Friday, May 10, 2013
Django, Anti-Christ Retribution for Slavery
My daughter admired this film so much, I decided to watch it if only to keep some contact with her tastes. Perhaps it was an unwise decision, since it had a rather sickening and depressing effect. Most upsetting of all was realizing that my precious girl finds this movie “hilarious” and “enjoyable.”
Clearly, this beyond hyper-violent revenge fantasy is so over-the-top that it is not intended to be taken “seriously,” but my daughter’s insistence that you are supposed to just “set all that aside” and “enjoy” it leaves me more concerned about the film’s ultimate effects on the viewer, not less—because of what one must “set aside” in order to “enjoy” it.
At the very least, it seems, there are three things you must be able to set aside, and it seems to me that, when these things are successfully set aside by more and more of a civilization, that civilization is increasingly on its way to anti-civilization.
First is the appalling tidal wave of intense and gory violence itself. Clearly, the frequency and intensity of the violence, and the over-the-top nature of the gore-spouting effects, are intended to make the viewer say, as my daughter does, “well, that’s just not realistic. . . blood doesn’t do that. . . isn’t that color. . . etc., etc.” But in the meantime, you are taking in example after example of human beings dying horrifically, and “setting that aside” as inconsequential. There is no question anymore that repeated viewings of violence, no matter how “unrealistic” (and these depictions are less “unrealistic” than “surrealistic,” which is qualitatively different), do contribute to desensitization in the viewer. This makes us less likely to feel anything appropriate in future situations of actual violence (for example, when confronted with reports of violence in the news, or even outside our very windows), and thus less likely to react in any constructive way (we may be “outraged,” for a moment, but take no actual constructive action to change the situation or ameliorate the factors resulting in the violence in question in order to potentially prevent future similar occurrences).
Second is the pervasive and apparently irremediable racism that perfuses the world of the film, on both sides of the “black vs. white” divide. All white characters are portrayed as wholly and egregiously racist, with the single bizarre exception of the enigmatic (and weirdly German) bounty hunter, who seems inclined to treat the black slaves he encounters as fellow human beings, but on the other hand is perfectly content to make his living “selling the dead flesh” of (apparently always white) wanted criminals, with not one thought for their humanity, up to and including having Django murder one wanted man now attempting to live a peaceful life as a farmer, as he plows a field assisted by his young son, who—as we must also “set aside”—must now live with having seen his father shot down like a dog in the dirt, and how he will be able to live without his father, what sort of life he will have to pursue, we are given no clue whatsoever. Thus all white folks in this world are demonic sociopaths, one way or another.
Those on the other side of the racial divide in this film’s world seem equally racist: Django is happy to “kill white folks and get paid for it;” and we see no other black face show an ounce of compassion for the devastation Django wreaks on the white folks later, other than Samuel L. Jackson’s character, who is portrayed as such a race-betraying “Uncle Tom” that we are apparently meant to cheer as he “gets what he deserves” in the end, an old and frail man tortured and then killed by a deeply self-satisfied Django.
Which brings us to the last, and arguably most insidious, thing we must “set aside” to “enjoy” this film. As with so many other Hollywood “action” films, the “action” is driven entirely by a raging sense of vengeance. Django, of course, has every excellent reason to hate, despise, and wish dead those who have injured himself and his wife; and all human beings can relate to this raging hatred and wish to inflict injury for injury. And this film is designed to glorify that very wish, as we are meant to cheer Django’s heroic ride, on his bareback (“unchained,” just as he is) golden horse, shooting and blasting his way through every white habitation (whether they had anything to do with his situation or not, apparently), the blazing hero of every former slave’s retribution fantasies.
But to cheer this on, to “enjoy” this, to even find it “funny,” as appallingly we are seemingly meant to do, means “setting aside” every inkling of human compassion and joining wholeheartedly in with the enemy’s mission to “steal, kill, and destroy.” Django’s final retributive ride, like a roaring lion through the countryside, killing and destroying every vestige of white civilization he meets along the way, is the enemy’s work, plain and simple. While we can absolutely understand his motivation to do just that, as Christians (of whatever color) we must reject it. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19), and whatever the horrors the slave-owners’ behavior may merit, it is not for us to inflict them (or join in approving the actions of one who does). Sadly, it is all too frequent a message of Hollywood that violent retribution is right and just and should be applauded.
In the end, such a depiction as this, even if you’re “not supposed to take it seriously,” simply adds to both the growing anti-Christ sentiment that “vengeance is mine, says whoever feels wronged,” and to the sense that racial hatred is endemic and irremediable; that it never goes away, it just gets more insidious. In a worldview without Christ as the rally point, that may well be true, even inevitable. This is just one more reason we must defend the Christian worldview, with our very lives, if necessary: in Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).