'Django Unchained' Movie Review: Tarantino Uses Gruesome Death Scenes to Paint a New Picture of Slavery


Some basic mental health checks come from great movies. If you’re not a psychopath, you cry at the beginning of Up. After this week, when you watch Django, you should at least think about throwing up. If you don’t, it’s time to see a therapist.

No one could really make light of slavery. What Django Unchained says is that there’s no reason it can’t be worse than you imagined … and yet fun at the same time.

While I’d be happy to point out that Director Quentin Tarantino has always done violence to better emotional effect than anyone else (Zed’s dead, baby), Django Unchained has a new way of making you see what slavery might really have been like. So many of us know, through and through, that slavery was terrible, but it takes a truly twisted imagination to do more than just paint by numbers. Tarantino shows us how much worse the reality really was.

You don’t have to come away from the movie feeling bad. Fans will still get the expected vengeance and retribution tale they’ve come to expect (Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds.) But Tarantino’s deliberate heightening of blood and guts forces you to see slavery in the way history books can’t really teach it: a life of violence, fear, and horrific acts of inhumanity.

The best aspect of the movie is that Django still uses Tarantino’s trademark tension and anticipation to its fullest extent. This is the element of his filmmaking that made Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds so unforgettable. It’s not about what happens, it’s about waiting for what’s going to happen. 

Sure, plenty of the violence in Django Unchained gets some laughs. It’s mixed with great dialogue you’ve come to expect. But Django Unchained will win “Dead Quietest Movie Theater After a Disturbing Death Scene” this year without competition.

Scenes really achieve maximum effect by entering on mundane violence – stuff you’ve heard about but truly never quite appreciated – and building to profound violence. This is the way Tarantino tells us: “Here’s what you used to think was disgusting, but here’s a new visual definition for what disturbing really means.”

Another hit for Tarantino. And another fun movie to see this winter. But don’t see it on a full stomach.