May 20th, 2013


“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  –Joseph Campbell

I assume that the morning of May 20th, 2013 for the citizens of Moore, Oklahoma began just as it did for me. For the sake of argument, I’m going to say that it did. Of course it did. Most of us start our mornings similarly. Six hours later, as heaps of semester-concluding work piled on the far corner of my desk, my gaze remained curiously fixed on Facebook. Daredevil storm chaser Reed Timmer was keeping his followers–already exceedingly aloft in anticipation–nervously biting what was left of our fingernails. For spring storm enthusiasts such as myself, his website,, is the hottest ticket in town. It’s a hodgepodge of severe weather chasers intent on live streaming the action they encounter first hand. I found Reed’s stream as quickly as I could, minutes after he’d made a Facebook status update detailing the detection of a giant wedge tornado headed straight for Oklahoma City’s southernmost suburb.

Quickly, almost  urgently, this became less about witnessing the thrills and chills of mother nature’s fury firsthand, and more about something inexplicable and impervious to rationalization. This was different. My stomach turned over. Something felt peculiarly, distressfully amiss. I frantically searched for local coverage in my browser and, once I did, anchored smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City’s’s live stream was the most widely-recognized emblem for nature’s hellacious furor: a pulsating tornado almost as wide as it was tall. It churned like a whirlpool of billowing smoke, sometimes stagnant, always mind-boggling, remorseless in bulldozing everything within its unpredictable path.

Bulldozing. Dismantling. Obliterating. Every action done, all of them irreversible. It could have been you. Or me. Perhaps both of us. People died.

Children died.

Walking my dog past the middle school football game at the stadium a quarter mile from my home yesterday evening, the passing faces of buoyant exuberance left me with the feeling of intoxicating nostalgia. Here are 6th, 7th and 8th graders blind to the abstruseness of an unpredictable and sometimes unforgiving world. I remember being that age. On Saturday mornings, my dad would get me out of bed before the weekly house cleaning. He’d lean four vinyl records against the right floor speaker. Easeful yellow sunbeams slanted through the living room windows, illuminating the dust scattering frantically off of the oak armoire.

Sliding the first record out of the sleeve, he would would toss it onto the player. First, the popping and scratching, then the opening chords of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” It was a problemless paradise safe from the hidden dangers of the world. I was encased in the safety of that Joshua St. house. The lush Saint Augustine grass in the backyard always felt softest in the shade, especially in the summer. I remember eating crisp Granny Smith apples smothered in peanut butter. They were a delicacy to me then, just as they are today. When I think of these moments, it warms me. They were moments–passing in time–as all moments do.

The children that passed away Monday in Moore experienced these moments, too. Maybe their father, too played their favorite classic rock albums for them the last Saturday before they were taken. Maybe their moms, too fed them peanut butter apples. Perhaps it was the last thing they ever tasted. For these children they were moments passing in time, too. Little did they know that they would be their last. It’s a shame that, unlike me, they won’t be able to think back on the moments that made them feel warmest. To call this “tragic” is a vast and unworthy understatement. Any attempts at rationalization are futile. Only one truism remains: it just doesn’t fit sensibly inside our thoughts.
Two days ago, a picture surfaced of a man holding, of all things, a DVD of the movie “Twister” that he’d found buried beneath the rubble of his once standing home. This mustered one of the few smiles I’ve had since Monday afternoon. It’s simultaneously uplifting and telling for two reasons: here is a man–one day removed from the unexpected destruction of his home–able to find humorous irony in his temporary lot. I hope that, when thinking back on what happened in this place ten years from now, this picture will stand as a testament to the human spirit. Unexpected disasters are forces of boundless sorrow. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, not everyone will have their chance to remember peanut butter smothered apples, or the pop and crackle of a vinyl record as the needle moves between songs.

Somehow we, time and time again–after 9/11, Katrina, Boston, May 20th and all other unpredictable tragedies–with our subconscious forklift, have continued to stow away our affecting experiences in places hidden from the most accessible recesses of our memory in an inflexible attempt to move forward. We have to. It is, for better or for worse, the only way. It’s the only way that we, as a collective, coexistent people, know how.

