A History of Violence in 'Django Unchained'

Quentin Tarantino upends the Western—and America's original sin

In his past two movies, Tarantino has ascended to a new level of filmmaking craftsmanship and narrative sophistication. And yet, probably because he came of age in a video store and has never quite lost the autodidact's air of bullish authority, some high-minded critics and cultural arbiters can't bring themselves to take him seriously as an intellectual. That was evident in some of the more knee-jerk evaluations of Inglourious Basterds, and it is already swirling in the air around Django. But as with all of the best pop art, Tarantino's film is both seriously entertaining and seriously thoughtful, rattling the cage of race in America onscreen and off-, the coveted "freedom papers" that give Django his emancipation standing in for another black man's long-form birth certificate. So it seems only fitting that when Tarantino's new western hero rides off toward the horizon, he is silhouetted not by sunset, but rather by a raging ball of Wagnerian fire.

 

The Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield of the South
The Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield of the South

This review appeared in print as "A History of Violence: Django Unchained upends the Western—and America's original sin."

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