Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: How Good it is to Kill Fascists, Racists and Slave Owners!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What we have here is a most unique and historic occasion! This is not only the first guest post ever on this blog, but it is also a bi-lingual post. My cousin Rodrigo Guéron on Facebook posted a brilliant essay about Django Unchained . I thought it was great and asked him if he’d mind my translating it. So below you will find not only my translation of the text, but also beneath it, for those of you who speak Portuguese and would prefer the original text, I have included that as well. Enjoy!

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: How Good it is to Kill Fascists, Racists and Slave Owners!

Rodrigo Guéron

Philosopher. Adjunct professor Art Institute of UERJ (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro). Author of the book From the Image to the Cliche, from the Cliche to the image: Deleuze, Cinema and Thought. Director and Screenwriter of the short films 750 Cidade de Deus (750 City of God), Cladestinidade (Clandestineness) and Eu Estou Cada Vez Melhor (I’m Always Getting Better).

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Funny, I was never a Tarantinophile. My mind wasn’t blown, in the ’90s, like some of my friends, by Pulp Fiction; I liked the movie, certain scenes and images especially, but that’s it. Truth be told I really liked a movie that the cultists of the director consider minor: Jackie Brown. Then along came Kill Bill, that I thought was very interesting, and I disagreed with what most critics said about the film, namely, that this, and Taratino’s films that followed, were a collage of references, a montage of cinematic citation, sketches and pop cliches: pastiche couture. That wasn’t exactly an untruth, but it was understating these films. Similar things have been said about Django Unchained, and I continue to think that in a way the critique of Tarantino’s cinema isn’t giving him enough credit.

From the beginning, I would say that Tarantino fights and confronts the US’s past and images of America’s past (Or better yet the past relative to imagery), not differentiating, as in Godard’s Notre Musique, if the image portends to be documentary or fiction: they deal with the memories in the collective consciousness that they’re created from, above all else a memory with a present to be dealt with. To begin such a story, we’d think that the first images of the film we’d face would be of blacks in the bonds of slavery. As a matter of fact, they are there, but it has a void too, a void of imagery, a shrieking omission, specifically a counter-image. In the American cinema, and in history, slavery appears through racism, the abscess of Anglo-Saxon Hollywood. Through its absence, for lack of a protagonist, or through the stereotyping of blacks in films and, finally, that these re-affirming constructs act as images of resistance, like exuberance and empowerment, become stereotypes themselves. But the remixed past of Django Unchained goes well beyond these images: the great, epic images of “America” that are present. And in that it makes sense to mix westerns and slavery: a combination that almost never occurred is, at the heart of it, a combination that was always latent, as if Saturation and Omission met each other on the corner of History and Cinema.

It’s clear that, it’s so impossible to make a western today, it’s so impossible to believe anew in those old epic fables (save the exceptionally beautiful No Country for Old Men by the Cohen Brothers which displays that, nearly debunking my statement) as impossible to not consider the epic majesticness, the power of the images of these civilizing fables mix cinematographic beauty (the beauty of life and the world, and not the dark underbelly of cinema) with sanguinary violence of all the conflicts and genocides of Manifest Destiny. In the middle of the impasse created by this heritage, it’s as if a space was opened up by kicking and screaming to create the images that Tarantino invents in Django, an impossible black cowboy, ex-slave, freedom fighter, bounty hunter, fighting against his captors to free his lady fair.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

But it’s so impossible to believe in a cowboy the way we used to, that one who is black politically correct, didactic, militant of liberal America, would be ridiculous and absurd. On the other hand, if Tarantino made his film a simple parody, or just a comedy, (as the great Spike Lee equivocally interepreted), it’d have eschewed violence in a cynical and impotent way. At the end of the day, cinema is violence, cinema is war, they’re as inextricable from one another as history and violence; whether it be the banalized violence of imagery or a violence of the banal in images; whether it be the aesthetically beautiful violence, sometimes cold and ascetic, sometimes redemptive (for a “great cause”) and, finally, a fascinating violence, attractive: a violence with the promise of great fun and pleasure.