Godspeed, Moore.

Veteran storm chasers Heidi Farrar and Dave Demko documented the unreal:


To The Wonder (2012)



What a peculiar film Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder is. Here is a film–much like its far-reaching predecessor, The Tree of Life–that lies completely, holistically in the spiritual. I don’t mean the kind of “spirituality” we subconsciously attribute to Sunday school or hours spent in stuffy, un-air conditioned churches. What I mean, rather, is the type of spirituality achieved by pondering our place within the mystery–the act of attributing, through rumination, our life to the larger forces that may or may not be at work. I know. I can hear you now. The words “here we go again” have just left your lips, under your breath, followed by the to-be-expected (but understood) follow-up act: an emphatic eye roll of relative disdain. Fine. I don’t blame you. Perhaps you’re not like me, then. You’re probably not adrift with us few–ever-so enthusiastically–on Malick’s rarefied wavelength.

It’s a place in the cinematic space-time continuum chocked full of ever-gliding steadicams, sublime imagery, music sent from the heavens, and an artistic outlook so ambitious and deeply contemplative that, at times, it makes Kubrick’s existential pondering in 2001: A Space Odyssey look relatively pedestrian. With To The Wonder, all of these things are again on parade for the docile poet of the cinema. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Malick: the quiet voice-over narration, contemplative composition, astral visual ramblings. This time, much like in The Tree of Life, he’s catering to no one’s sensibilities but his own, and there’s not a damned thing wrong with it. In fact, I welcomed it–even in all of its glorious imperfection. It’s a proverbial breath of fresh air before the four month stint of things no moviegoer ever saw coming: one tedious, brainless summer action rehash after another (not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that).

In the opening minutes of the film, we see Neil (Ben Affleck), in France, falling deeply in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), and, as they do so, the peculiar mold of the film begins to take shape. As it opens, we see the two of them flirtatiously engaged on a passenger train. Malick sets the stage here by doing what made many sequences in The Tree of Life so impactful and unique: he  films them through the filter of a minds’ eye, creating the look, feel and experience of memories conjured. For the remaining 110 minutes of the film (Malick’s shortest in his four decade long career), we see Neil, Marina, her daughter Tatiana, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) and Jane (Rachel McAdams) as moments in time–their actions dictated by reflection–just as one would see them in the furthest recesses of their memory.

After falling in love in Paris, Marina decides to move to Oklahoma with Neil. As we move from breathtaking shots of Mont St. Michel to the rolling prairies outside of suburban Oklahoma, the two are shown laughing, caressing one another, dancing, arguing, forgetting. Eventually, Marina grows dissatisfied with Niel’s progressing emotional distance. Distraught, she returns to France. Once she’s gone, Neil revisits a former romance between himself and Jane, but the flames are quickly fanned after she learns that his motives are strictly lustful in nature. Marina returns after a severe bout of loneliness, only to find that the late night streets of Paris are just as cold and lifeless as the empty cookie cutter homes of suburban Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Father Quintana is struggling with his vocation. He–like Marina and Niel–is finding that his love for the church is slowly abandoning him. He attempts to remedy this vacancy by tending to others in need, but, unshakeable skepticism seems to override his ventures.
So, why does a film with so little going on have so much hubbub surrounding it? As is normal with Malick, it all means, well, many things. Some of them are easily discernible, but some are not. One thing’s for certain, though: what is meant to be taken from this film is not its specific occurrences, and, if you approach it with the mindset that actors are haphazardly wandering into an inflated nature documentary from time to time, you’ll be maddeningly disappointed (and probably a little bit pissed off). A film becomes what you bring to it, and, as is the understood norm with most of Malick’s work, this time you’ll need to bring more than your fair share.

