The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the third of four posts. The first can be found here and the second part can be found here.
The Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo
Two of the more aesthetically controversial decisions in Django Unchained, ones that were fairly roundly criticized, were in the latter section of the film and interrelated in the story’s chronology. They are Django’s being sold into slavery anew to a mining company and Quentin Tarantino’s cameo appearance. The main critique of the section is that it adds an unnecessary half-hour to an already bloated film. Now, clearly I’ve already stated that Django was my favorite film of last year, so I can’t debate and cajole one into liking it more than one does, or liking it period if one dislikes it.
However, I wonder if the people who claim that there’s an extraneous half-hour in Django have fully considered the ramifications of truncating the story by that much. If not giving those critiquing the benefit of the doubt, you end up with a fairly anti-climcatic tragedy, wherein there’s bloodshed but Django doesn’t win. Now, given the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume you’d have given Django some improbable escape from Stephen’s clutches and the final show down is bumped up, it’s still not as effective. The apparent defeat of Django is not strong enough. What this segment does is it puts Django back where he was when the film started. However, this time there is no King Schultz to get him out of it by “legitimate” means. This is where Django truly becomes the hero of the tale. He brilliantly, through his own intelligence, skill-set and quick reflexes gets himself away from his captors. Now he’s a hero. Now he stands on his own. Now he can truly ride off into the sunset after his triumph.
So the existence of this section of the film is not only fine by me, but essential in my estimation. Tarantino’s appearance, to the extent that it it’s there, isn’t so much. Now, I will state a few facts to clear this up just a bit. Firstly, I was not surprised that Tarantino appeared in the film, what was more surprising was where he appeared. His cameo may have been better served on a plantation or in the KKK scene, which was funny anyway. However, based on the chatter I did think it was more involved and longer than it was. Now, did it play into my decision-making during my personal awards with regards to Best Cast and Best Director nominations and winners? Yes. However, to be fair I think that auteur criticism, once feared to be an overly-cultist altar of worship has started to reverse itself a bit in the internet age to an overly-nitpicky bitch-fest.
There’s no such thing as perfect film. Yes, there are little things, which are what nitpicks are, you can point out that are off, whether in fact or in your subjective opinion, about every single film. All of them. My favorite film professor relayed a story to us about his one conversation with Robert Wise. Wise being the acclaimed director, who previously edited Citizen Kane. My professor said to him he thought it perfect or nearly so. Wise immediately pointed out he wished he didn’t leave such a long beat coming out of one of Raymond’s flashbacks. And I had noticed that, and when he heard it mentioned my professor agreed. Regardless of what you think of Kane the moral of the tale is simple: no film is perfect. Though I see where and how Tarantino appears in this film as an actor as a misstep, it’s not a serious error that affects the whole of the film.
One thing you have to respect about Tarantino, even when it comes to bug you, is that he doesn’t care; that’s practically what auteurism is. He’s making the film his way and if you don’t like it, tough. The last filmmaker who seriously overstepped the cameo appearance into supporting character was M. Night Shyamalan in Signs. He’s since pulled that back to where it should be. Shyamalan is also a prime example of auteur theory gone awry. People came to expect the twist ending from him in everything such that when people either didn’t get one or didn’t like the twist it altered their feelings on the film. I’m quite certain his prior filmography is why he dropped out of Life of Pi ages ago, and I can almost guarantee that if was exactly the same film with his name on it the reception wouldn’t have been as positive.
This is where auteur theory needs some checks on it. It doesn’t mean filmmakers or films get a pass, but just a little more perspective is taken into account, like is it par for the course for the filmmaker for said element to be featured? If so, does it work? If not, how big a deal is it really? If it was an intended departure those expectations shouldn’t factor in and so on. So, yes, that bit of casting was off, however, I don’t think it colors the whole film. I think the double whammy for many is that they didn’t necessarily see the need for the section of the film he was in so his appearance is further jarring.