And that’s not all, the situations in westerns are so impossible, so ridiculous, but at the same time are a past that happened, it’s almost irrelevant if it was in cinema or in fact. From old movies there are some images fascinate me to this day: fearless men, sagas, sublime landscapes. Aside from the obvious, the cowboy is at the same time a child, an innocent, sensitive and sanguinary. A heroic nomad, he comes last, does dirty jobs for others before himself, he’s also, violently civilized: the vagabond cowboy is a freedom fighter before “America” becomes the the United States of America. And in the United States film itself is, like a cowboy’s tale, a westerly march.

Tarantino creates in this black cowboy nothing credible, a fearless freedom fighter who’s enamored, who confronts a past, which is invariably tragic. In a mishmash of cinema and history, history and cinema, he duplicates images ad infinitum, showing us all its sides. Sometimes in just one movement, as times in frenetic comings-and-goings, he destroys the past as well as he salvages it. It even gives the impression that one of his filmmaking guides was the most beautiful anti-fascist text by Nietzsche (A philosopher who was, paradoxically or not, a hero to the Nazis): On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

At the intersection between Memory and Forgetting, between what we can’t relive and what is impossible (and undignified) to forget; between what we can no longer believe and what we wish to affirm; between cynicism and innocence; between raw, real violence and film effects; between the pretension of realism mixed with moral lessons and the ridiculousness of improbable situations; Tarantino chooses all this at the same time. We make fun of, laugh at, disbelieve, and surprisingly, we are on the edge of our seats like adolescents from the mid-20th century rooting for their heroes. And this is how we find ourselves getting frightened, nearing delirium like beasts before a huge massacre: a “just” massacre, the perfect revenge: a copy of a copy of a copy, but totally anti-Baudardrillian, posing as not at all nihilistic: potent. And the whole theatre is buzzing like when the young Jewish girl in Inglourious Basterds, in the middle of Occupied Paris, blew up the theatre with Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and the whole Third Reich in attendance. It’s an absurdity that’s good: the deliciousness of cinema unmasked, rustic, stripped of dramatic recourses and moribund cinematic technique, mixing the deliciousness of seeing how history absurdly should have been for the general welfare of all. In fact, if cinema is a fallacy, science and its “truths” can be the same way: certain situations in the film are so stupid like the “scientific” explanation that a slave owner gives about the brian of blacks. But their power is also maintained because it’s fascinating and engenders pleasures. Cinema and its joys have much to do with this. This is why the scene where the slaves are setting the table in the plantation house is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the film.

Hollywood always wanted to give us the omnipotent sensation of the desctruction of evil; for this it was necessary to drown under the polarization of good vs. evil to later get rid of all our desires – and above all the anti-desire: fear and guilt- within it. Only Hollywood isn’t over our heads: it is part of the power, either with active violence, or with the impotence of fear and guilt: impotent images. The “politically incorrect” relates to these things, and it’s still capable of turning, with its spectre, a legion of proto-fascist figures of the establishment posing as the irreverent “politically incorrect.”

On the other side, if the American cinema doesn’t get tired of killing for a great cause, or of promising an assassination with a great fun – and us with heroic assassins- Tarantino in Django permits us to to play joyfully at being just, saying “Fuck off!”, to our delight, to everything politically correct. Now we can even laugh, celebrate and get as blood-spattered as we want with the triumph of good we always wanted: the best happy endings of all time.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The omnipotent American cinema of destruction of evil is triumphanty destroyed and resuscitated by Tarantino, who in the same gunsling kills liberal-Christian guilt with a bullet to the head. It’s not good enough anymore to kill “robbers,” “Indians,” “Communists,” “Islamic terrorists,” or all the other supposed enemies of “America.” Much less feel compassion for them. What’s good is killing fascists! What’s really good is slaughtering slave owners and racists! It delicious to see these pigs to the slaughter without any pity whatsoever.

