Django Unchained and Uncomfortable

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Why do we need the absurd?

With the Oscars just around the corner, there is a long list of worthy films to experience in theaters. So yes, go see Les Mis, Anne Hathaway is as incredible as people are saying. Life of Pi is a beautifully unexpected look into the power and purpose of story. And Anna Karenina is a creatively surprising film adaptation of the tragic Russian novel.

Yet, when it comes to exploring and experiencing wonder, the film at the top of our “in-theater” list this month is Django Unchained. A Western film starring the unlikely and rugged duo of Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz, Quentin Tarentino re-imagines American slavery as only he could do. Leondardo Decaprio and Samuel L. Jackson also star alongside each other as slave and slave owner in extremely unsettling, complex, yet perfectly executed roles.

It’s a typical Tarantino film: inappropriate humor, offensive language, violence, and fountain-explosions of blood. Unlike many of his parodied-narrative tales, however, Django is a story that hits America perhaps too close to home. [For example, Spike Lee has refused to see it.] Yet, as a master of the absurd, Tarantino takes his audience away from the reality and brutality of slavery far enough, and for long enough, that we buy into the story he’s telling. We are uncomfortable. We laugh at things that are historical tragedies. We root for characters who stand for deplorable ideologies. We find ourselves as actors in the system of slavery and racism. And then, as the end credits roll and we re-emerge into reality, we realize that none of these things are actually that far from the truth.

The absurd is a powerful platform for self-realization, an almost gentle way of condemnation, and a subversive call to transform. When done well, as Tarantino is able to do, you are left staring at your own soul in a mirror, having to confront the hard and ugly truths that sometimes only absurdity can uncover.

Bonus Tip: Pay attention to who is in the theater. This is a film that deserves a public viewing for the sake of what it reveals about our interactions, assumptions, and relationships. Where you see it and who fills the seats next to you could drastically change how you experience it.