Monday, December 31, 2012

Flesh For Cash: Django Unchained & 'Awakening'

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Vengeance." We cannot underestimate this violent change of familiar wording to the US Declaration of Independence, intended to make a declaration of a new independence, a socialist revolution. This is graphically illustrated when Django guns down the Brittle Brothers (discussed in detail below). While Tarantino is a bit of a shock artist, we also should not underestimate his genuine beliefs with which he invests his films, giving them his unique signature style but also packed with his own liberal manifesto. For examples, some of the criminals the two bounty hunters take down, have changed their names and pose as regular citizens, such as the sheriff Schultz kills and the Brittle brothers; why? It's Tarantino's way of telling us that just because someone like (let's say) Bill Gates has done a great deal to aid children in third world countries with immunizations, he's a member of the 1% and should be shot down like a dog in the street because he is a dog in the street because he is an employer of people and that's evil because it makes people slaves, his personal property. The problem with this is (besides some other obvious issues) would this also apply to Oprah Winfrey? How much money does she have, and how many people does she employ? We know the same French Revolution memo doesn't apply to someone like her--not because of the answers to those questions--but because Tarantino is motivated essentially by party politics and sees a "slave uprising" (the rebellion of the poor) as an efficient means to mass murder Republicans and conservatives. I am NOT joking about this.
Quentin Tarantino is an excellent director, innovative writer and visionary for the potential of an actor to break their type-cast and explore their most distant horizon of talent; it takes talent to get those rare performances from an actor, but Tarantino does it with easy perfection. I have nothing but respect for the artistry Tarantino has achieved and, just as importantly, continues to achieve and stimulates all other film makers in their creative endeavors (please see my analysis of Pulp Fiction at Pulp Fiction: A Study In Plato and Aristotle for more). While our politics and tastes in subject matter differ radically, Tarantino says what he means and in a way no one can imitate, only invoke, having achieved a level of singular style of film making rivaled only by such as Charlie Chaplain, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Robert Bresson, among many other greats; I consider this film a great achievement for him, but also wildly dangerous.
What's the point of making a pro-socialist/anti-capitalist film?
Why bother? What does it accomplish?
Why should we be concerned?
Perhaps the greatest benefit is that of acclimating people to images and concepts they are not familiar with, or even better, that they are inherently against, so when they continuously re-appear in political discourse, our resistance wears down and we begin to question exactly why we are against something like socialism; when the government is ready to act upon it, a platform has all ready been created. There are plenty of ways to arrive at the same conclusion regarding Quentin Tarantino's latest film Django Unchained: it's violently socialist. It's not just socialist, it's calling for violent revolutions. The racial violence isn't what Tarantino wants (blacks killing whites, but trust me, there is plenty of that), rather, he wants class warfare, and just like The Help, Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln Vampire HunterDjango Unchained wants the audience to identify with characters who are slaves so we stir up our own bitter experiences with employers, dead-end jobs, and resentment against the upper-class.
What does the name 'Django' mean? "I awake."
Trust me, it's a political awakening, of those who are in chains, and that would be anyone "chained" by a employer.
Why is "the D silent" in the lead character's name? It's deliberately spelled for the audience in the film (included in the trailer above) and time in the narrative given to point out that the "D is silent," why? Because there is something "silent" about Django. When Dr. Schultz (Waltz) and Django agree to work together, they are in a clothing store and Schultz tells Django, "We will be putting on an act, you will be playing a character and you can't break character," and that reflects the entire film, it's not just the actors playing characters, rather, the film is putting on an act of what it's meant to say, realizing it can't break character either. Why is this important? It's the film telling the audience it's encoding itself and inviting us to be watching the "performance within a performance."
To me, the most striking--and risky--endeavor Tarantino ventures on this film is supporting the radical branches of socialism in both the French Revolution and, even, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, better known as the Nazis. I don't want to be extreme about this, and I don't want to discredit your trust in what I write, and I don't want to make outlandish claims because these are serious issues which is why I couldn't believe Tarantino did it. First, let us consider how the character of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is constructed in the film and the reasons why.
