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Jan 29 2013

Why I will not see Django Unchained

I have seen just one Quentin Tarantino film in my life and that was Pulp Fiction. I had misgivings about it since I had heard that it was quite violent but watched it after critics raved over it. I was totally disgusted and swore to never see another film by him again. When I expressed my negative views of the film to its admirers, they kept telling me that the film was meant to be funny and implied that I must have no sense of humor to be so repulsed.

Maybe so, but the reasons for my antipathy were quite simple. The film contained huge amounts of explicit and (to my mind) gratuitous violence and even more gratuitous use of the n-word. Tarantino seems to revel in both but they sicken me. He even had a cameo in the film where he repeatedly uses the n-word. And then in interviews where he is inevitably asked about its profligate use, he seems to take the opportunity to use it over and over again to explain why it is necessary.

So now we have the release of the much-hyped Django Unchanged and the cycle is repeating, with controversy over multiple use of the n-word followed by Tarantino being interviewed about his use of the n-word and using the n-word in his replies. He seems to be obsessed by it and relish the chance to use it whenever he can and I find it disturbing.

Comedian W. Kamau Bell has seen the film and his comments solidify my decision to not see it.

Bell also interviews people who have seen the film and I was shocked at the number of people who say that they use the n-word amongst themselves and see nothing wrong with doing so. I must be living in a bubble.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    I hve downloaded and watched 2 films by this director, Reservoir Dogs and From Dawn to Dusk. I was greatly underwhelmed by both of them as they were violent and featured frequent use of the f word (in the first film, it appeared that every other word was the f word). The first received an 8.4 from the denizens at IMDB, the second a 7.2. It would seem that Mr.; Tarantino is something of an acquired taste. Like Prof. Singham, I prefer not to acquire that particular taste.

  2. 2
    Alverant

    I saw Inglorious Bastards and Machete. The former because of the Nazi killin and the latter because seeing it would upset a lot of conservatives. I’m not defending them, just that different people have different tastes. I haven’t seen Django because it’s nearly 3 hours long. But I will say that the first video title seems to use “hystarical” as a twist on the word “historical” and expecting his films to be historically accurate is foolish. In Inglorious, he kills Hitler and the other Nazi leaders in an burning movie theater. I admit, I was surprised. Not many people would dare to divert so much from actual events.

    But it’s just a movie.

  3. 3
    Psychopomp Gecko

    I don’t use the N word. My takeaway on the whole thing was 1. historical usage, and especially 2. making us uncomfortable about its usage. Things like having a slave torn apart or the plantation owner going on about phrenology and “sub-human species” crap was really less about glorifying some image of the paternal plantation owner and more about showing the brutality and evil of the system.

    Or at least that was my take on it. It’s entirely possible that instead it got other people in the theater believing in phrenology again and laughing at the use of the word.

    Still a movie that makes you very uncomfortable and around the South that may be necessary. A lot of that stuff is presented more glorious and benign than it really was around here.

    All that said, when it comes to the use of that word and certain portrayals from back then, my opinion of it may not matter. Could just be that from my position of white privilege I can not see how hurtful it really is.

  4. 4
    murci3lag0

    First of all, I hate when people say “he used the n-word”. No, please, “he used the word nigger” is the correct way of speaking. As master Carlin once said there is nothing wrong with the word, the problem is with the racist asshole using it. Second, those movies are not meant to be taken”literal” or “historically accurate”, they are a work of art, which may rewrite different feelings in different persons. If you are not fond of such movies, that’s ok, don’t see it, but don’t try to define the limits of the”correctness” or the aesthetics of a work of art.

  5. 5
    thomasmorris

    I don’t have much use for Tarantino either. I do think he’s a talented guy – I just find the worlds he creates to be deeply unpleasant.

    With that said, I did watch “Django” (I have a nasty tradition of watching all the Oscar noms for Best Picture every year) and I do have to give it credit for being possibly the most brutal portrayal of the historic reality of slavery that I’ve seen (though, of course, no fictional work can ever get anywhere close to the brutality of the real thing.) And it didn’t make the violence and brutality look “cool” – at least not the stuff involving, say, a runaway slave being torn apart by dogs or the horrific floggings or the complete objectification and sexual abuse of the slaves.

