Expectations are always high when coming into a Tarantino film, though the lingering sense that he may eventually stumble and offer a disappointment is always there. His films sometimes tip-toe that line, though I would never outright say any of his films have been disappointments. Even the somewhat maligned Death Proof strikes a chord with me as being one of his more unencumbered and direct efforts. Regardless of how chaotic a Quentin Tarantino film may be, the bursts of energy he evokes in any and all of his pictures are enough to sustain some measure of entertainment. His films breathe a life of cinematic reverence even as blood gushes from every crevice, from the removal of an ear in Reservoir Dogs to a violent mauling in Django Unchained. As excessive as his violence may be, underscoring all of Tarantino’s bloodthirsty tendencies are remarkable displays of crisp, attentive, and even fun filmmaking.
I stress the concept of fun when discussing Tarantino’s efforts because some may be inclined to take his pictures, at least conceptually, too seriously. With Django Unchained and his previous effort, Inglourious Basterds, he rewrites history for both wish-fulfillment purposes as well as for creating a unique cinematic experience. The ideas and characters that populate his pictures have always slanted toward cartoon characters – perhaps never more clearly than in Django Unchained. But the spirit and tone of his pictures, even as they dwell in deep trenches of the absurd and hyper violent, never feel malicious. With Tarantino, his efforts rarely evoke cynicism though perhaps one can derive his rewrite of history as an attempt to address his own disappointment in humanity. But given his artistic flourishes and tendencies, his efforts strike me as coming from a purely cinematic place.
Django Unchained addresses some of potential reservations on contending with the subject of slavery, with Christoph Waltz acknowledging his disdain for this “slavery malarkey” while simultaneously accepting it as a necessary evil to carry out a deed. Subsequently, Tarantino utilizes the time period and situation as a means of constructing a compelling deviation from the Western narrative. Looking at the larger pieces at play though, Django Unchained can best be viewed as an unintentional response to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. The two films deal with thematically similar issues, whereupon the issue of slavery is of spirited contention. The deviation in approach though lends one film to be a formally efficient dissection of history while the other is a radical departure of historical truths. Neither film is particularly wrong in their approach – but rather redefines the meaning of justice in the face of calamity.
Both Lincoln and Django Unchained are highlighted in my Top Ten Films of 2012.