Django Uncahined (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The Original Text

Django Livre, de Quentin Tarantino: como é bom matar fascistas, racistas e escravocratas!

Rodrigo Guéron

Filósofo. Professor Adjunto do Instituto de Artes da UERJ. Autor do livro, “Da Imagem ao Clichê, do Clichê à Imagem. Deleuze, Cinema e Pensamento”. Diretor e roteirista de Cinema, autor dos curta metragens “750 Cidade de Deus”, “Clandestinidade” e “Eu Estou Bem cada Vez Melhor”.

Engraçado, nunca fui um tarantinista. Não vibrei como alguns amigos nos anos 1990 com Pulp Fiction; gostei do filme, de algumas cenas e imagens em especial, e pronto. Na verdade eu gostei mesmo era de um filme que os cultuadores do diretor consideravam menor: Jackie Brown. Mas já em Kill Bill, que achei muito interessante, comecei a discordar do que grande parte da crítica dizia do filme, a saber, que este, e outros filmes de Tarantino que o seguiram, eram uma colagem de referências, montagem de citações cinematográficas, quadrinhos, clichês pops: uma espécie de costura de pastiches. Isso não era exatamente uma inverdade, mas era pouco para estes filmes. Coisas semelhantes tem sido ditas sobre Django Livre, e continuo achando que esta espécie de senso comum da crítica sobre o cinema de Quentin Tarantino não dá conta da força do diretor.

De início, eu diria que o que Tarantino faz em Django Livre é lidar e enfrentar o passado dos EUA, ou seja, as imagens do passado dos EUA (ou melhor, o passado enquanto imagem), não fazendo diferença, como na espetacular edição da primeira parte da História(s) do Cinema de Godard, se são imagens documentais ou de filmes de ficção: trata-se de memória e o que a constitui; sobretudo memória como um presente a ser enfrentado. A princípio, pensaríamos nós, as primeiras imagens a serem enfrentadas seriam as da escravidão e dos negros. E de fato elas estão lá, mas neste campo há também um vazio, uma falta de imagens, uma omissão gritante e, em especial, uma contra-imagem. No cinema americano, e na história, a escravidão aparece pelo racismo, pela assepsia anglo-saxã de Hollywood, pela ausência, pela falta de protagonismo ou pelo estereótipo dos negros nos filmes e, finalmente, pelo que estes construíram como imagens de resistência, como exuberância e empoderamento, e até como estereótipos de si mesmos. Mas o passado remexido em Django Livre vai bem além destas imagens: são as grandes imagens épicas da “América” que estão ali. E assim faz todo sentido misturar western e escravidão: a mistura que quase nunca houve é, no fundo, a mistura que sempre esteve latente, como se saturação e omissão se encontrassem numa esquina da história, e do cinema.

Mas, é claro, é tão impossível fazer hoje um western, é tão impossível crer de novo naquelas velhas fábulas épicas (e o belíssimo Onde os Fracos Não Tem Vez dos irmãos Coem mostram isso, quase me desmentindo), quanto é impossível não considerar a grandeza épica, a força das imagens destas fábulas civilizatórias que misturaram uma beleza cinematográfica gigantesca (beleza da vida e do mundo portanto, e não do umbigo do cinema) com a violência sanguinária de todos os conflitos e genocídios da “marcha para o Oeste”. É no meio do impasse criado por esta herança, como se abrisse um espaço a cotoveladas para poder criar as suas imagens, que Tarantino inventa Django, um impossível cowboy negro, ex-escravo, justiceiro, caçador de recompensas, lutando contra seus algozes senhores para libertar a sua amada.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Mas é tão impossível crer num cowboy como antes, que um cowboy negro politicamente correto, didático militante da moral liberal estadunidense, seria ridículo e absurdo. Por outro lado, se Tarantino fizesse do seu filme uma simples paródia, ou apenas uma comédia, (como o grande Spike Lee equivocadamente entendeu), teria banido de modo cínico e impotente a violência. Afinal de contas, cinema e violência, guerra e cinema, são tão imbricados quanto o são história e violência; seja a violência banalizada das imagens e a violência do banal em imagens; seja a violência bela e estética, às vezes ascética e fria, às vezes redentora (por uma “grande causa”) e, finalmente, uma violência fascinante, atraente: a violência como promessa de um grande gozo e prazer.

