In many ways Tarantino’s latest movie, Django Unchained does for slavery what Inglorious Basterds did for World War 2. In fact by watching both Lincoln and Django Unchained; followed by Saving Private Ryan and Inglorious Basterds, you’d get a fairly accurate picture of the place of these historic events in the American psyche.
Slavery, as seen by Tarantino, is a place perfect for revenge. And the more Tarantino releases movies, the more we can see this the primary motivation for so many of his characters in so many of his works. It is as if Tarantino hunts through culture and history to find the most perfect protagonists with the best reasons for violent revenge. Whether that be brides against their true love’s killers; Jews against Nazis; or slaves against their masters.
The question about the extent to which Tarantino really cares about these types of victims or just sees them as useful fodder for the types of films he wants to make is an interesting one. In Django Unchained we see Jamie Foxx playing the titular character, set free by a bounty hunter played by Christopher Waltz.
Django is often featured on horseback; the sight is not only shocking to the films’ characters; but also new to us as an audience. Black people, as a general rule, don’t feature in Westerns, and certainly not riding through town on horseback. Is Tarantino trying to redress the balance, or simply making that choice because it’s such a memorable shot?
On the podcast this month, we discussed Django Unchained, and Steve made the point he never really looks forwards to Tarantino’s movies, but once he’s there he really quite enjoys them. I suspect it’s a feeling quite a lot of people can relate to.
Tarantino is great at creating set pieces, and there are many, many tense, funny, and surprising scenes in Django Unchained. However, it’s difficult to love his characters; they’re rarely the type of people you could imagine as your friends. They are largely comic, broadly drawn, and very predictable. As a result there is a detachment from his world that we may not notice from scene to scene; but which we may find difficult to articulate.
If I was to describe it I would simply that Tarantino’s movies are less than the sum of their parts.
Obviously this is something I feel with Django Unchained which has some absolutely brilliant set pieces involving sheriffs; dining room tables; and mobs in ill-fitting white hoods; but which failed to arouse the kind of emotional attachment to make it a really great film.
My challenge for Tarantino’s next movie is to create a truly complex character I actually care about, and whose motivation goes beyond that of revenge. I’d recommend watching some Scorsese to see how that’s done.