So let’s do it Peter Lawler style by the numbers—

1. I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained today. What I expected is what I saw, except unlike Inglorious Basterds, Django didn’t rewrite the Civil War to the extent that Inglorious rewrote WWII where Adolf Hitler was actually killed during a movie screening in Paris. At the end of Django, two slaves (or two black people), even with emancipation papers in their pockets, are gonna have a hard time, if not an impossible time, making their way toward their freedom. Especially after the destruction they leave behind.

2. Yet Django is like Inglorious in that both end in a transhistorical rewriting of history beyond any possible facts in the hope that one can kill the historical nightmare from which we cannot awaken. Tarantino movies are not effective for those who have memory, but one wonders if, given the bad state of current education, twenty years from now Tarantino won’t be told as truth. The bloody cinematic denouement he makes for his movies levels all violence, conflict, and wars to the same thing—gory B movies. No reason, no honor, nothing worth fighting for.

3. Regardless Django Unchained fits the current understanding of politics as the equivalence of truth and power, i.e., whatever one has the power to do is the truth (is that Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Weber or Foucault?). This movie in its genre spaghetti western/buddy flick is effective in its story of REVENGE. However, it is not as tongue in cheek as most reviewers would have you believe. If its presentation of slavery is exaggerated, then so is its violence—exaggerated even for the violence of the slaveholders. Tarantino deliberately uses incongruous music like Jim Croce’s “I Got A Name” to make a salient point. A whitebread Jim Croce song can fit in with the later bloodbath that serves the purpose of saving one particular slave but not all slaves. Is Tarantino making Django selective like Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation? If so, what is the basis for such selection? Lincoln followed the Constitution, and Django follows his heart. According to Tarantino, both end in bloodiness.

4. Django takes place in 1858, and it has some moving movements—but from watching this movie one would never know of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In terms of genre, the German dentist who has decided to be a bounty hunter trading in dead bodies is brilliant. He is a trader in dead flesh instead of trading in human labor and dignity, but in order to do so he must deny any dignity to human life wanted dead or alive as he ruthlessly kills named outlaws. But he frees Django for some reason, and he even helps him find his Brunhilde. As Django freely decides to join Dr. King Schulz in his bounty hunting, they both can justify killing as killing those who are allegedly worthy to die. Even if bounty hunting resembles the trade in human beings as slaves, Django can accept his new role as killer as long as it deals with the dead flesh of “bad guys.”

5. Or so it seems.

6. Such certainty of good and bad regarding which person is good and bad is disconcerting, and this movie deliberately presents stereotypes in order to justify its excessive bloodiness. Given the excessive CINEMATIC bloodiness of the movie, it is no wonder that the star, Jamie Foxx, has had some misgivings about Hollywood violence after the Sandy Hook massacre.

7. When Django meets his Broomhilda behind the door at Candie Land, Tarantino has made a truly unironic scene. It is moving when they meet. On this point Tarantino scores some big points as a good emotional storyteller of love.

8. In the movie, the plantation owner Monsieur Candie (Leo DiCrapio) gives a phrenological discourse in defense of holding slaves of African descent, which is a typical simplification of Charles Darwin and George Fitzhugh—and if I wanted to be nasty, I would also say the same of certain current neo-Darwinists. In this way Tarantino is brilliant. But unlike in 1858, today’s science speaks of egalitarianism, but it is an egalitarianism of abstract species being. It’s like Darwin meeting Marx today. One wonders what the science of tomorrow will teach? In this sense, I wonder with Kant regarding the actuality of the a priori synthetic judgment. Is this stuff calling itself science today really science or is it producing the science of the future? Must we wait for history to make sense of it all in the end? Tarantino surely muddies the water on the level of the interpretation of history where all that’s well allegedly ends well.

9. Django Unchained was far too long as a movie, and ultimately it was simply a story of the reversal of the master and slave dialectic. It presented a bad infinity, even if it had some compelling and amusing moments. It was a well-done movie about slavery at the end of history. To paraphrase Nietzsche, we in the audience must at last all blink over and over again in its shocking moments.

10. Django was nominated for best picture Oscar today. It’s not worthy of such an honor, but Jamie Foxx surely was snubbed for not being nominated as best actor in this movie.

11. It would be unfortunate if, in the title of this movie, the greatness of  Django Reinhardt  (with Stephane Grappelli) were forgotten for an entirely other reason, let alone the greatness of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s homage to Django.

Update:

12. This song from the boring movie Drive is great. The movie may be boring, but that doesn’t mean it is not worth watching.

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Articles by John Presnall

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