Django Unchained is a fun movie Quentin Tarantino style,-- that is, with excessive blood and violence—treating irreverently, as he did in Inglorious Basterds, a serious subject, this time, slavery. I haven’t seen this much blood, comedic, since Kill Bill anime scenes. Only Tarantino can make me smile at his copious use of it. On NPR’s Fresh Air, Tarantino tells Terry Gross that there are two kinds of violence in Django Unchained: “There's the brutal reality that slaves lived under for ... 245 years, and then there's the violence of Django's retribution. And that's movie violence, and that's fun…” The villains are so heinous that their exsanguination is almost sanguine. [Still, I saw, in horror, a ten year old in the theatre with his parents; Also I can see why its release was delayed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, CT.]
Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, and Saturday Night Live, Feb 16th), nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the German bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz, has impeccable timing and delivery, surprising us again and again. But the greatest cognitive dissonance for me was seeing the distinguished, inimitable Samuel L. Jackson playing at an Uncle Tom. It is such an unexpected casting as to be laugh out loud funny. The love dance of words and expression between him and Leonardo di Caprio in their first scene together is exaltingly funny. Were it not for Schultz’s exquisitely timed and gentlemanly offered cheekish lines, it would be Jackson who steals the show. Just as in Silver Lining Playbook, humor here is fueled by disbelief about what the characters do next. Tarantino directs the exaggerated facial expressions as if a silent film (as in the disbelief on black and white faces alike to see a free black man in the pre-Civil War south enjoying the privileges of a white man).
I found Django Unchained one of the funniest of the Tarantino films, a spaghetti western, a bloody Blazing Saddles, with the sweetness of Silverado, dealing humorously, much like Silver Lining Playbook, with a very unfunny subject. America’s history of slavery is almost absent from the psychoanalytic literature, despite its vast lexicon of trauma and trauma’s intergenerational transmission. Tarantino brings slavery dead center to the discourse. His trade mark, over the top bloody exhibition of human suffering raises to the level of absurdity, allowing the unspoken, much like Bion’s alpha functioning does, to enter the conversation.
Benjamin writes of the difficulty in maintaining the tension necessary to see the other as a subject like ourselves (subject-subject interaction) and the inevitability of continually falling to a subject-object relating. Racism obliterates the subjectivity of the Other and, in so doing, diminishes the self as well. Slavery’s absence from the psychoanalytic dialogue, as if hidden from awareness, creates a void in meaning and intimates our own sense of shame. Tarantino unabashedly brings slavery center stage and nudges me out of my comfort zone, holding my hand as I laugh irreverently, and for this I applaud him.