Love permeates these people’s lives, but indefinable and unexplainable forces seem to control its whys, hows and what fors. Their love is perpetually challenged by actions each of them remain blind to. What these forces/actions are, Malick does not know, and neither do we. Why do Neil’s emotions abandon him during his love affair with Marina? Why does he lust after and use Jane? Why does Father Quintana find his lifelong love for the church being challenged in ways he never thought possible? And what of those Quintana attempts to aid? Has love not nourished the poor, permeated the criminals, and flooded the psychologically unstable? What a mysterious and impartial entity nature is.

The Tree of Life is a film that affected me in ways that I still find difficult to articulate. It’s beautiful, mesmerizing, and transcendent. Since that film, Malick’s work has become increasingly spiritual and introspective. To The Wonder follows in the same vein, but, all of its ambition aside, the outcome feels less substantial and, at times, moderately desultory. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, though, because it certainly is not. However, I suppose that once you make a film as unequivocally aspiring as The Tree of Life, a second, less dense effort will seem automatically “dissatisfying.” The bar, in all its elusive glory, has been set high.

Perhaps the growing rumination in Malick’s work is tangential to his transition to old age. Is it not true that the closer one gets to death, the more one begins to look inward? Malick has been making films since the early 1970’s. The overlying theme tying together every film he has made since his debut feature, Badlands (1973), is how the “insignificance” of man pales in comparison to the unpredictable power of nature. Perhaps, with all of his films (including this one), he’s attempting to make sense of  the mystical, mysterious cathedral of life as he knows it, and, perhaps… no, not perhaps… surely his cinematic ambitions and achievements will be discovered, rediscovered and marveled over for years to come.


Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon: Roger Ebert’s Great Movie Review


by Roger Ebert

September 9, 2009

Stanley Kubrick‘s “Barry Lyndon,” received indifferently in 1975, has grown in stature in the years since and is now widely regarded as one of the master’s best. It is certainly in every frame a Kubrick film: technically awesome, emotionally distant, remorseless in its doubt of human goodness. Based on a novel published in 1844, it takes a form common in the 19th century novel, following the life of the hero from birth to death. The novel by Thackeray, called the first novel without a hero, observes a man without morals, character or judgment, unrepentant, unredeemed. Born in Ireland in modest circumstances, he rises through two armies and the British aristocracy with cold calculation.

“Barry Lyndon” is aggressive in its cool detachment. It defies us to care, it asks us to remain only observers of its stately elegance. Many of its developments take place off-screen, the narrator informing us what’s about to happen, and we learn long before the film ends that its hero is doomed. This news doesn’t much depress us, because Kubrick has directed Ryan O’Neal in the title role as if he were a still life. It’s difficult to imagine such tumultuous events whirling around such a passive character. He loses a fortune, a wife or a leg with as little emotion as he might in losing a dog. Only the death of his son devastates him and that perhaps because he sees himself in the boy.

The casting choice of O’Neal is bold. Not a particularly charismatic actor, he is ideal for the role. Consider Albert Finney in “Tom Jones,” for example, bursting with vitality. Finney could not possibly have played Lyndon. O’Neal easily seems self-pitying, narcissistic, on the verge of tears. As one terrible event after another occurs to him, he projects an eerie calm. Nor do his triumphs — in gambling, con games, a fortunate marriage and even acquiring a title — seem to bring him much joy. He is a man to whom things happen.

The other characters seem cast primarily for their faces and their presence, certainly not for their personalities. Look at the curling sneer of the lips of Leonard Rossiter, as Captain Quin, who ends Barry’s youthful affair with a cousin by an advantageous offer of marriage. Study the face of Marisa Berenson, as Lady Lyndon. Is there any passion in her marriage? She loves their son as Barry does, but that seems to be their only feeling in common. When the time comes for her to sign an annuity check for the man who nearly destroyed her family, her pen pauses momentarily, then smoothly advances.

The film has the arrogance of genius. Never mind its budget or the perfectionism in its 300-day shooting schedule. How many directors would have had Kubrick’s confidence in taking this ultimately inconsequential story of a man’s rise and fall, and realizing it in a style that dictates our attitude toward it? We don’t simply see Kubrick’s movie, we see it in the frame of mind he insists on — unless we’re so closed to the notion of directorial styles that the whole thing just seems like a beautiful extravagance (which it is). There is no other way to see Barry than the way Kubrick sees him.

