Hollywood

Tarantino Explained

January 03, 2013

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Tarantino Explained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is, among much else during its leisurely 165-minute running time, an adolescent male revenge fantasy about an omnipotent mass shooter wreaking carnage upon dozens of victims. I suspect the film would have appealed profoundly to the late Adam Lanza.

You might think that this wouldn’t be the best time for a quasi-comic daydream/bloodbath about a deadeye gunman who always fires first and is immune to the thousands of bullets shot at him. But the recent unpleasantness in Sandy Hook has gone almost unmentioned in the critical hosannas greeting Django…because, you see, the invulnerable hero is a black gunman shooting bad (i.e., Southern white) people.

It’s not much more complicated than that.

For example, in the The New York Times, the scholarly and mild-mannered A. O. Scott declares Django:

…a troubling and important movie about slavery and racism.

In the Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern praises Tarantino’s latest shoot-’em-up as:

“What matters is white-on-white moral status striving. And in that eternal war, even Quentin Tarantino is a welcome recruit.”

Wildly extravagant, ferociously violent, ludicrously lurid and outrageously entertaining, yet also, remarkably, very much about the pernicious lunacy of racism and, yes, slavery’s singular horrors.

According to Tarantino lore, the former video-store clerk is a dyslexic with a 160 IQ. It’s hard not to be amused by how easily this semi-literate junior high school-dropout dupes 21st-century intellectuals.

The reason Tarantino has had the time to watch so many bad movies is because he doesn’t like the written word. Most people of Tarantino’s intelligence discover that reading is a higher bandwidth way of finding out about the world than watching straight-to-video dreck. But the auteur’s learning disability has left him defensively proud that he’s ill informed about everything other than movies.

For example, Django begins with the title card “1858,” followed by the helpful explanation “Two years before the Civil War.” Presumably, one of Tarantino’s yes-men eventually got around to apprising him that the Civil War started in 1861, not 1860. But Tarantino is a geek, not a nerd, so he’s not going to change his screenplay just because some Poindexter looked something up on Wikipedia. If the year the Civil War began wasn’t mentioned in Mandingo, Quentin doesn’t want to know about it.

Similarly, slavery is a potentially fascinating topic, but to have something interesting to say about it would require Tarantino to read a book. And that was never going to happen.

Tarantino may not know how to spell, but he knows how you are supposed to think: solely in terms of Who? Whom? The only thing that matters anymore is whose side you are on.

Just as Tarantino is being praised today for empowering blacks by having them slaughter whites, he was praised for empowering Jews by having them slaughter Nazis in Inglourious Basterds and empowering women by having them slaughter men in Kill Bill.

As you may have noticed, Tarantino isn’t black, Jewish, or female. Nor has he shown much genuine interest in those designated victim groups. Instead, Tarantino’s favorites have always been middle-aged movie tough guys.

A cynic might suggest that what Tarantino really likes is the slaughtering. He’s happy to make the details of who slaughters whom conform to the current prejudices, just as long as he gets to keep up the gore level. All Tarantino has had to do to critic-proof himself is identify the zeitgeist’s sacred cows (so far, women, Jews, and blacks, but not gays) and have them massacre their foes. (Someday we may be treated to a Tarantino ABC Afterschool Special about the plague of bullying in which Franco Nero and CGI versions of David Carradine and Lee Van Cleef show up at school to take out the homophobic trash.)

The premise of Tarantino’s latest film is that “young Django,” a slave played by 45-year-old Jamie Foxx, teams up with the loquacious Christoph Waltz, 56 (once again dripping with Gemütlichkeit before he suddenly guns everybody down) to kick white butt. In 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz played a Nazi bad guy, while in Django he’s a Viennese anti-slavery good guy, but he’s always the same character, Tarantino’s talkative alter ego.

Indeed, Basterds Jewish revenge plot was essentially a front to allow Tarantino to indulge his fascination with Nazi cinema. What would it have been like, Quentin wondered, if he had been Goebbels to Harvey Weinstein’s Hitler?

In Django, a similarly vast amount of the dialogue is turned over to Waltz. Unfortunately, Tarantino’s Teutonophilia can’t get much traction in Django. He has a vague notion that in 1858 Richard Wagner was contemplating The Ring cycle—thus Django’s wife is named Broomhilda—but has no idea what Waltz ought to do with that. (The excessively articulate Waltz would be better suited to playing Wagner, but the composer never killed anybody and lived before the invention of movies, so don’t look to Quentin for biopic ideas.)

All these distractions leave poor Foxx with little to do except shoot white people.

In 2013, is the black gun violence Tarantino espouses really such a fascinating new phenomenon? For generations now, American media have been encouraging blacks to take violent retribution. We’re coming up on close to a half-century of whites in the media egging on black badassery.

How’s Tarantino’s macho minstrel show working out for black males, anyway?

According to a 1967 government report sponsored by the Surgeon General, the black homicide rate began to rise in 1962 after a long decline. Mostly, though, whites just move out of the way and blacks kill each other. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that for the 30 years from 1976-2005, there were 276,000 African-American homicide victims, 94% of them murdered by other blacks.

But who cares about a quarter of a million murdered black people? What matters is white-on-white moral status striving. And in that eternal war, even Quentin Tarantino is a welcome recruit.

 

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