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Movie Mom

Django Unchained

posted by Nell Minow
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Adult
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity
Profanity:Constant very strong language with crude and offensive terms including many uses of the n-word
Nudity/Sex:Some nudity, women forced into prostitution, crude sexual references
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking
Violence/Scariness:Extremely intense and graphic violence with many disturbing images including man torn apart by dogs, torture, whipping of slaves, extended and very brutal fight to the death, and shooting of dozens of people
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:December 25, 2012
DVD Release Date:April 16, 2013
B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong language with crude and offensive terms including many uses of the n-word
Nudity/Sex: Some nudity, women forced into prostitution, crude sexual references
Alcohol/Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/Scariness: Extremely intense and graphic violence with many disturbing images including man torn apart by dogs, torture, whipping of slaves, extended and very brutal fight to the death, and shooting of dozens of people
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date: December 25, 2012
DVD Release Date: April 16, 2013

How do you solve a problem like Tarantino?

The prodigiously talented writer/director is a master of style, sensation, and a uniquely muscular kind of cinematic storytelling that builds on a stunning ability to mash up high and low art in a singular and wildly entertaining combination shot through with pure cinematic testosterone and filled with saucy variations on dozens of other films.

But then there is the content of the films, which it seems that Tarantino looks at as just another tool for jacking up a movie’s adrenalin.  In “Pulp Fiction,” there was the shock of a literal shot of adrenalin to the heart of an overdosing character and the frisson of hired killers whose biggest concern about blowing someone’s head off is the challenge of getting the blood off the car upholstery.  The purest expression of Tarantino’s art is in the “Kill Bill” movies, where he wastes no time on plot, just the minimum nod to the simplest and most relatable of  motives — revenge.

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In “Django Unchained,” as in his last film, Tarantino uses an actual historic atrocity almost as an afterthought or a placeholder.  Like The Bride’s revenge motive, the Holocaust and slavery — and endless uses of the n-word by both black and white characters — are used to justify massive carnage, and, apparently, for no other reason.  With “Kill Bill,” the less we knew about the specifics of the reason for the revenge, the better.  With “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” we are already aware of the horrors that give the characters license to wreak destruction (artfully).  But it is, ultimately, empty.  Put another way: sound and fury, check.  Signifying: nothing.

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Foxx plays the title character.  As the movie begins, slave dealers are marching a group of slaves in leg irons and with the scars of whip marks along their backs, through the wilderness.  A cheerful man with an elegant, cultured manner pulls up in a cart with a big tooth mounted on a spring.  He is passing as a dentist.  He cordially offers to buy a slave but when the brutish, dull-witted men refuse, and the first massive slaughter of the story is underway, and all the other slaves set free.  The man is Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar as a Nazi for Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”).  He is a bounty hunter who hunts down “wanted dead or alive” men and kills them to collect the reward.  In those pre-Google image search days, he needs Django to identify three brothers.  The information on the wanted posters is not enough for a positive identification.  He is opposed to slavery, so he makes a deal.  He will keep Django a slave only long enough to complete the job.

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Django proves so adept at the bounty hunter business that Schultz offers to bring him on as a partner.  “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” Django replies.  Django wants to rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  When they tried to escape from their owner, they were separated and sold.  Schultz says that Django will not be able to do it alone, and promises to help him get her back.  Their travels take them through several different adventures and many nods and winks to other films (Franco Nero, the original Django, shows up in a brothel bar), including a completely hilarious scene with a bunch of proto-Klan types who can’t get the eyeholes right in their masks and some completely horrifying scenes with a slave torn apart by dogs and a seemingly endless “mandingo fight” to the death.  Broomhilda is now owned by a man named Candy (his plantation is called Candyland).  He is utterly corrupt and despicable, but even worse is his house slave (Samuel L. Jackson), because he betrays other slaves.

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Tarantino gets top marks for style, as always.  The violence and historical reversals are possibly intended to be empowering (oddly, Broomhilda is surprisingly less powerful than the usual Tarantino female characters).  On the contrary, it is dispiritingly disrespectful to the people who suffered unspeakable atrocities.  And Tarantino’s increasing distance between style and substance grows less palatable with each film.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely brutal, graphic, bloody, and disturbing violence with many characters injured and killed, an extended fight to the death, whipping and torture, prostitutes, slaves, some nudity, and constant very strong language including many uses of the n-word.

Family discussion:  Why did Stephen tell Calvin his suspicions about Django?  How does this movie show the influences of spaghetti westerns, American westerns, and “Blazing Saddles?”  Any other inspirations?

If you like this, try: “Inglourious Basterds” and “Kill Bill”

  • Toby Clark

    Gotta say, I’m a lot more favourable to this one than you, and I would point to Scott “El Santo” Ashlin’s review at http://1000misspenthours.com/reviews/reviewsa-d/djangounchained.htm to explain why. In particular:

    “Could somebody who so ardently admires and emulates the exploitation movies of ages past really make a film on this subject that would do justice to the gravity of the material? Actually, watching Django Unchained has convinced me that to ask such a question is to frame the issue exactly backwards. Particularly when compared to “serious” movies about American slavery, Django Unchained demonstrates that there are some things so baroquely horrible that only an exploitation treatment can do them justice. Unless an artist is willing to get their hands dirty; unless they’re prepared to call a monster a monster; unless they feel no qualms about slapping the audience upside the head with atrocities, and rubbing their faces in rank, steaming piles of cruelty— unless, that is, they have the courage not to give a single shit about decency or good taste— then they haven’t a chance of coming to honest grips with something as grotesque as slavery the way it was practiced inthe Americas. There is no way to face directly the ingenuity of evil that slavery fostered without being lurid and offensive, because the reality itself was lurid and offensive. To a disgraceful extent, peoplein this country are still in denial about slavery nearly 150 years after its abolition; we need commercial art about the Antebellum South that is full of rape and flagellation and castration and people being branded in the face. That’s what slavery was, and it’s high time we as a society looked that history in the eye. Amistad, Glory, and “Roots” aren’t going to get us there, whatever their merits otherwise; only something like Django Unchained can do the job.”

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Toby, that’s a fascinating take on the film. I hope it does deliver that message, but my own view is that in some ways it separates us from evil by making it other instead of making us examine ourselves. It also presents a false sense of resolution when the bad guys get slaughtered and the good guys triumph in such an exaggerated fashion.

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