Django Unchained: The Politics of Language

Introduction

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 second of four posts. The first can be found here.

The Politics of Language

This brings us to the racial component of the film. Here’s where the mistaken impression about genre can come in for many people. There is comedy in this film, but it’s not a comedy. This is no more a comedy than For a Fistful of Dollars is. Yes, it’s funny the way Django turns around his former owners line and says to him “I like the way you die, boy.” It’s also funny when Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars changes his intial coffin order to four. It doesn’t make either film a comedy.

However, the facade of a western is where the similarity between the film ends. The moments of overt comedy are there for you to laugh at in Django Unchained. The Klan eyehole scene may have been the funniest scene in any film I saw last year simply because it was such an ingenious cutting down of a hateful organization that seeks to taunt, terrify and kill. Yes, even some of the laughs can be tinged with uneasiness, but that’s the goal.

The death of slave owners is designed to be laughed at, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some deadened reactions to that. Upon introducing another, even more risqué skit than he had done previously (this one about a white family with a coincidentally racist name) Dave Chappelle said something to the effect of “Apparently, people didn’t think killing a slave owner was funny. I could watch that all day.” Which brings us to another source of controversy in this film the usage of the N-word.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Is it difficult to listen to it that many times, and spouted so hatefully? Of course. Especially when either Django or Stephen uses it. That’s the point and intent for a modern audience. Then there’s also the fact that that’s not far off the frequency you would’ve heard back then.

Yes, some words invariably cause issues as I noted in The Gay Dilemma, but when a script is well-crafted you can go a step beyond what is a generally accepted politically-correct norm and make a point as in The Sitter. I’m not one for censorship, and am in favor of artistic license, and the word belongs in this film as much as it does in Huckleberry Finn. In others it may be gratuitous and unnecessary, but that’s why I tend to take things like this on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, one shouldn’t allow the presence of a word, even one as disparaging and denigrating as that one, obscure the totality of the film. While he does get assistance, Django gets necessary training to be able to be the hero of the story, which he is. Will Smith’s assessment about Django’s secondary nature is only accurate if you’re into counting words of dialogue. King’s departure from the narrative gives Django plenty of time when the tale is his alone. He’s the one who has flashbacks and whose goals drive the story. Most importantly, in terms of race, Django’s nobility and heroism is not shown solely through his fortitude, his ability to withstand punishment like Kunta Kinte; his strength is his ability to fight back. And as much training as he gets, his intelligence is something he’s born with not given.

Review- Hereafter

Cécile De France and Matt Damon in Hereafter (Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood over the last decade has emerged as one of the pre-eminent American filmmakers on the cinematic landscape. Part of the reason behind his emergence is his belief in tried and true classical storytelling techniques. They are the kind of techniques that form the foundation of film and have become almost outdated due to their simplicity. This straightforward approach is avoided by most not only for aesthetic reasons but also because you have little to no margin for error when you are this direct. Some may call it ham-handed or on the head but that just indicates a personal disconnect with the material what best describes it is direct.

Why this analysis of his style is even worth mentioning is because he has now applied it to many different genres and/or styles of tale within close proximity to one another. In this tale, however, there is a little something missing from it. It’s almost as if the subject of the hereafter needs a little bit of an arcane approach to be as effective on screen as it could be.

There is, of course, also the concern of the limited omniscience that is rendered this tale. We are left examining people who are touched by death but none who actually die. We don’t follow them we follow the living, which makes it a much more mundane human drama, which can be as interesting if not more so. Of course, it ends up being a tale about life but there is no major insight or revelation offered save for some reassurance that there is something to look forward to in the big sleep.

It tells a three-pronged tale which will predictably intertwine and much like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger it could’ve used some more judicious edits to make the story it tells just a bit tighter. One example is the trip that Marie, played wonderfully by Cécile De France, takes to Switzerland. She is only there to get files from a doctor. Yet there is quite a bit of her walking about and witnessing melodramatic deathbed scenes before she meets with the doctor. In tandem with that both her scenes with her publisher run a bit long and could’ve been shortened. The eventuality of the intertwining becomes apparent at some point so the journey needs to be truncated somewhat.

The acting overall is very strong and carried the movie through its doldrums. Matt Damon in particular is quite effective especially when he is doing readings on people which he approaches tentatively.

This film is also proof that films don’t necessarily need to be replete with incident but at least information such that the story moves on. Both Marie and Marcus have their very clear inciting incidents which are huge but the rest of their respective journeys are filled with a lot less fireworks but no less interesting just a bit longer than necessary.

Eastwood in this film is tackling a bigger subject with much the same approach he has faced others except musically. If there’s one thing that sets Eastwood apart from most is that he typically also scores his own films. In this film, however, the score is never noticeable. Which is good because it doesn’t call attention to itself but it also doesn’t enhance the film greatly.

All that said this film does have its moments of surpassing quality. Particularly the ending and the much anticipated reading. It does give us wonderful visuals in the rare glimpses of the afterlife we do get and does acknowledge the enormity of its subject matter and gives you some food for thought.

6/10

Hereafter is available on home video starting today.