 Kubrick’s work has a sense of detachment and bloodlessness. The most “human” character in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) is the computer, and “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) is disturbing specifically in its objectivity about violence. The title of “Clockwork,” from Anthony Burgess’ novel, illustrates Kubrick’s attitude to his material. He likes to take organic subjects and disassemble them as if they were mechanical. It’s not just that he wants to know what makes us tick; he wants to demonstrate that we do all tick. After “Spartacus” (1960), he never again created a major character driven by idealism or emotion.

The events in “Barry Lyndon” could furnish a swashbuckling romance. He falls into a foolish adolescent love, has to leave his home suddenly after a duel, enlists almost accidentally in the British army, fights in Europe, deserts from not one but two armies, falls in with unscrupulous companions, marries a woman of wealth and beauty, and then destroys himself because he lacks the character to survive.

But Kubrick examines Barry’s life with microscopic clarity. He has the confidence of the great 19th century novelists, authors who stood above their material and accepted without question their right to manipulate and interpret it with omniscience. Kubrick has appropriated Thackeray’s attitude — or Trollope’s or George Eliot’s. There isn’t Dickens’ humor or relish of human character. Barry Lyndon, falling in and out of love and success, may see no pattern in his own affairs, but the artist sees one for him, one of consistent selfish opportunism.

Perhaps Kubrick’s buried theme in “Barry Lyndon” is even similar to his outlook in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Both films are about organisms striving to endure and prevail — and never mind the reason. The earlier film was about the human race itself; this one is about a depraved minor example of it. Barry journeys without plan, sees what he desires, tries to acquire it and perhaps succeeds because he plays roles so well without being remotely dedicated to them. He looks the part of a lover, a soldier, a husband. But there is no there there.There’s a sense in both this film and “2001” that a superior force hovers above these struggles and controls them. In “2001,” it was a never-clarified form of higher intelligence. In “Barry Lyndon,” it’s Kubrick himself, standing aloof from the action by two distancing devices: the narrator (Michael Hordern), who deliberately destroys suspense and tension by informing us of all key developments in advance, and the photography, which is a succession of meticulously, almost coldly, composed set images. It’s notable that three of the film’s four Oscars were awarded for cinematography (John Alcott), art direction (Ken Adam) and costumes (Ulla-Britt Soderlund and Milena Canonero). The many landscapes are often filmed in long shots; the fields, hills and clouds could be from a landscape by Gainsborough. The interior compositions could be by Joshua Reynolds.

This must be one of the most beautiful films ever made, and yet the beauty isn’t in the service of emotion. Against magnificent settings, the characters play at intrigues and scandals. They cheat at cards and marriage, they fight ridiculous duels. This is a film with a backdrop of the Seven Years’ War that engulfed Europe, and it hardly seems to think the war worth noticing, except as a series of challenges posed for Barry Lyndon. By placing such small characters on such a big stage, by forcing our detachment from them, Kubrick supplies a philosophical position just as clearly as if he’d put speeches in his characters’ mouths.The images proceed in elegant stages through the events, often accompanied by the inexorable funereal progression of Handel’s “Sarabande.” For such an eventful life, there is no attempt to speed the events along. Kubrick told the critic Michel Ciment he used the narrator because the novel had too much incident even for a three-hour film, but there isn’t the slightest sense he’s condensing.Some people find “Barry Lyndon” a fascinating, if cold, exercise in masterful filmmaking; others find it a terrific bore. I have little sympathy for the second opinion; how can anyone be bored by such an audacious film? “Barry Lyndon” isn’t a great entertainment in the usual way, but it’s a great example of directorial vision: Kubrick saying he’s going to make this material function as an illustration of the way he sees the world.

5 Films to Look For This Spring

1) The Place Beyond The Pines, Directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine). Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta.


