Professor Saladin Ambar, Assistant professor of Political Science at Lehigh University, seems to feel that the new film Django Unchained was just a drag. This puts his opinion at odds with millions of people who made the film one of the highest grossing releases in the competitive Christmas movie rush. He seems to think that none of the scenes were funny, and that Tarantino did a mediocre job. Maybe he should rename himself “the Grinch.”
But you should hear what he has to say about the film, which is presented below:
“Directors don’t get better as they get older.” The line is Quentin Tarantino’s, and it mirrors his character Marcellus Wallace’s soliloquy on aging fighters delivered in Pulp Fiction. I didn’t expect to find confirmation of this aphorism in Django Unchained. I went in well aware of the criticisms about its depiction of slavery, as well as the myriad accolades for the power of its originality. I left nearly three hours later with the most damning critique any artist can bear: amid all of the fury and ferocity of the film, I returned to my car unmoved.
Django involves the familiar Tarantino formula of revenge fantasy killfest. The novelty is its placement in 1858 and the world of American slavery. The problem is that in both Django and Tarantino’s filmography, there is such an avalanche of horrific violence and gore that I found the movie pulling off what I thought impossible. It made the horror of slavery unremarkable. It’s not that the brandings, whippings, “hot-boxings,” man-hunt-and-kill scenes were not horrific enough — they most certainly were. But their presentation alongside other horrible acts (shootings, beatings, and other creative acts of torture) made them seem part of some greater mis-en-scene of gore Americana. Coupled with his oeuvre’s litany of ball-in-mouth rapes, beheadings, sword-dicings, and such, I wasn’t so much appalled by Django as I was nonplussed. And most tragically, I was left more numbed than moved by the depictions of slavery’s grotesqueries.
Even Tarantino’s characteristic humor was lost on me. There is, for example, what should be a hilarious scene involving proto-Klansmen donning their hoods for a midnight raid. The hoods — homespun fare with uneven eye-holes — do not work; no one can see properly, rendering the raid hapless. This is funny the first few seconds. But Tarantino milks the scene until he’s convinced we are convinced it’s funny. By its close, I found it tedious. And so it goes with the violence. The overwhelming sadness found in the now classic whipping scene with Denzel Washington in Glory, for instance, arises because it’s the only such scene in the movie. You know, Psycho had only one shower scene for a reason. Sadly, Django whipped the sentiment out of me. I think it whipped the sentiment out of slavery.