One thought about Django

I watched Django Unchained last night and I thoroughly enjoyed it, which, for a violent revenge fantasy, is either the whole point or else basically like giving in to the movie. The audience I was with didn’t seem especially uncomfortable by it much at all: there was lots of audible enjoying of Django’s one-liners, and the loudest cheers came when Stephen (Samuel Jackson’s Uncle Tom character) got his. Game, set, match: Tarantino.

My one thought (spoilers, kinda):

Django’s best line: As Django and Dr. King Schultz are being led by Calvin Candie to the Candie-land plantation, their party runs into some of the overseers who have trapped an attempted runaway in a tree. Candie stops to toy with the slave, and Schultz makes the mistake of trying to buy him off so they’ll leave the slave alone, which raises Candie’s suspicions enough that he decides to have his dogs tear the slave apart so he can gauge Django’s and Schultz’s reactions to the violence. Candie, watching Django’s eyes while the gore happens mostly offscreen, notes aloud that Django seems unfazed while his partner Schultz appears to be getting a bit green, clearly uneasy with the violence. Django’s response is maybe the most interesting line in the movie (and I wish I remembered it exactly): “He’s just not as used to Americans.” This is not subtle. If the whole point of our ability to enjoy the violent revenge we know Django is going to wreak (some of which we’ve already delighted in) is that we can easily place ourselves on the side of the hero, treating the villains as already exorcised foreign objects, this line, spoken about what is probably the most horrific violence we see being committed upon a slave,[1] assigns the violence the status of a characteristic of Americans. It’s difficult to resolve this statement, actually. But I think it disallows a contemporary American audience from uncomplicatedly assuming their own position to be firmly on the side of Django, even as we enjoy his revenge just as much as he does. From there it seems it might be possible to wonder what subject position the film has maneuvered its audience into: in order to fully enjoy the parts of the film it most clearly wants us to enjoy, we have to enjoy it on behalf of some other subject, one that occupies no stable point within the world of the movie or within our world, one that we almost surely have no right to claim.[2]

[1] Not that I’m trying to rank the horrors: the movie itself recalls this moment to us later, the flashbacks of memory giving us the most graphic depictions of the violence right at the moment that the narrative turns single-mindedly toward its goal of violent revenge.

[2] To an extent, Django implicates himself with the ‘Americans’ statement as well, something that underscores his earlier explanation to Schultz that this is his (Django’s) world.

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