I saw Django Unchained last night, and I’m ready to call it the most distressing film I’ve ever seen. I was expecting a period film, and that it was, but with lots of blood and quite a few very disturbing scenes. The last time I was so tense at a cinema was when I watched Eight Millimeter as a teenager. Recently, I had to stop the DVD with We Need to Talk About Kevin somewhere near the end – partly because I’d read the book and I knew what was coming – but that was a psychological thriller, and with both of those films, I knew they are the product of someone’s imagination. But Django Unchained had a deeper effect due to of my understanding that the film was based on some historical reality, and that those scenes which made my stomach turn were repeated with so many people in history. Psychopaths are individuals, but racism is systematic and slavery is an institution, after all. (This article has redeemed some of my suspension of disbelief, by the way).
Tarantino has put in aspects of homour into the film – there are jokes, there’s irony, sarcasm, some sort of comic relief I think. It does sort of show his self-confidence – he’s addressing a classical topic and he wants to do a smart twist. So there are two tones in the film, one very dark, and one on the light-hearted side: and they clash, of course. Watching the film, you are not supposed to simply pity the enslaved ones: Tarantino does assign agency to the slave characters, and makes a mockery of the character who tries to prove black servitude through science. But even that didn’t help me much, and it probably even added to my discomfort. And he likes to surprise: there are not only those scenes related to the Mandingo fight (where I either closed my eyes or looked around) but also the flashbacks of those scenes that one of the main characters kept having during a peaceful after-dinner drink. Only towards the very end the violence borders on absurdity and you start to think about the fictional nature of the film.
(Here is a nice review of the film by Peter Bradshaw, who argues that it should win the best picture Oscar)
I don’t know what I’ll have to watch or read now to convince myself that the world is not that bad a place after all, but I’m planning to read some Murakami next. I feel that Murakami novels paint an optimistic picture of the mundane details of life. He doesn’t all write about optimistic things of course, but I like how his characters are (mostly) polite people, how they look after themselves by eating wholesome food and exercising regularly; and how his use of music in the plots communicates a sense of rhythm in life. I am thinking of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I have a copy of the fancy limited centenary edition.
That reminds me of Amour, which did contribute towards a positive vision of life. During the interval, the two middle-aged ladies sitting next to us were saying that only people who really love each other can do this, and I agree. The male character there, he was such a respectful and loving person. But the idea, I guess, was to show him not as a saint but as a human being. Still, I wish to see more of such films.
By the way, Emmanuelle Riva just received the Best Actress prize at BAFTA. I was absolutely fascinated by her performance, she deserves it every bit.