Patrik: Hello dear readers. This month, BTSB at the Movie is bringing you something new: a film review written by two of BTSB's great minds. Introductions are in order: I'm Patrik Renholm, former editor-in-chief of Better Than Sliced Bread. You might remember me from such great Better Than Sliced Bread moments like ”That weird Freudian analysis of the Binding of Isaac” and ”That one time I wrote about my Dungeons & Dragons game for all to see.”
Lasse: And I'm Lasse Leminen, new hotness at the BTSB office, who wrote that bit on football for the previous issue.
Patrik: Today Lasse and I shall be discussing Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's latest film, the story of a liberated slave named Django on a quest to free his enslaved wife and exact revenge on Southern slave-traders and slave-owners. A lot has been said about the film, so we don't intend to do a review in the traditional sense, but more a discussion of what each of us found to be the main merits and flaws of the film. So, Lasse, go right ahead.
Lasse: More than three years have passed since the latest Tarantino-movie, the phenomenal Inglourious Basterds. The nazi slaughter was, in my opinion, probably his best movie, even better than the classic Pulp Fiction. Because of this, my expectations for the fresh flick, Django Unchained, were especially high. I wasn’t disappointed. One aspect of the film, however, rose above others as a matter of speculation: the violence. Violence is, of course, a trademark feature in his films and undoubtedly an essential one, but this time it was somehow more pervasive than in previous films. What was the point Tarantino wanted to convey with the gore, which was at times clearly over-the-top and, as a result, almost ridiculed itself.
Patrik:Having not seen Inglourious Basterds I can't comment on the amount of gore in that film: however, if anything the graphic violence in Django was extremely visceral and brutal, even in comparison to my favourite Tarantino film, Kill Bill, which, while very violent and gory, had an air of cartoonishness to its violence. I do agree that next to the rest of Tarantino's body of work, the graphic violence in Django Unchained was a bit over the top. However, while I personally thought the extremely graphic nature of the violence in Django was off-putting, I thought it served a purpose: Django clearly traces its lineage to two genres of cinema, the spaghetti western and blacksploitation, both of which are averse to overt graphic violence in spite of being action-packed genres. Personally, I feel that the movie revelled in the tropes and cliches of westerns and blacksploitation, while at the same time plainly setting itself apart from those two genres by way of accentuating the grim reality of physical violence.
I do feel that Django Unchained was a fine film, but at the same time it wasn't Tarantino at his best. While I did enjoy myself watching the film Django didn't feel as monumental as his previous work. Django is, by far, the most controversial of Tarantino's films going solely by its subject matter, but at the same time I feel that it's controversial theme and being set in pretty much the shittiest time in American history overshadowed the fact that there wasn't all that much else to the narrative. In fact, had Django Unchained been anything other than Quentin Tarantino's pet project, I'm pretty sure it would've never been picked up by any studio. Even more so, had the film been directed by anone other than a white guy, a lot of the controversy surrounding the film would've been replaced by the American right taking it as a declaration of race war and shouting ”What about the white people?!” Thing is, for better or worse, the fact that Tarantino is the quintessential white geek of Hollywood made this movie, even though basically an African-American revenge narrative, a really safe film.
Lasse: One thing that makes the brutality in Tarantino films easier to stomach is that it’s always somehow “justified”. An important theme in most of Tarantino movies is revenge. Viewers can identify with the protagonists seeking retaliation for the injustices they have faced. Tarantino feasts on strong feelings and bottled up rage of the characters, and the violence is a part of the final eruption of vengeance. In Kill Bill the Bride wants to seek out and kill her former assassin colleagues who attacked her wedding ceremony. In the latest two films the reasons behind retribution get much more massive: in Inglourious Basterds Jews set out to give their Nazi oppressors what they deserve, whereas in Django Unchained a freed slave goes on a rampage to teach a slaver some humility. The colossal atrocities of the Holocaust and the slavery make the brutality of the movies a lot more tolerable for the general viewer, who otherwise wouldn’t approve of it. However, Tarantino’s peculiar disposition and fascination of movie violence is probably the main reason behind the gore, and he definitely knows how to make an entertaining movie, however gory.
Patrik:At the same time, reaching out for retribution on an even greater scale comes with a prize: after exacting literary vengeance on the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds and on Southern slave-owners and slave-traders in Django Unchained now, there aren't that many bad guys left in history deserving of vengeance on Tarantino's massive scale. The fact that he's run out of massive evil forces may not be a bad thing: as we know, Tarantino is also good at making great entertainment even on much a smaller and intimate scale (see: Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs), and after having reached for the stars with Basterds and Djangon he may be forced to get back to basics and see whether he can still pull off doing something on a much smaller scale. This will be the true test of him as a director: whether he has still retained the vision he obviously possessed in directing his earlier films, which has become somewhat subdued due to the ever more grandiose scale of his films. All in all, even for all of its gore, I personally enjoyed Django. However, I was expecting more from Tarantino: being a huge fan of his body of work, Django struck me as being a good action film that mixed equal parts western and blacksploitation, but as a Tarantino film it felt hopelessly mediocre. The fact is, I have come to expect more from Tarantino, and given how much in general I respect Tarantino's gift for pacing, narration and editing, Django didn't have, to me, the flow of his previous work. The pacing was often jarring and while I understood the need for the final climactic scene from a story perspective, on screen it just felt like the climax was being drawn out. I can definitely recommend Django to someone looking for a good action film, but those looking for Tarantino's absolute masterpiece should look elsewhere.
Lasse: I sat back in the cinema chair confident that Tarantino would not let me down. Before the film reached its final climax there were numerous moments when I thought: “if this is how it ends, it’s not very impressive”. But after the prolonged, epic closure I walked out of the hall astounded and satisfied. I agree that the pacing and suspense wasn’t as glorious as in some other Tarantino films, but I still regard Django Unchained a really good film. Despite the partly excessive violence, I think the film is a definite must-see for all fans of Quentin Tarantino, and an entertaining three hours for anyone who fancies a stylish western with an explosive conclusion.