Tarrantino is at it again with this sequel to his "Inglorious Basterds." And like it, Django too is a lush cinematographically, even lavish, almost epic "victim redemption story." Only this time the victimology does not involve bringing closure to Jewish revenge against Nazi ovens, but black revenge against white Southern plantation slave inhumanity and brutality.
The vehicle here, as before, is the now familiar but somewhat worn Western Spaghetti trope -- slightly updated and modified: A slave is rescued from a chain gang heading deeper South -- meaning to an even more brutal and inhumane Plantation in Mississippi. Django gets rescued by, and then hooks up with a German-speaking bounty hunter and they ride into several towns where Django "gets to kill white people and get paid for it."
As a pretext for what Tarentino's movies do best, they raid and kill their way across the plantation landscape from Texas to Tennessee. Ostensibly their loud blazing guns, derring-do, and even dynamite in one instance, are in search of certified "bad guys." But in truth (and this is the underlying subtext of the movie) their overall mission is to "even the score" between the crisscrossing stripes etched on Django's back, and the peace and tranquility of the Southern plantation way of life. Violence is used here in the traditional American way: as a perfectly normal and purposeful morality-rectifying instrument.
As this dynamic duo goes about the symbolic business of "even-ing the moral score for all times," they also are in search of Django's wife who was "sold South" along with Django, both for being repeat escaped slaves. Along the way, they wreak untold havoc on plantation owners across a wide swath of Southern peace, tranquility and hospitality. In short, in one single symbolic stroke of the screenwriter's pen, the picturesque exploits of a single symbolic slave/cowboy/bounty hunter, Django, sets the moral world upright against.
Five stars for the movie because the acting throughout is academy Award-level, but Leonardo DiCaprio's and Samuel L. Jackson's acting is as usual, "off the charts!" Academy award or not, you will see this cast again in another blockbuster, and I can't wait.
Commentary on the Movie and our fragile times
At any time except the Christmas Holiday season and the aftermath of the wanton murders at "Sandy Hook," Connecticut, this would have been an uninterrupted "feel good movie:" A complete celebration of Black redemption against America's "original sin, slavery. However, with Christmas and Sandy Hook as heavy-hearted backdrops, American violence can no longer be taken as being a "normal and sane given" for a postmodern nation. For me, this movie was a chance for some serious collective national reflection.
In all of Tarrantino's movies, including this one, he has been trying to tell us obliquely (which is the only way you can tell us Americans anything about ourselves) that the level and utter glee and enjoyment of violence in our culture may be normal for us, but it is utterly insane for any other culture with its moral and human sensibilities and its humanity still intact. Somehow, we have failed to get this, Tarrantino's important underlying message.
We love violence like we love the proverbial American Apple Pie because its primary instrumentality in our culture, the gun, is the closest thing we have to holiness, closest to our hearts, intertwined with our history, and as always, is the arms-length answer to all our fears, prayers and problems. We worship the gun like most religions worship its virgins or its prophets, like most athletes worship their trophies, perhaps even more so, since there is only one Amendment to our Constitution that is prior to "the right to bear arms."
If this is not the very definition of an insane culture, then would someone please stand up and tell me what is?
Why do we speak of video games, rap music, and violent movies or even about insane people getting guns (Insane people normally are less violent than the normal population at large? And anyway, it is the act of gun violence that best defines one as being insane?) as being the source of violence in our culture when our history and our everyday life is drenched in blood right outside our doors. I am taking about mind-numbing violence that we willfully shut our ears to, that we choose to remain blind to? Does anyone remember the murder of Kitty Genovese? (I do!)
Anyone who wants to know why random acts of brutal wanton murders happen in this nation, need go no further than to look directly into the mirror: We are a hate-filled nation in collective denial about who we are and what we really stand for -- still living on moral credit. We are good and moral only to the extent we tell ourselves it is so.
Everyone else sees us for what we really are: a declining nation running on past fumes of temporary greatness, and constantly running away from our own brutal historical shadow. The truth about our violent and brutal past and its consequences that continue into the present, cannot be spoken of out loud, or either in mixed company, or even to each other? To do so is an unforgiveable sin: a treasonous unpatriotic and unpardonable crime, a crime against our most enforced hidden rule: Never tell the truth about America, because we might not be able to survive it? We do not allow, nor will we ever abide being told anything other than what the twisted, distorted flag draped mirror, mirror on the wall tells us: that we are the fairest, greatest, most peace-loving nation of them all.
BS: It is an incomprehensible lie; a cruel fantasy, a psychological hoax that we play on ourselves that has become an unwritten article of faith, and we know it; and now with Sandy Hook, we also feel it deeply.
The cold-blodded truth is that we Americans are always nervously busy trying to "distance" ourselves from the culture that defines us best to outsiders: the Jeffery Dahmers, the Charles Mansons, the David Berkowitzes, the Ted Bundys, the John Wayne Gacys, the Ted Kaczynskis, the Timothy McVeighs, the Richard Ramirezes, the Wayne Williams, the Albert DeSlavos, the Jim Jones', the Colin Fergusons, and now the Ryan Lanzas -- all from our mostly "safe white" protected communities.
But is it not fair to ask: While we are frantically "distancing" ourselves from our more malignant parts, should we not also include the thousands who have died due to mob violence, or worse yet, rampant domestic violence -- where every other week, there is at least one new missing young white woman killed and disposed of by her nearest significant other? And last and always least in the American hierarchical academy of violence, should we not also be "distancing" ourselves from the mass urban violence that goes on in every American inner city ghetto and has been going on now since the Chicago riots of July 27, 1919? [Oh, I forgot, most white Americans have already physically "distanced" themselves from urban violence, that is why they moved to "safe white" communities like Sandy Hook, right?]