We know that a character never dies unless there is something "wrong" with them, there is something all ready "dead" within that character or something morally objectionable. In spite of Schultz seeming to uphold justice, follow the law, aid Django and try to do "the right thing" in helping Django find his wife, why does Tarantino let Schultz be shot by a minor character in the film over a petty dispute about shaking hands? Because of how Schultz got Django to shake hands with him on their arrangement. Schultz tells Django that even though he has moral conflicts about slavery, he is willing to make Django's status as his own purchased slave work to his advantage to compel Django to help him find the Brittle brothers. In other words, Schultz treats Django like a slave--regardless of the apparent equality, partnership and even friendship between them--because he denies Django his own free will in making the decision himself; although we really don't notice this at the time, the absurdity of Calvin Candie's insistence that he and Schultz shake hands after the sale of Broomhilde, leading to the demise of them both, is the same dimension of denying free will (as between Schultz and Django): just as Candie denies Schultz's free will to not shake his hand, and takes advantage of the county law saying they must, so Schultz took advantage of the American laws enslaving Django to Schultz when he paid $125 for Django (it's perhaps in this light that Tarantino uses Schultz's horse Fritz as a bit of extra-topical commentary: when Schultz introduces himself, he also introduces his horse Fritz who bows his head in response; it could be said that this minor detail reveals how .  In other words, Tarantino has mirrored the two situations to demonstrate to the audience that there are all kinds of slave holders in America and once you have denied one person their freedom, your freedom is denied as well.
Most of us recognize Christoph Waltz from previous, Oscar-winning work with Tarantino in the 2009 hit Inglorious Bastards as the Nazi Col. Hans Landa, a genuinely terrible character. As an accomplished actor, Waltz is in control of his accent (he doesn't have one in Carnage, for example), but the German accent is retained in Django Unchained, and Schultz's German ancestry is constantly referred to, even in the name of Django's wife, Broomhilde, from the German legends of Brunhilde (the Germanic legends were supported by the Nazis to propagate the superiority of the Aryan race, specifically the Germanic peoples).
The first thing we really notice about Dr. King is that he drives a wagon with a great big tooth on it. He later mentions to Django that he hasn't practiced dentistry in five years, so why does he continue to drive the tooth wagon? What does the teeth symbolize? As a part of the mouth, they refer to the appetites, and Schultz is the man who knows the most about controlling people's appetites, which is in line with how he approaches others when going after what his own appetites want, like the Brittle brothers, or the elaborate scheme concocted to get with Calvin Candie (read: "candy"). One critic has gone after Tarantino for the way Schultz constructs the plan to get Broomhilde but--given how Schultz's character is set up--it makes perfect sense for Tarantino to do that because when we want something, our appetite for that makes us vulnerable and we can be controlled by anyone who has that knowledge (like after Candie discovers Schultz wants Broomhilde and he uses her to get what he wants; Schultz uses Django's desire to be re-united with Broomhilde to get Django to help him ).
When Schultz meets Broomhilde, he speaks with her in German so in case their enemies are listening, they can't understand what they are plotting just as in Inglorious Bastards Landa speaks English so the Jews hiding under the floorboards can't understand they are about to be blown apart. Taking such care to remind audiences of Landa's character, and the "adjustments" made by Schultz's character, it seems Tarantino wants Americans to espouse the Nazi cause and, again, replace the mass-murdering of Jews with the mass-murdering of Republicans and conservatives.
Be not of small mind, dear viewer, the horrible violence of this scene is meant to show  (according to Tarantino) employers treating their employees (symbolized by the Brittle brothers) and how slaves (employees) should treat employers: with the gun. Whereas a pro-socialist film such as Dark Shadows argues in favor of the more"enlightened" side of the French Revolution, Tarantino is saying violence is the revolution.
Now, let us turn to the French Revolution.
In the image just above, Django wears a blue suit in the French style; just to make sure we know Django is in the French style at this point in the film (like Calvin Candie will be later in the film, wanting to be called "monsieur"), Schultz calls Django his valet to Big Daddy, the French word for personal attendant (servant). One of Big Daddy's female slaves ask Django about being a slave and Django tells her he is a free man, to which she replies about the blue outfit, "You mean you want to dress like that?" because it's so ridiculous and out of place. Two things: Django picked this outfit for himself and it was just before he picked it that Schultz gave the little talk on "putting on an act" and "being in character and not breaking character." So, we know characters by their costumes and, just as Django wearing the cowboy outfit is meant to characterize him as "all-American" (and thereby, Tarantino's concept of what "all-American" activities are) so Django wearing the blue, French outfit is meant to characterize him as the French Avenger, the Decapitator, the Horror of Bosses.
But there's another outfit Django wears,...
Django twice wears the clothes of "dead men," the first being the coat of the brother Schultz kills to free Django so Django can join him; the second time is after Calvin Candi is dead and Django puts on his burgundy outfit shown above. It's doubtful that Tarantino intends this, however, it can' be helped to consider George Orwell's Animal Farm in this context. When Django puts on Candi's clothes, it's like when the pigs in Animal Farm start taking on human characteristics, in other words, you start to take on the traits of the enemy you took down. Capitalists are good at seeing this in socialism, but socialists always deny it (even though Orwell was a democratic socialist, he saw it in the Soviet Union's Communist Party).