Mas isso ainda é pouco, as situações dos westerns são impossíveis, são ridículas, mas ao mesmo tempo são o passado que houve, pouco importa se no cinema ou de fato. Nos velhos filmes de mocinho e bandido algumas imagens fascinam ainda hoje: homens destemidos, sagas, paisagens sublimes. O cowboy é ao mesmo tempo uma criança ingênua, sensual e sanguinária. Herói nômade, ele vem antes da besta branca civilizatória ocidental, faz o serviço sujo para ela antes de ser, ele também, violentamente civilizado: o cowboy errante e justiceiro antes da “América” se tornar EUA. E nos Estados Unidos o próprio cinema é, como num western, marcha para o oeste.

Tarantino cria este cowboy negro nada crível, justiceiro destemido e apaixonado, enquanto enfrenta a sempre trágica lida com o passado. Num emaranhado de cinema e história, história e cinema, ele duplica infinitamente as imagens, mostrando-as em todos os seus lados. Às vezes num só movimento, às vezes em idas e vindas frenéticas, ele destrói o passado tão bem quanto o resgata. Dá até a impressão que um de seus manuais de filmagem foi o mais belo e anti-fascista dos textos de Nietzsche ( filósofo que foi, paradoxalmente ou não, herói dos nazis): “Das Utilidades e dos Incovenientes da História para a Vida”.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Na encruzilhada entre memória e esquecimento, entre o que não podemos reviver e o que nos é impossível (e indigno) esquecer; entre o que não conseguimos mais crer e o que temos o desejo de afirmar; entre o cinismo e a ingenuidade; entre a violência crua e real e o efeito cenotécnico; entre a pretensão de realismo misturada às lições de moral e o ridículo das situações inverossímeis, Tarantino escolhe tudo isso ao mesmo tempo. Debochamos, rimos e descremos juntos e, surpreendentemente, somos arrebatados na cadeira do cinema como adolescentes do meio do século passado torcendo por seus mocinhos. E assim nos pegamos se assustando e delirando como bestas diante de um grande massacre: o massacre “justo”, a vingança perfeita: a cópia, da cópia, da cópia, mas totalmente anti baudrillardiana, posto que nada niilista: potente. E o cinema todo vibra como quando a mocinha judia, de Bastardos em Glória, em plena Paris ocupada, explodiu a sala de cinema com Hitler, Goebbels, Goering e todo o Terceiro Reich dentro. É o absurdo que é bom: a delícia do cinema desmascarado no tosco de seus recursos dramáticos e cenotécnicos moribundos, misturado à delícia de ver como a história absurdamente deveria ter sido para a felicidade geral todos. De fato, se o cinema é uma falácia, a ciência e suas “verdades” podem sê-lo do mesmo jeito: certas situações do filme são tão estúpidas quanto a explicação “científica” que o senhor de escravo dá sobre o cérebro dos negros. Mas o poder também se mantém porque é fascinante e engendra prazeres. O cinema e suas delícias têm muito a ver com isso. Por isso a cena das escravas arrumando a mesa de jantar do senhor na casa grande talvez seja uma das mais belas do filme.

Hollywood sempre nos quis dar a onipotente sensação da destruição do mau; para isso precisou nos afogar na polarização bem x mau para depois despejar todo o nosso desejo – e sobretudo o anti-desejo: o medo, a culpa – nela. Só que Hollywood não está acima de nossas cabeças: ele é parte do poder que nos atravessa, seja como violência ativa, seja como a impotência do medo e da culpa: imagens impotentes. O “politicamente correto” tem a ver com estas últimas, e ainda é capaz de gerar como seus espectros uma legião de almofadinhas proto-fascistas, figuras do establishment pousando de irreverentes “politicamente incorretos”.