2) To The Wonder, Directed by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line). Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem.


3) Mud, Directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories). Starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepard.


4) Spring Breakers, Directed by Harmony Korine (Gummo, Trash Humpers) Starring James Franco and Selena Gomez.


5) Upstream Color, Directed by Shane Carruth (Primer). Starring Amy Seimetz and Andrew Sensenig.

85th Academy Awards: My Picks for The 8 “Major” Categories


Best Picture:
“Amour” Michael Haneke
“Argo” Ben Affleck
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” Benh Zeitlin
“Django Unchained” Quentin Tarantino
“Les Misérables” Tom Hooper
“Life of Pi” Ang Lee
“Lincoln” Steven Spielberg
“Silver Linings Playbook” David O. Russell
“Zero Dark Thirty” Kathryn Bigelow

Best Director:
“Amour” Michael Haneke
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” Benh Zeitlin
“Life of Pi” Ang Lee
“Lincoln” Steven Spielberg
“Silver Linings Playbook” David O. Russell

Best Actor:
Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”
Hugh Jackman in “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master”
Denzel Washington in “Flight”

Best Actress:
Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour”
Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts in “The Impossible”

Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin in “Argo”
Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained”

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams in “The Master”
Sally Field in “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway in “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt in “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Original Screenplay:
“Amour” Written by Michael Haneke
“Django Unchained” Written by Quentin Tarantino
“Flight” Written by John Gatins
“Moonrise Kingdom” Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
“Zero Dark Thirty” Written by Mark Boal

Best Adapted Screenplay:
“Argo” Screenplay by Chris Terrio
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” Screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
“Life of Pi” Screenplay by David Magee
“Lincoln” Screenplay by Tony Kushner
“Silver Linings Playbook” Screenplay by David O. Russell

My Picks for the 5 Best Films of 2012

1. Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

A full-throttle piece of Tarantino personified, the most inventive director of the past two decades brings us his latest bit of rich and outlandishly stylish filmmaking that is, in my opinion, his best since Pulp Fiction. Dr. King Schultz (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) unchains Django (Jamie Foxx) and the two set out on a blood-spattered journey of revenge through the savage antebellum South. The true essence of the film lies in its dialogue, though: it’s the stuff of dreams, and it carries this tall tale to its vengeful, quintessentially Tarantino finale. It’s a fun, impressive, violent, funny, bad ass masterpiece. It’s my pick for the best film of the year.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin

Newcomer Benh Zeitlin bursts onto the cinematic landscape with force in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s an impressionistic take on a post-Katrina enclave braced to withstand yet another oncoming storm. At the center is Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) the young and self-determined girl who’s set to tackle it all and embrace the ramifications of her peculiar lot in life. It’s the most emotionally moving film I’ve seen all year.

3. Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

This film marks a turning point in the careers of its two leads: Bradley Cooper (yes, Bradley Cooper) and Jennifer Lawrence. Their exceptionally strong performances carry this whirlwind new film from David O. Russell whose previous effort–The Fighter–underwhelmed me in ways that I still find agitating. This film, however, teeters on the brink of slight greatness. Lawrence and Cooper are two lost souls attempting to find, well, the silver lining in their current state of affairs. It’s strongly written, acted and directed. Robert DeNiro also gives one of his best performances in decades.

4. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow

This action packed, political thriller/drama is the latest from the mastermind behind 2010’s Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker (which, on a mentionable side note, was a great moment in modern American film. The win proved to be yet another welcomed setback for the opponents of the obnoxious 3D craze that was, and to a certain degree, still is gripping the highfalutin factions of the film industry). Though not as solid as its predecessor, Zero Dark Thirty delivers on its premise, air tight direction, and the solidly engrossing performance of its heroine, Jessica Chastain. It’s a good addition to the catalog of Kathryn Bigelow.

5. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson

Opaque and challenging, The Master is the latest installment from one of the most formidable directors in American film, Paul Thomas Anderson. Much like his 2007 feature There Will Be Blood, The Master is a far cry from directors’ earlier films. Abandoning his flashy, visual bravado for more carefully composed frames,  The Master chronicles the peculiar relationship between Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). The two give a masterclass in film acting, but Anderson’s gaze seems to lack the focus that’s prevalent in his previous films. Still, though, the film is beautiful and, above all, daring.

Django Unchained (2012)

Film-Django Unchained


All of the ongoing dialogue concerning the “moral bankruptcy” of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained needs to stop. Fuck that. In the world of Tarantino, plot, dialogue, and story arch are all instruments of outlandish fantasy lying readily at the fingertips of their incendiary movie man. His films are lavish tales–deeply rich in style–that exist outside of time and space, and, Django Unchained is certainly no exception. In them, violence is prevalent, but isn’t glorified. Since Reservoir Dogs, it has existed, and still exists as stylistic decoration but is not–as some have claimed–an endorsement of such things.

While on his press tour for the film, QT has been asked incessantly, without fail, about the correlation between violence in reality and violence in his movies, and he, also without fail, is no longer taking questions. I don’t blame him. If more people viewed and discussed his films in the manner in which they were meant to be viewed and discussed, our dialogue wouldn’t be so prevalent. When it comes to QT, we, collectively, have lost our perspective (not to mention the seedier side of our sense of humor, too).

And what of his “depiction” of slavery? I’ll get to that later.

Much like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is an extension of the aforementioned fantasy world of QT. This time, though, it’s in overdrive, if, in fact, such a thing exists for the man who envisioned the outrageous brilliance of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Basterds. While walking out of the theater, my mind was busy pondering a young Tarantino–the movie store clerk who, allegedly, spent countless hours eagerly consuming every film he could get his hands on: Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns, Exploitation,  Blaxploitation, Kung Fu, Drama. QT: the genre-soaking sponge that, nearly two decades later, has conceptualized a slam-bang genre mash up of the highest and–for lack of a better term–most kick ass order.

In order to sufficiently describe the entirety of Django’s plot, any movie critic/blogger would need more than enough space to bore their reader out of the review (not because the plot is at all boring, rather, it would be consuming and tedious to describe in detail). To do such a thing would be a complete, unnecessary (not to mention shitty) disservice to the reader, anyway. The beauty of a film like Django Unchained is not having its moments of unequivocal inventiveness ruined for you.

It’s the stuff of extravagant lore, and it all begins with Dr. Schultz’s (Christolph Waltz) wagon riding out of the darkest of fairy tale, pre-Civil War forests: “Somewhere in Texas.” Here, he runs across a group of white men escorting a group of shackled slaves. One of them is named Django (Jamie Foxx), and, Dr. Schultz is interested in the man. Django possess knowledge on the whereabouts of the Brittle brothers, a group of men with bounty’s on their head that Schultz–a bounty hunter disguised as a dentist–is eager to find and eliminate. Once Django becomes, well, unchained, Tarantino’s relentless revenge epic kicks into fifth gear.

Connecting the onscreen action from dot to dot is his dialogue–an instrument that permeates every one of Tarantino’s films. As far as movies go, it’s the stuff of unsurpassed prose. Like a modern day Mark Twain, Tarantino’s characters speak their lines as you would hear them in a dream, and, as Schultz and Django begin their search for the Brittle brothers, QT flies rapidly out of the gate, firing straight from the hip. What happens in the first part of the film, without the intentional attention paid to dialogue would, and could be captured in fifteen minutes. This is not, and never has been Tarantino’s intention, though: style, beyond all else, makes this man tick.


As we are carried from one dot to another, stylishly, with intent, Django and Schultz begin making their way through the savage and bigoted Antebellum South, killing wanted men while Django finds satisfactory vengeance of his own: savagely beating white men to a bloody pulp. Before killing the Brittle brothers, the two men come to an agreement: upon successfully locating and eliminating them, Schultz will free Django, and take him on as an associate in his bounty hunting business. After a successful winter, the two set out to find Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington)– the estranged wife of Django–and to free her from the tyrannical inhumanity of Candie Land.