    In this case, at least, I though Tarantino’s penchant for depicting extreme violence had a purpose.

  6. 6
    murci3lag0

    *rewrite –> evoke. Damn smartphone automatic corrector.
    By the way, I feel the same with FtB blogger Comrade Phyloprofessor (?), I don’t like the aesthetics of his blog, so I never go there, but that doesn’t mean that it is a bad blog, just remember that your taste is one of the more biased characteristics of your brain.

  7. 7
    MNb

    I won’t see it either. Reservoir Dogs was about the same plus boring; the fragments of Kill Bill I have seen were even more gory. The first half of From Dusk till Dawn is pretty good, until the vampires enter.
    Tarantino can’t hold a candle to his great example Sergio Leone.

  8. 8
    Daniel Schealler

    [SPOILERS]

    I saw Django last night.

    Your concerns are completely valid. If repeated use of the word ‘n—–’ and gratuitous hyperviolence are not to your liking – both of which are completely justified positions – then this is definitely not the film for you.

    I am not black, so of course my position is suspect and tentative. I never use the word ‘n—–’. I will very occasionally mention the word when the word itself is the subject of conversation, but only after I double check with everyone involved in that conversation that they’re okay with me using it first.

    To my reading of Django, the word ‘n—–’ is used in two different ways.

    The first was when slaves used it amongst themselves. It seemed clear to me that the usage of the slaves amongst themselves was intended to demonstrate the internalization of the value system of the slave owners by the slaves. That theme of internalization of the values is referenced directly towards the end of the film by Candie, when he asks the rhetorical question: “Why haven’t they [black slaves] killed us [white owners of slaves] yet?”

    The second was when the owners of slaves used it towards slaves. The dehumanizing nature of this usage was clear. The people who adopted this usage were consistently portrayed as villains or as the good guys pretending to be villains.

    Two interesting examples to this rule of usage was Django and Steven. Steven would use the word ‘n—–’ pejoratively. It was part of the process by which Steven was shaped up to become a villain, as he hadn’t just internalized the value system of white slaveowners regarding the dehumanization of black slaves. Steven actively contributed to and enforced the dehumanization himself. He did this vindictively, even in situations where he didn’t have to do so.

    Django would, over the course of the film, use the word ‘n—–’ in both ways. At the start of the film he uses it in the sense of having internalized the value system. Towards the middle of the film he stops using the word, and instead refers to black slaves as slaves, not n—–s. Towards the end of the film Django reverts to using the word ‘n——’ as part of his cover, as he is pretending to be a black slaver in order to infiltrate Candie’s household as part of his greater quest to rescue his wife. In the process Django witnesses and even contributes to the horrendous and dehumanizing treatment of slaves in Candie’s household. He struggles, but manages to tolerate the atrocities he observes… Barely.

    (There could be some exceptions to the above story arc – one of the problems with the prolific use of the word ‘n—–’ is that I became desensitized to it after a while. But I’m pretty sure that, generally speaking, Django’s use of the word falls into the character arc I describe above.)

    These kinds of things are easy to miss amongst all the hyperviolence and sensationalized abuse of the slaves. I’m okay with hyperviolence in general… But the sensationalization of slave abuse for shock value and to forward the story were to me far more problematic aspects of the film than the use of the word ‘n—–’ itself. That the abuse was horrific is likely accurate enough – slavery was horrific. But the sensationalization of that horror was a problem in the movie.

    Also problematic was the use of Django’s white mentor/partner who starts out as Django’s savior, freeing Django and lifting him up from the rank of slave to a freeman. The mentor very quickly makes Django a partner rather than a servant/master relationship, and eventually Django does surpass his former mentor. But the ‘white man saves black man’ aspect of the movie is still there, as is all too often. It would have been better if Django had freed himself and taken the initiative to partner up with the mentor and learning the bounty hunter trade rather than the white man making the offer.

