A bloody Christmas with Tarantino

For the second Christmas in a row, I spent the day working and my evening pinned to a theater seat wallowing in suffering and misery.

I have to consider breaking my Christmas routine or else each year the holiday will become like a countdown to a dentist appointment.

Last Christmas it was David Fincher's bleak, brutal "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." This year, it was Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."

I assume some of you saw it prior to this week's issue of Tempo, but others will likely see it this weekend, so I'll try to keep this thing relatively spoiler free.

Not that it would matter. I could tell you exactly what happens in "Django Unchained" and you would still be shocked at some of the unbridled insanity that goes on in this flick.

Don't expect deep insights or telling details gleaned from Tarantino's latest. I don't have them. Honestly, I'm not sure what to think of the movie. I'm not even sure it's a movie, in the strictest sense of the word.

I am of the Tarantino Era, for better or worse. I saw "Pulp Fiction" for the first time during my freshman year of high school. I'll never forget scoring the last VHS copy of it at That's Rentertainment in Champaign, Ill., and watching it at my buddy Mike's house.

We sat there mind-blown as Tarantino guided us through a Los Angeles that was both hell on Earth and the coolest place we'd ever seen.

I was — and still am in many ways — a cultural Luddite when I saw "Pulp Fiction." I grew up idolizing The Governator in "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Terminator." I dug tough dudes with guns who spoke little and blew up much.

The way the gun-toting hitmen in "Pulp Fiction" spoke to each other was like nothing I'd ever seen. Their cadences were intricately formal and stoned.

Mike and I quickly tracked down the Tarantino oeuvre at that time, and we were duly impressed with each outing. Hell, we even started talking to each other like Tarantino characters.

Flash forward to 2012. I'm old and broken, and the thought of ritualizing my communication in hip slang makes me tired. There was probably a time a few years back when I was an interesting person, but those days are over. I mostly watch a lot of television shows on Netflix and monitor fantasy football teams these days. I'm the opposite of a Tarantino character in about every way.

But Tarantino has apparently kept on keeping on. "Django" is his attempt to tell a Western through the eyes of a freed slave turned bounty hunter.

You've no doubt heard the controversy. Racial epithets are sprayed around like bullets in this flick, which has caused some of the more sensitive among us to cry foul.

This controversy is lost on me, as I dove headlong into the issue in a Mark Twain class in college. Those who say Tarantino is exploiting the word (and you know what word I mean), and that it wasn't widely used in the mid-19th century as shown in "Django" have never read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." I mean, Twain didn't pull Huck's dialogue out of his arse. Someone back then was saying it. Would Mark Twain lie to you? I think not.

Tarantino channels Twain and doesn't shy away from the awful racism and the slave economy that bankrolled this country.

For all of "Django's" bravura action sequences and images of pure beauty, the ugliness of the antebellum South serves as the movie's rotting core.

I spoke of beauty, and it's true. "Django" is one of the most magnificently shot films I've seen this year. There's a dialogue-free sequence near the beginning that tracks along with Django, played by an intense Jamie Foxx, and his partner, Dr. King Shultz, the amazing Christoph Waltz, as they ride horseback along snow-capped mountains in Wyoming near sundown. All the while, Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" plays as we follow our heroes on their path. It's a stretch of film that should be put in a frame and hung in the Museum of Modern Art. It's a life-affirming shot of our country's majesty and the men who weathered danger to cut a life out of its nature.

And then we get to the parts where these same men gun down wanted fugitives for money and head to a slave plantation to rescue a kidnapped girl, Django's wife.

I'm not going to give a lot away, but Tarantino shows the viewer no remorse as we are given front-row seats to the world of slavery.

"Django" is hilarious in several places, and much of that hilarity stems from white bigots dying in all manner of gruesome and creative ways. However, it's tough to get caught mid-guffaw when the scene suddenly changes to an image of people being shackled in chains and beaten, tortured and fed to slave-tracking dogs.

By the time "Django's" 246-minute running time drained, I was more than a little exhausted. I was entertained, but I'm not sure what Tarantino was making a movie about.

If the message was "Slavery is bad," then I'm OK with that, I guess. But there has to be something deeper to justify the cruelty laid bare on a 40-foot screen.

As I left the theater, I heard this kid next to me talking to his buddy. They looked to be high-schoolers, much like my friend Mike and I were when we saw "Pulp Fiction."

One of them remarked, "What does it say about me that I laughed at that crazy (expletive)?"

If any of you guys have any thoughts on "Django," please send them to me. I'd love to have a debate about this one.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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