As we’re whisked along to the next dot, we find ourselves in the first of Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation homes. Django and Schultz have decided to pose as men interested in Mandingo fighting: Django is the expert, Schultz is the man with the cash, and, Candie is the man with the Mandigos. It’s with this scene that QT again delves deeply into his grab bag of dialogue tricks, suspending a series of scenes almost completely in the literary. During the Mandingo fighting scene itself–which also happens to be one of the films’ most gratuitously violent–the three men begin to ostentatiously parle in the way that only Tarantino’s characters can. I won’t give away specifics here. Again, to do so would rid one the joy of watching it all unfold.

After Calvin’s interest is peaked in a tempting asking price for one of his fighters, Schultz and Django are invited to Candie Land’s interior, where a majority of the remainder of the film takes place. Again, Tarantino utilizes style over substance as his characters humorously, hastily, tensely interact. The most memorable scene of the film occurs around such interplay, and,if you’ve seen it, you’ll know exactly which scene I’m referring to before reading the next sentence. After Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson)–Candie’s house slave–becomes privy to the fact that Django and Schultz are after Broomhilda instead of Mandingos, Calvin presents one of the most formidable, bone-chilling soliloquies in modern film.

Even though Calvin harbors an anger-laced disgust in the face of being played, he sells Broomhilda, but, of course, none of this will come to pass without a little good ol’ fashioned bloodshed, Tarantino style. Boy, will there be blood. Perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson should have sold the title of his 2008 oil epic to Tarantino. It would have been fitting. In what transpires as one of the most ludicrous (and awesome) shootouts in recent cinema, a lot of people die, and, the walls of Candie Land mansion are, quite literally, painted with blood. Django escapes, but, not without a price. He’s escorted from Candie Land but returns, in all his vengeful might, to wreak havoc on all of the white (and black) men (and women) who have wronged him, then rides Justice Obtained into the darkest of pre-Civil War forests–the same kind of forest that the bringer of good will, Dr. Schultz–emerged from in the films’ opening sequence.

So, what of Tarantino’s “depiction” of slavery and the films’ other hooplas? Django Unchained is no more a “depiction” of slavery than Inglourious Basterds is “about” World War II. Don’t get me wrong, though. Many scenes depict the brutality of the institution, but, Tarantino’s main objective is to use slavery as a device to drive his vengeful tale.

This brings me to the “gratuitous” use of the “n word.” If you think that entitled white men in the Antebellum South, on a constant basis, didn’t refer to slaves and other black people as “n words,” I have some beautiful beachfront property in Maui that I’ll sell you for five cents an acre. And, if you don’t think that word wasn’t uttered less than three times in a sentence when discussing a slave or any other “man of color,” I’ll lower my asking price to a penny. Anything more, which there is, is Tarantino pandering to the exploitation of your sensibilities. What, again, was that genre he began soaking up and became so enamored with as a young movie store clerk?


Perhaps you were offended at the end of it all, but why? Peering through the rich dialogue and exorbitant style is the ever-pervasive dark sense of humor in all of QT’s films. In 1994, during an interview with Roger Ebert at Cannes, Tarantino said:

“When I’m writing a movie, … I hear the laughter. People talk about the violence. What about the comedy? ‘Pulp Fiction’ has such an obviously comic spirit, even with all the weird things that are happening. To me, the most torturous thing in the world, and this counts for ‘Dogs’ just as much as ‘Pulp,’ is to watch it with an audience who doesn’t know they’re supposed to laugh.”

So, to be offended and only offended is to experience Django Unchained myopically. Fuck all of the hoopla. This is storytelling at its finest. If we desired our best stories to be inoffensive, lackluster in conviction and meek in style, they wouldn’t be our best stories. It would be asking Mark Twain to not be Mark Twain. I don’t know about, you, but, asking Tarantino to not be Tarantino would be fatally detrimental to the culture of American cinema.

Let’s not be so sensitive, and, let us, collectively, welcome back the seedier side of our sense of humor, too.