroic Svengali erases Black autonomy and resistance, narcissistically subsuming history into Tarantino's abject omnipotent vision and travestying real stories of slavery with childish racial segregations of wit, prowess, good and evil. Monumental failures of pastiche and philosophy already litter postmodern appropriations of subaltern tricksterism and transgression, where specific social strata substitute theirs for common interests. Indeed, Spaghetti's original 1960s gut marxism itself collapsed into toothless parody – echoing now in the overcoming of oppression's personal disasters to yield, rather than being co-produced by, comedic display – heralding modern class-blind avant-garde consumerism pimped by disappointed New Leftists and sundry vacuous descendants. History's return as tragedy and subsequently farce plainly applies to middle-class artistic as well as political delusions of grandeur.
However, audiences untroubled by intellectual pretension refract cinematic imaginaries through prisms of lived experience, seeking cathartic relief – plenty of which is on offer here. So Candyland could allegorically represent contemporary neoliberal geography, with rival factions of capital intrinsic to the decadence of 'civilised' zones mobilising class traitors to collude in chattel debasement. Such an interpretation apparently occurred to neither this film's makers nor critics or defenders or detractors among the guardians of either establishment or Afrocentrist scripture and taste, despite dynamics comparable to the more openly oppositional 1970s Blaxploitation – whose macho bluster was similarly temporarily forgiven in thrall to fantasies of transcendence unconsciously acknowledged to require violent upheaval for decisive realisation. But, naturally, elitists of right, left or centre cannot stomach the visceral rebellion of proletarian carnivalesque, except in domesticated pale simulations inspiring blind conformism irrespective of ideology. Thus, in recent films about slavery, Spielberg's Lincoln perpetuates myths of progress thanks to enlightened guilty privilege, whereas von Trier's Manderlay (2005; reviewed in Freedom, 29th July 2006) righteously savages such complacency. Django Unchained's conceit also ignores the self-organised intelligence and agency of victims; nevertheless hinting at the potency of collaboration among equals fighting domination.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 74, No. 3, April 2013.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:

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Tom Jennings
Jun 24 2013 10:07


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Pioneers of a N...
Jun 24 2013 22:22

Thought there was too many adjectives. It was a bit hard to read. Interesting point, though.