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Unchained

My husband and I spent the better part of our Wednesday this week playing catch up on movies we had missed in the theater and on one movie we nearly missed seeing on the big screen.  Thanks to some free Redbox codes, we were able to rent both Taken 2 and House At The End Of The Street to watch at home.  House, starring Jennifer Lawrence, was sadly not as scary as I had hoped.  The plot was interesting enough; a mother and daughter move in next door to a home where a grisly double murder occurred and where the brother of the deceased parents still resides.  We learn the history behind the man’s younger sister who killed her parents and soon discover that there are more secrets than the townspeople could even imagine.  Unfortunately, it fell flat for me at the end, but it’s worth a watch if you have some time to kill.

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Speaking of killing, Taken 2 kept Liam Neeson quite busy keeping his family safe from the vengeful families of the men he murdered in the first film while rescuing his daughter.  The nice thing about this film is that you get exactly what you expect going in.  This time around, his daughter is spared from capture while he and his estranged wife are taken instead.  My one issue with this film was that it seemed to fly by too quickly.  The running time is just over an hour and a half, but it felt like it had come and gone in under an hour.  When the final battle came to a close, I found myself asking if that was all there was.  Then again, I can never get enough of Neeson kicking ass.

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For our theater pick, we decided on Django Unchained since we had previously been unable to get to the theater to catch it because of our lack of baby sitter options.  I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino and was even more excited about this film due to the buzz surrounding it; it seemed that he had managed to top Inglorious Basterds with his latest project.  I was also very happy to see Christoph Waltz back in action as Dr. King Schultz, the man who grants Django his freedom and helps him find his wife and become what can only be described as the biggest and baddest character to grace our movie screens in recent times.  Leonardo DiCaprio was disgustingly perfect as plantation owner Calvin Candie, Samuel L. Jackson was on top of his game, and a cameo from Jonah Hill had us cracking up in our seats.  It was a brilliant movie.

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Unfortunately, like any piece of entertainment that addresses a touchy subject, Django Unchained has its share of critics.  The main complaints revolve around the opinion that Tarantino went too far and either glorified or made a mockery of slavery in this country.  The dreaded n-word is used over 100 times in this film by characters who are either extremely racist or extremely sensitive to racial equality.  Django is “Hollywood’s ni**er joke which reveals the inner game of how the Hollywood studio and the plantation slave institutions [have] exploited black people.”  Fellow director Spike Lee even says the film is disrespectful and refuses to see it.  I personally know at least two people who will not see this movie due to the manner in which slavery is depicted.  I’m obviously not a fan of slavery, but I wasn’t about to go into this movie thinking it would be offensive or expecting anything disrespectful to cross the screen.

Django Unchained does indeed show a very harsh and cruel world where black people are less than white, where people are bought and owned, and where skin color is more important than personal character.  The violence is over the top bloody and gory, the lowest class of black people are treated worse than animals, and the manner in which human lives are discussed is enough to make anyone cringe.  But while the story is fiction, the roots are planted in reality and in our history.  No doubt, people were treated much worse than we saw in Django and attitudes towards people of color were much worse than the film showed.  Even now in our modern age, people exist in this world who would go above and beyond the way Candie treated his slaves.  No one can ever honestly say that slavery was a pretty thing.

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The thing about Django Unchained that makes it great is that it doesn’t just show us a world where slaves are suffering and whites are either happy to allow it or too afraid to do anything to stop it.  Django, in his quest to find his wife, becomes a force to be reckoned with and respected as he moves out of his former role as a slave and becomes not only a free man, but an independent being who is able to overcome any person and rise above any situation, always emerging victorious.  He quickly separates himself from passive black men, carrying himself as if he were white and as if it was expected of him to be in charge and assertive.  His partner, Dr. Schultz, proves himself to be both educated and understanding of why slavery exists, yet still heavily in favor of equality among the races.  He is a man of honor and respect, two things that never break or even waver at any moment.

With the aid of bold comedy and over-the-top violence, Tarantino gives us a story that isn’t afraid of its strength and ability to shine.  It’s not simply a matter of black and white either, which you tend to see sometimes in fictional depictions of slavery.  There are very distinct levels that a black person can exist on.  From being a lowly slave confined to a field or a mine, to female slaves who work as maids and cooks, to females used solely for their bodies, to men used for entertainment purposes, to achieving status close to a wife or trusted friend, we see the wide variety of ways these slaves were viewed and used.  It was complex and incredibly interesting to see how Samuel L. Jackson’s character was able to run his mouth like a sailor to Candie while other equally black men could not so much as make eye contact or speak unless spoken to.  Whether they would admit to it or not, these slave-owners had respect for many of their slaves, even if it was just based on what they could bring to the table.

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If I was forced to nitpick and find something about Django Unchained to be offended by, it would have to be the unexpected strange shot of a very private part of Jamie Foxx as he hung upside down by his ankles.  The depiction of slavery was not offensive in the least, nor was the overuse of the n-word, and I think that if the film’s critics would just give it a chance instead of writing it off before viewing, they would be pleasantly surprised by what they see.  If you’re not a fan of Tarantino, you probably won’t be too keen on the outlandish bloody special effects, but you will find it impossible not to be enamored by Christoph Waltz, who deserves every award in existence for his performance.  If the only thing holding you back from seeing Django Unchained is the slavery argument, I highly recommend you put those feelings aside for a few hours, relax, and enjoy the show.  It’ll be well worth it.

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About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on February 15, 2013, in TV/Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The only thing honestly holding me back from seeing Django Unchained is the fact that Tarantino is responsible for it. Plus, I just couldn’t get into the idea of watching Tarantino’s interpretation of a Django western (a bit of background, the original Django movie was an Italian Western that spawned a bunch of spin-off movies, this one was presented as his version of yet another spin-off that is only vaguely related to the original, much like the spin-offs back in the 70’s).

    Choppy ending scene aside, I can guarantee you that the movie Lincoln (with Daniel Day-Lewis) is a far superior movie on the subjects briefly referenced in Django Unchained that actually matter.

    • Haha in all honesty, Tarantino’s cameo appearance was really awkward. His accent felt very forced and it was just slightly uncomfortable. But the movie overall is fantastic, if only for Waltz 🙂

      I still haven’t gotten around to Lincoln. I HAVE seen Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter, which I’m sure is just as historically accurate 😉

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