Nathan Crabbe: Uneasy about ‘Django'

Published: Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.

Thanks to my dad, I've long been a big movie buff.

We used to drive about 45 minutes to the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland if the independent movies playing there looked promising enough. I remember the tiny screen where we saw "Reservoir Dogs," by some former video store clerk named Quentin Tarantino.

I tell this story to illustrate that I arrived early on the Tarantino bandwagon. But after his latest movie, "Django Unchained," it's about time to depart.

I wouldn't say I hated "Django," because it was thought-provoking. Unfortunately, many of my thoughts involved wondering why the American public is so entertained by violence. I include myself in that group, but am starting to feel uneasy about it.

I'm not panning all violent movies. As sick as it may sound, there is an art to portraying violence. Tarantino did it pretty well in the "Kill Bill" movies, which featured cartoonish violence and even a violent cartoon.

"Django" has its share of cartoonish violence, including bullets blowing a woman across a room. That one had the audience roaring. I laughed myself, then asked myself why.

It followed dozens of other killings and by that point, I'd also been soured by the movie's rapid-fire use of a racial slur. Sure, Tarantino has done that before in his movies, and this one actually had a historical setting that made it more appropriate. But it felt excessive.

A scene in which a slave was killed by dogs was downright disturbing. A black couple in front of me walked out at that point.

Columnist Bill Maxwell wrote that the movie's subtext was putting a magnifying glass to contemporary black culture. I think it simply served to magnify the violence that has long permeated all American culture.

Tarantino shouted down a British television anchor who asked about the link between violent art and violent acts. He said he already made clear that he thought there was no link.

But in the wake of the horrific shootings of the last year, it's a question worth asking again. Obviously, our first priorities should be examining our mental-health system and the easy access to assault weapons.

But we also have to come to grips with the idea that violent movies and video games may not cause violence, but they aren't helping either. Maybe it's because I now have a young kid, but I can't see the benefit of first-person shooter games other than developing the skills needed to kill quickly.

Movies are different, and the fact that people are talking and writing about "Django" means that Tarantino did something right. Maybe his point was making people feel uncomfortable with the brutal history of slavery.

But the people laughing in the theater with me weren't thinking that deeply at the time. It's a revenge fantasy, sure, but we weren't just enjoying the killing of slave owners. We were simply enjoying the killing.

If we're ever going to come to grips with why we're the most trigger-happy country, it's not just about guns. It's also about why we've decided that watching people use them is our favorite form of entertainment.

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