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'Django' violence shouldn't be celebrated by Oscar
By Bob Fischbach
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER


I'm enjoying the unpredictability of the best-picture Oscar race this year.

Conventional wisdom says if a movie doesn't get a nomination for best director, it has little chance of winning best picture.

Also, the best-picture winner almost always turns out to be an editing nominee.

This year, those two long-established trends would narrow the field of potential best-picture winners to “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Life of Pi.” Of that trio, I'd say “Lincoln” has the winning edge.

But this could be a year for exceptions. Either “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” strong contenders that got editing nominations but not best-director nods, could become the latest rule-breaker.

On the other hand, “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and, to a lesser extent, “Argo” have suffered slings and arrows over issues of historical accuracy that could hurt them with the academy's 5,856 eligible voters.

I could be content with any of those five movies winning best picture.

But there's one best-picture nominee this year that I want to see lose.

I avoided seeing Quentin Tarantino's “Django Unchained” until weeks after the Oscar nominations came out. It was the last best-pic nominee I saw, even though it opened on Christmas Day. It got neither directing nor editing nominations.

Few directors today, particularly in the rarefied field of Oscar contenders, celebrate violence as pure entertainment the way Tarantino does.

“Django Unchained” is the story of a bounty hunter in 1858 who seeks the help of a slave in identifying and killing three brothers with big prices on their heads — brothers the slave knows on sight.

Eventually the two become partners in an attempt to track down and free the slave's wife from a cruel, charismatic plantation owner.

Oscar winners Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) play the bounty hunter and the slave. Leonardo DiCaprio is the plantation owner. They're all excellent in this movie, and Waltz scored a nomination in the supporting actor category.

In its stylings and soundtrack, the movie pays homage to spaghetti westerns of the mid-1960s, especially those directed by Sergio Leone and scored by Ennio Morricone. It's a clever concept, and Tarantino is a skilled moviemaker.

I remember the violence in the spaghetti westerns, which was brutal for that time. But it doesn't hold a candle to what Tarantino subjects us to in “Django Unchained.”

This next paragraph is a spoiler if you haven't seen the movie.

Whether it's the bounty hunter killing the white overseers of a chain gang, or the slave killing the brothers, or slaves in a bone-crunching fight, or dogs tearing apart a slave before our eyes as he screams in agony, Tarantino slathers on the blood and gore.

It's not enough to let us see somebody's killed. Tarantino likes to rub our noses in the full agony of that death.

More than once in this movie, a man wounded by gunfire writhes and screams as he continues to be hit by bullets or shotgun blasts, each of which produces an unrealistic fountain spray of blood and, in some cases, even the splattering of flesh.

“Django” wasn't the first time the Tarantino penchant for egregious in-your-face gore has repulsed me.

You won't be surprised either if you've seen Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds” and “Pulp Fiction.” Both of those movies also snagged best-picture nominations.

Other Tarantino films drenched in violence include “Reservoir Dogs,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and “Grindhouse.”

I accept graphic violence and a certain amount of gore in some movies. They add impact to a story like “Schindler's List” or “The Killing Fields,” both of which seek to repulse the audience toward the horrors of war and genocide.

Some fans of Tarantino and “Django” might defend the violence here as a realistic depiction of the violent slave era. Except nearly all the victims in this movie are not slaves.

No, they are the “bad guys,” and Tarantino practically begs his audience to cheer their horrific, painful deaths. He is justifying the violence. Celebrating it, even.

Circulated around the world, movies like “Django” prompt people in other countries to see Americans as a more violent people than I think most of us are.

Little wonder Tarantino refused recently to answer questions about whether film violence can lead to real-world violence, such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Or, at the least, desensitize people toward violence.

I accept that violence is a part of the world we live in, and movies are a reflection of that world.

But I don't want to pay for the “fun” of celebrating it as entertainment. And I hope it's not honored on Oscar night.

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

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