Thursday, March 28, 2013

Django Unchained: Tarantino overturns a traditional Western with a black outlaw seeking freedom and justice

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained follows The Inglourious Basterds in telling a political tale. Inglourious Basterds was beautiful and subtle and stylised. Django Unchained is farcical. There is however a logic to it. The Django western of the 1970s was a spaghetti Western in the style of Sergio Leone, and there was a hint of the farcical in them. Tarantino overturns the Western motifs by bringing in a black -- the fact that he uses the term used for blacks back then -- "Nigger" -- is not really iconoclastic. Of course, Tarantino tries to push it as much as he can in a mischievous manner. Says Stephen, the character played by Samuel Jackson, looking at Django, played by Jamie Foxx, "Who is this nigger on a neigh?" The politics of black rebellion and assertion within the framework of a spaghetti Western is interesting and credible in its own way. But Tarantino's exuberance gets the better of him. Tarantino, like Kenneth Branagh, wants to pay his own tribute to Shakespeare. So we have Christoph Waltz and Leonardo di Caprio indulging in theatrical performances which is delightful but very much out of place in the tale. But it is a bold subversion even of the spaghetti Western genre. Tarantino tries to insert a Spartacus-like figure in 19th century pre-Civil War America, where there is a glimmmer of hope of black assertion. Of course, in the absence of a true story, Tarantino has to resort to an imagined scenario which takes on the dimension of mythological / fairy tale. There is the romance between Django and Broomhilda, played by beautifully by Kerry Washington. The ending is an allusion to the last scene of Michelangelo Antonioni's Zebriskie Point, where the heroine imagines her father's mansion blowing up. In Django Unchained, the mansion of the white slave-owner literally goes up in flames. Django and Broomhilda ride into the Technicolour sunset. It is perhaps futile to criticise any more the excesses and antics of Tarantino. He remains the brat, but through his brat's ways he is engaged in constructing a liberal's political narrative. Tarantino is the ultimate Hollywood liberal, and he does something more radical than the usual Hollywood liberals like Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney dare to do. Of course, there is the danger that Tarantino loses his sense of seriousness and credibility because of his tendency to overstate his case. The senseless violence he shows in Django Unchained undermines the film.

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