I have been engaged in a lively discussion about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “Django Unchained.” Writing a piece, but here is a glimpse
I had a different reaction to “Inglorious Basterds” than did some of my friends, and I did see “Django.” It is intriguing to me that Tarantino has now written and directed films about two of the most notorious expressions of atrocity: the Holocaust, and slavery in the US. In the first film, that enduring question of “why did the Jewish people go like lambs to the slaughter” was broached. The film uses fiction to stage a revenge for historical grievances. Transitional justice goes outside liberal frameworks? Understands the lex talionis that may fuel fire in many bellies? In Django, the hideous plantation owner played by Leonardo Di Caprio addresses the submission question, falling back on the same sort of phrenology explanations that drove the Eugenics movement and ideas of Aryan superiority. We see both “Hollywood violence” — ketchup-coated scenes that produced laughter in the audience I was with — and scenes involving the whipping, torture and branding of slaves. The audience was silenced, some covering their faces with their hands, others watching and not moving one bit. The difference was stark, painful, and deeply moving. The white plantation owners played by Don Johnson and Di Caprio did not seem distanced by time, but reminded me of several Republican candidates in 2012. Indeed, on the way to the cinema — I kid you not — we passed by a car stalled on the side of the road, windows festooned with the Confederate flag in flames. So we have untidy legacies, open-endings, and a director who throws it in our collective faces. I did not feel that Tarantino banalized either atrocity; rather, he brings in an audience who will not necessarily read about either historical horror, insists on the Primo Levian grey zone, and makes the audiences sit there and contemplate a how one human being can look at another like (again resorting to Primo Levi) a creature on the other side of thick glass. Bravo to Quentin.