Claire Nelson explores how violence is used in Django Unchained.
This article is filled with spoilers.
I saw Django for the second time about a week ago with a bunch of friends. The first time I saw it was with my older brother at a big movie theater in Philadelphia. I loved it both times, but my friends had mixed opinions. The biggest complaint was that there was too much gore. A couple of them argued that it got in the way of their appreciation of the film, because at the end of the day they don’t want to be watching something so violent. American cinema in particular fetishizes blood and gore – which has entered the dialogue on gun control in America, with the NRA arguing that such flippant depictions of violence cause viewers to imitate what they see.
Quentin Tarantino loves to use violence – Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs were all bloody. He tempers the violence with comedy, though, like the colour names scene in Reservoir Dogs or the scene in Django about problems with badly cut eyeholes in the pre-KKK group’s masks. And the violence in Django feels justified – there is a strong moral tone that runs throughout the movie. Somewhat like how I can justify rooting for a serial killer who targets “bad guys” in Dexter, I can justify the over-the-top level gore in Django because at least the people who die seem to deserve it. They explode and fly into the air and gush blood because it’s vengeance. And because it’s so cartoonish, it doesn’t seem to affect me in the visceral way that more realistic gore does.
But not everybody who dies in a bloody mess deserves to be killed. One of Monsieur Candie’s slaves is shown being ripped apart by dogs, which makes even the hardened bounty hunter Dr. Schultz wince. The slave’s death confirms Dr. Schultz’s decision to shoot Mr. Candie, but it’s still a horrible scene.
When I saw the movie in America, the theater was large and filled and a good amount of people were laughing at all of the exploding bodies, myself included. It’s unsettling, really, to laugh at something like that. I don’t believe that violence in movies or violence in video games turns people violent, but I still wouldn’t say that I enjoy watching gore. Tarantino lightened the mood by comically exaggerating the blood, but I’m not sure that I want to find mass amounts of blood to be comical.
The violence isn’t enough to override how I otherwise feel about the movie – I liked it enough to see it twice. While I don’t want to find the excessive level of blood to be funny, it does work to pull the viewer out of the darker parts of the movie. And, I admit, I like the idea that Django gets some revenge on the slavers who tortured and separated him and Broomhilda. It also feels a little satisfying to see Mr. Candie’s sister fly across the room when Django shoots her.
When the violence is exaggerated, as Tarantino did in Django, I’m reminded that I’m watching a movie and it doesn’t feel as difficult to watch. Which is funny, because it would seem that the bloodier it is the harder the scene is to see. Or, I just don’t mind gratuitous gore as long as it’s in a Tarantino film.
Image from Wikipedia