    Anyway – there is a lot in the movie that was off-putting. But also quite a few interesting elements. To me the theme of the story is the internalization of the abusive values of slave owners by slaves themselves, and that theme is played out clearly in Django’s arc as a character as he moves from slave, to bounty hunter, to a role where he infiltrates a white slave owner’s institution by reinforcing the very values he had rejected himself, until finally becoming a free agent towards the end whereby he rejected those values openly and destroyed the white institution of slavery using the very tools of violence those slavers used to enforce control in the first place.

    So in my view it was a mixed bag. There is much in the movie that was problematic, so the decision to avoid the movie on such grounds is completely justified. Yet at the same time some interesting themes were visited and explored. It would have been easy to miss those themes amongst the hyperviolence and sensationalized abuse… If I wasn’t prepared for (and somewhat desensitized to) Taranteno levels of violence when I went in I probably wouldn’t have noticed those themes myself. But the’re still there, and I found them interesting and thought-provoking enough to lift the theme up from a mere sequence of violent cut-scenes and into a commentary on the internalization of bigotry by marginalized groups that had a lot of problematic hyperviolence and sensationalized abuse in it.

    In my view, without those themes the film would not have been worth watching.

    But with those themes in mind the question of whether or not the film is worth watching comes down to the individual viewer.

    My 2c.

  9. 9
    filethirteen

    Tarantino’s movies are made to be shocking, and you don’t enjoy them unless you get a buzz out of being shocked. I do, a little, I think partly because I’ve always reacted very differently to fantasy than to reality (for example I am quite fine with all forms of movie violence but I can’t bear to watch “real-life” surgery; another example is my dislike of guns) and partly because I’ve become inured to screen violence after watching so many horror movies (go figure). So I think you’re making the right decision not to watch any more of his films, and fwiw just because you didn’t like Pulp Fiction doesn’t mean that you’re humourless, even if most people did like it. Personally I didn’t like Inglourious Basterds which puts me in the minority there. I certainly would advise you steer clear of Django based on what I’ve heard about it, although I still plan to see it myself!

    As far as use of the n word goes, to me it makes a huge difference whether it’s being used as a slur or bandied around among friends (of any races). That said, I never hear or use it myself, but you do get it on TV from time to time. But (and especially since being totally sucked in by the joke in Cabin Fever) now I’m only disturbed by its use in some contexts, no longer merely by the word itself.

  10. 10
    senor

    From Dusk to Dawn and Machete were directed by Robert Rodriguez, not Tarantino, although his films generally contain the same amount of violence but with more schlock and less style.

  11. 11
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    He’s an ass and writes completely awful offal. What sometime surprises me are the actors who work on his stuff.

  12. 12
    Stacy

    The Kill Bill films are among my favorite films of all time.

    I haven’t seen Django yet, but I read a review that said that it’s a movie about movie depictions of slavery.

    I used to avoid QT myself, but I’ve grown to like his stuff. Tarantino’s kind of a postmodern filmmaker. His movies refer a lot to other movies. He has a brilliant way with narrative. But of course if you hate movie violence, you’re right to stay well away. You have to be able to distance yourself from it (like filethirteen, I have no problem with screen violence, which doesn’t reflect at all on my feelings about and reaction to the real thing. It’s make believe. Tarantino actually emphasizes the make-believe aspect of his movie violence–the outlandish situations and characters, and, noticeably in Kill Bill, the primary colors.)

  13. 13
    Argle Bargle

    Like Mano I saw Pulp Fiction on the recommendation of friends. There were some parts that I actually liked, but there was much too much violence and profanity. I was in the Army and most soldiers were less profane than Tarantino’s script. I didn’t walk out of the movie but I haven’t seen another Tarantino movie since then. I have no desire to see Django Unchanged.

    One of my high school history teachers used to say “Hollywood isn’t historical, it’s hysterical.” Tarantino is meeting that challenge.

  14. 14
    Reginald Selkirk

    I haven’t seen Django yet, but I read a review that said that it’s a movie about movie depictions of slavery.

    I think that is why Tarantino is so well-respected in Hollywood. Hollywood just loves movies about movies, and about Hollywood.