Towards the end, Django comes out wearing Candie's burgundy suit and says that the color burgundy suits him; why? In the legend of the Nibelungenlied which Schultz tells Django, he compares Django to Siegfreid who is descended from the Burgundians; Django wearing a "burgundy" outfit is Tarantino reminding us of the legend and how Django achieved his end he sought; at least, this is one way to understand it.
A superb performance by Don Johnson as Spencer Bennet, aka, "Big Daddy." Who is "Big Daddy?" He might just be a reference to the Burl Ives' character of Big Daddy Pollitt from the 1958 adaptation Cat On a Hot Tin Roof  (Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor) among the many possible film references Tarantino makes. Symbolically, Big Daddy is, literally, the father of all on his plantation and through the production on his plantation he gives them life and sustains their life. This corresponds to an image socialists have of how capitalists view business owners and corporate managers, that they give us life through their companies and factories. To drive home this point, it may not have been too much of an accident that Big Daddy looks like of the mega-franchise Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. On the other hand, capitalists see socialists as wanting the government to be a "Big Sugar Daddy" and making us slaves to the feds (this is a great exercise in how the same symbol can be used two different ways by opposing philosophies).   
What about the ridiculous scene of Big Daddy leading a KKK-styled charge?
After Django and Schultz have taken out the Brittle brothers, Big Daddy and a KKK style posse decide to kill them that night. Again, Schultz and Django plant dynamite inside the tooth on top of the wagon because the appetite for persecuting blacks is going to "be the death of" the men coming after them. What about the "eye holes" in the masks? The masks--as we have discussed in Savages--actually reveal who someone is in their essence rather than hiding their identity (in this case, they are not Southern gentlemen, rather, murderous racists). Ultimately, what Tarantino wants to do (and we saw this in Anonymous with Ben Jonson's play making fun of the upper-class) is make fun of how stupid the upper-class/whites are and thus, how deserving of retribution so as to spark a revolution.
The eyes, of course, symbolize the window of the soul, that the masks' eyes are too small aptly reveals that the actions the men are going to take wearing these masks covers their inner-sight, their wisdom, and the capitalist jab is twofold: first, that this terrorist meeting is held like a board meeting in deciding to wear the mask or not; secondly, as with Christoph Waltz and most people recognizing him from Inglorious Bastards, most people recognize Jonah Hill from his Oscar nominated performance in Moneyball, a film that was a wonderful take on reminding Americans about what capitalism is and how it works (please see my post Moneyball & the Great American Economy for more). It's like Moneyball was such a great film detailing how capitalism has a place for everyone, and works so well, that Tarantino takes particular aim at the film's premise (Jonah Hill is an accomplished actor, but let's admit it, anyone could have played that little part, so there is a reason why Tarantino wanted him in that scene) and Peter Brand, the whiz kid who not only created a great job for himself by his creative approach to baseball, but helped to change the game and get jobs for athletes who otherwise would have gotten squeezed out, Peter Brand suddenly looks ridiculous and horrible for siding with the KKK (which didn't start until the late 1860s, after the Civil War and Django Unchained takes place before the Civil War).
Which brings us to Broomhilde.
First, please note the way in which Tarantino changes her name from Brunhilde to Broomhilda, emphasizing the tool of an indoor servant, the broom. Traditional symbols are all we need: she is a woman of child-bearing age who has been taken away from her husband; he is a strong male, symbolizing the active principle of the economy: their interrupted state of marriage is a commentary on how blacks in America have not had access to the "motherland" and blacks have not been allowed to contribute to or run the economic decisions of the country, but they will if they "rise up" and "awaken" and kill all the whites. Except Tarantino, of course. Again, it's not even really about the blacks, it's about anyone who is not in the 1% or a business owner.
Why does Django call her his "little trouble-maker?" Because she is the reason Django does everything he does. As symbolic of a motherland devoid of slavery, to get her, there is going to be a lot of trouble, namely, revolution.
Two last notes.
In the start of the film, when Django and other male slaves are walking across the bare landscape, music plays, then stops suddenly and Schultz turns up; it's probable that this is a reference to Margin Call, and the metaphor that film used to illustrate the economic collapse of 2008 which was also employed by The Iron Lady (please see Deconstructing Volatile Risk: Margin Call and The Iron Lady & Iron Economics for more). In other words, the "music stopping" (the economic collapse) made possible all the events about to be narrated. Second note: Calvin Candie's property is called "Candie Land," obviously a reference to the childrens' game, and--even though, as a slave holder, Candi would have been a Democrat, like the rest of the slave-holding South at this time--Tarantino uses Candi Land to show the appetites of the capitalists. In The Campaign, reference is made to a communist manifesto involving (in joking terms) a land of unicorns made of fudge and cotton candy and everything is free, which could be the same thing, and in the upcoming Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, the candy cottage the witch lives in might also be a possible link to the same concept.
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