I’ve never been a big fan of Quentin Tarantino‘s films. Most offend on my most cherished traditions of storytelling — character and plot — so I pay them less heed than I might otherwise do, but Django Unchained is a true exception. Sure, I liked True Romance, and Pulp Fiction isn’t without its charms. Inglorious Basterds is a fine piece of cinema too, but Django Unchained is a refined, glorious masterpiece. A film worthy of the attention Tarantino usually gets for the more flimsy of his work. I will give three reasons why I think this film alone is worthy of all the praise that has been lavished on Tarantino for all of his lesser films put together.
First, it has a plot. And not just an “I need an excuse to shoot so many scenes of blood and gore” kind of plot. It has a narrative. As in its central characters have a context in which to be, and not a flimsy one, but a solid, relatable, engaging one. A slave — Django — is bought in Texas by an anti-slavery German bounty hunter for the knowledge he has of the bounty hunter’s target. In exchange for Django’s help, he agrees to free him and share his earnings. The two become friends and colleagues and the German learns the story of Django’s wife, and they set out to free her from slavery also.
Second, it has characters that speak like real people. Not all of them, mind you, but a whopping majority, which is more than can be said for most of Tarantino’s characters (it’s also more than can be said for half of the movies made in the United States in the last 50 years). Most of them tend instead to opt for trite one-liners or metaphors or abbreviations of concepts that are supposed to make us think they’re really cool, but these characters are so damn cool they don’t need the pretence and can speak in full sentences like human beings. I like that. It gives them depth and develops relationships and shows me people I can relate to.
Third and best of all, Django Unchained has that wonderful quirk of Tarantino’s; the ability to draw us into the violence as if it is the realisation of our deepest, darkest instincts. It’s the karma we westerners of the 21st century wish we could exact upon the evil of the past. The wish that we could punish slave-owners for their sins, or take revenge on Hitler or upon that bully who just wouldn’t let up. I think this is what has sold so many of Tarantino’s films (that and truly beautiful cinematography that doesn’t just glorify, but truly beautifies, violence), and why I’ve often been willing to forgive the lack of plot or the superficiality of the characters or the ridiculous illogicality of the combat. Someone who deserves to suffer the full force of their victim’s fury is getting even more than the full force of it. Payback’s not just a bitch, she’s a tsunami of violence, desolating everything in her path.
And while this has always been the element I’ve liked in Tarantino’s films, in this instance, he doesn’t sacrifice character and plot to deliver it. And that is why Django Unchained is the film that redeems his ouvre.
- Dougal MacDonald’s review from Canberra’s City News
- Marc Fennell’s Review
- John Jarratt: ‘Quentin Tarantino Owed Me A Role In Django Unchained’ (contactmusic.com)