Por outro lado, se o cinema americano não se cansa de matar por uma grande causa, e de nos prometer o assassinato com um grande gozo – e nós como heróis assassinos –, Tarantino em Django nos permite brincar deliciosamente de sermos justos, mandando à merda, para o nosso deleite, todo o politicamente correto. Agora já podemos rir, comemorar e se lambuzar de sangue à vontade com o triunfo do bem que sempre desejamos: o melhor final feliz de todos os tempos.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

A cinematográfica onipotência estadunidense da destruição do mal é triunfalmente destruída e ressuscitada por Tarantino, que no mesmo movimento de pistola mata a culpa liberal-cristã com uma bala na testa. Bom já não é matar “bandidos”, “índios”, “comunistas”, “terroristas islâmicos”, ou todo e qualquer suposto inimigo da “América”. Nem muito menos sentir compaixão por eles. Bom mesmo é matar fascistas! Bom mesmo é trucidar senhores de escravos e racistas! É delicioso poder mandar esses porcos todos pelos ares! Sem pena alguma.

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Review- The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau (Universal)

Frequently, it is mentioned that one should disregard the marketing of a film when analyzing it. I agree with that principle, however, when there is a germane marketing point to be made I feel it is worth mentioning as an aside I will include it. The fact of the matter is all film’s have a pre-life. You hear about the concept, see the trailer or what have you. You know of a film before you see that and you decide “Oh, I want to see that” or “I might see that” and so on. When the projector starts up that’s when your preconceived notions must go away but everyone forms some opinions and at times, to our delight or chagrin, we are wrong.

The ads for The Adjustment Bureau don’t misrepresent the film at all. Why it bears mentioning is that in seeing the trailer, in conjunction with that for the forthcoming Limitless, they both seem like the kinds of concepts that are interesting but may eventually spin out of control.

The Adjustment Bureau never does that. It does deal with the concept of fate and who is the puppetmaster of our destiny and what if anything we can do about it but what it never does is get too absurd or grandiose. It manages to do this by focusing solely on our protagonist and his very simple goal: to be with the woman he loves.

Even though those pulling the strings are abstractions of higher entities and there is a bright and lofty future intended for both our protagonists we never have flash-forwards that open up a Pandora’s Box or make these characters less identifiable to the common man.

In the single-minded obsession of our protagonist a film with some heady notions stays somewhat grounded. Slowly but surely the hierarchy and what these figures do and do not understand about the plan is revealed. There are some awkward moments along the way but ultimately you find that you are allowed to “beat the system” it’s just very difficult.

Of course, the grounding of this tale would be impossible without affable and talented leads and this film has that indeed. The first mention goes to Emily Blunt. Who is one of the more electric, charismatic, talented and under-hyped young stars of the cinema today. She plays perfectly in to the refreshing no B.S. love story that is crafted for her. Adding humor, warmth and personality to it in spades.

Then there’s Matt Damon whom cuts through a lot of the red tape set up by the character and script. There is a long sequence at the beginning of the film which gives us his characters’ political past replete with many cameos by figures of the political world. We meet the image before the man and we come to know the man as the film moves along. He faces hard choices as he has stumbled upon a secret that most will not and debates how he should respond and how much he is willing to risk to get what he wants.

This is also the kind of film with effects work that is likely to get overlooked because it’s not the “Look At Me” variety but rather the functional variety wherein they only come into play to display locations that cannot possibly exist behind the doors that are opened. They are, however, very well done.

By keeping the story close to the vest suspension of disbelief becomes very easy even with some rather unbelievable things happening throughout. What is also helpful is that there is a humorous element to the story that is acknowledged and embraced by the film which raises its level somewhat from where it otherwise would’ve been.

The end of the film while not breathtaking after a rather action-filled film is proper and puts the last few questions to bed. It fits and is earned and that’s all that can be asked for in truth. The Adjustment Bureau is a fun and intelligent film of the kind there are far too few of these days.

9/10