  15. 15
    Stacy

    I think that is why Tarantino is so well-respected in Hollywood. Hollywood just loves movies about movies, and about Hollywood

    Well, he’s respected outside Hollywood too. He loves film, period: low-budget, independent, genre, and foreign as much as if not more than Hollywood films.

  16. 16
    Stacy

    I don’t claim he’s for everyone. But if you choose to watch him, you should probably think of him as an intelligent (but not formally educated) man dealing in movie fantasy and id, and using sophisticated cinematic “language” to do it.

    Although I think with Inglorious Basterds and this latest one, he’s beginning to try to actually say something. The earlier films were pure narrative brilliance (my opinion) devoid of social commentary or other vitamins/minerals. Though as a woman there’s still a lot I appreciate about Kill Bill. YMMV.

  17. 17
    scenario

    The only movie I saw by QT was Pulp Fiction. I had no problem with the violence or the language. I just found it boring. I find it hard to get into something when I don’t like any of the characters. I don’t have to like them as people but when I feel that a character deserves everything that happens to them because they are idiots, I start losing interest. I understood when things were susposed to be funny by I saw a lot of them coming from a mile away.

  18. 18
    Marcus Ranum

    Tarantino loves bad movies. He appears to have seen every bad exploitation movie, kill porn flick, bad war adventure movie, and cheesy crime pot-boiler. And he seems to be very good at selecting tropes from those movies, re-arranging them and making well-produced visually interesting bad movies. You’ve got to appreciate how consistent he is! The genius of Tarantino is having actors that aren’t really terrible, in these bad movie roles. Suddenly it’s not a bad movie – it’s a movie about bad movies. Holy shit. Now you have to decide if it’s a good movie about bad movies, or a bad movie about bad movies. But no matter how you slice it up, it’s still bad movies.

    The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare are – in their bad movie form – vastly better bad movies than what Tarantino managed. Le Samourai is a vastly better bad movie about crime than Pulp Fiction. I love bad movies almost as much as Tarantino apparently does but the difference is I try to avoid them. Because I love good movies even more.

  19. 19
    garnetstar

    Agree with you, Mano. I saw only parts of Pulp Fiction before I was bored and revolted. I managed to get through Resevoir Dogs because I was only revolted. No intention of ever seeing any other Tarantino film.

    The word “nigger” brings up emotions even more visceral than revulsion. When I saw “Eyes on the Prize”, the pictures of the bodies of black people who had been lynched were so searing that now, every time I hear “nigger”, all I see are those bodies. I won’t use the word (unless in a discussion of it as a word) or allow it to be used in my presence.

    However, I’m white, so if black people want to use it, even in my presence, I have no problem with that, it doesn’t bring those pictures to mind. I don’t tell black people what opinions they should hold on racial matters.

  20. 20
    slc1

    Mr. senor is entirely correct. Tarantino was not the director of from dusk to dawn but instead acted in the picture. My mistake, not paying more careful attention to the article on him on IMDB,.

  21. 21
    raymoscow

    I really enjoyed ‘Django Unchained’, but the incessant use of the n* word bothered me. Of course, the characters in that period would have used it frequently, so there is a supporting argument from ‘realism’. (It was also used frequently in the US south when I grew up there, and is still used to a lesser extent today.)

    The violence and brutality against the slaves was also disturbing (again, also probably realistic), but it was used to set the slavers up for Django’s retribution without you having to feel sorry for them.

    Does all that violence and racism, even in a film, harm society? I don’t know.

    Django himself and his dentist/bounty hunter friend are great characters.

  22. 22
    Raging Bee

    I don’t have a problem with the use of racial epithets in the movie itself — the characters in the movie would have routinely used them at that time, both because racist attitudes were totally ingrained in society, and because those particular people would have had plenty of hostility toward black people. Tarantino’s use of such words in interviews, however, is just an ignorant asshole showing off his ignorance and thinking it makes him look tough and smart.

    OTOH, the “realism” argument gets kinda weak in this film, where Tarantino clearly doesn’t give a shit about “realism” when he’s depicting either gratuitous violence or superhuman marksmanship by his hero. Note, in particular, when Django shoots the slaveowner’s sister, and her body is not only thrown too far, it’s thrown too far in the WRONG DIRECTION! As in, perpendicular to the path of the bullet. Seriously, WTF?!

    Quentin Tarantino ain’t all that. His latest work is basically a spaghetti western set in the South (how did they get from lush plantation country to rough Western terrain so fast?), with a racial angle, a violent retribution fantasy, and a big budget.

  23. 23
    Jared A

    I probably won’t see Django Unchained either (not a huge QT fan, though I can appreciate some of his work), but you can’t talk about Tarantino’s movies without understanding that there are broadly different types of “movie violence”, which themselves can be executed in different ways. The various styles themselves can be used for a variety purposes:shock, horror, humor, to disturb, entertainment, etc. So I would not say that gratuitous violence is a style or type of movie violence; it’s a a manner of usage. Likewise, explicitness or goriness is a modifier, not the style. One example could be “comic book violence”. It’s stylized, unrealistic, and put-upon, and tends to be used for mindless entertainment, but nevertheless you can have comic book violence that ranges from benign to very gory (of course when QT uses comic book style he takes it to 11). Another type of movie violence is what I would call “brutalism”, which is where the violence is less about the action and more about the people committing and being victimized by the action. An excellent example of brutal violence used effectively and masterfully is in Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy.

    The thing about Tarantino is that he understand how movies use violence very well, and much of his work is commentary specifically about that. He mixes movie-violence types in ways they usually aren’t done. Usually if you are going to see a Tarantino movie because you want to see some mindless violence you are doing it wrong. In the case of Django I am told by people who have seen it that at least in their theater everyone in the audience understood quite well when Tarantino switched styles and reacted appropriately.

    Tarantino is not to my taste. But neither is he like Michael Bay, throwing out random, gratuitous, poorly directed shit. He does know what he is doing.

  24. 24
    emilybritt

    This was Tarantino’s best film. It is extremely violent and brutal. For entertainment, his purpose was to make you cheer for Django and his revenge. Unlike his other work, this movie by Tarantino is a real love story. It’s not just characters being badass for its own sake. I respect the characters’ motivations in this film in a way I’ve never respected Tarantino’s characters in any of his other films. I recently watched an interview with some of the main cast and crew of the movie, and Kerry Washington’s and Jamie Foxx’s opinions on the movie and its treatment of slavery were fascinating and made me appreciate it even more. Knowing Tarantino’s personal background and upbringing also make me feel better. I don’t urge people to go see Django, but I do insist that it’s not like his other work.

  25. 25
    Timothy

    For my part, I agree with Mano. I found Pulp Fiction to be boring and turned it off. I haven’t watched a Tarantino film since. (Different strokes and all that …)

    Let’s remember, though, that that bottom line for Hollywood is the bottom line. Controversy sells movie tickets, and it has been astounding to me to see the amount of free publicity this controversy has stirred up for this film.

    Expect to see more of the same in the future.

  26. 26
    mnb0

    I learned something today. Thanks, Senor.

  27. 27
    mnb0

    I am very hard to shock – I just think on screen violence for the sake of violence and gore for the sake of gore usually distasteful and boring at best. It’s the same with sex scenes – an act I enjoy. More often than not violent, gory and sex scenes just stop the progress of story telling. At the other hand if violence (etc.) serves to make a point there almost always is no reason to stretch the violent (etc.) scenes.

  28. 28
    filethirteen

    I finally saw Django Unchained last night. I adored it – in fact it may even be my favourite Tarantino film. I’d never seen Jamie Foxx before, but he stole the show. And IMO the controversy over the use of the n word is a storm in a teacup; it was certainly no more offensive than the obligatory squirt (or spray) of ketchup that accompanied every shooting. But what really surprised me is, how come nobody here mentioned it was a comedy?

    It was clever, funny, not as perfect as Blazing Saddles but some parts were wonderfully polished. I bet Mel Brooks got it.

  29. 29
    Bobba

    Why would anyone care about your opinion of a movie you haven’t seen?

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