Friday, December 21, 2012

Why I walked out of 'Django Unchained'

I have had an up-and-down appreciation for Quentin Tarantino over 20 years, ever since "Reservoir Dogs." It goes up when his movies are driven by characters I want to know more about ("Pulp Fiction," "Jackie Brown") and down when the director mainly wants us to delight in sadistic behavior ("Kill Bill," "Death Proof").


The opening 40 minutes of "Django Unchained" seemed to put it in the first group: The characters were often funny, and stars Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx had charisma. I overlooked the fountains of blood -- which I'm sure Tarantino would describe as "stylized," rather than crude -- to see where his latest revenge fantasy would take us. (Have you noticed? Every one of his movies over the last 15 years has been a bloody revenge fantasy. I'll let his shrink work on that.)

Then came a scene where two black slaves were wrestling to the death for the amusement of their owners. One finally broke the other's arm, then gouged out his eyes, then splintered his skull with a hammer. At that moment, the film became torture porn, a movie whose main function is for us to enjoy the suffering of others. I don't watch torture porn, so I left. We will run a review from a wire service when the film opens, and someone else will choose it.

(A side thought: Tarantino has been rebuked for throwing the word "nigger" around, so he set this film in 1858 -- "two years before the Civil War," as the title card erroneously states -- and shoves the word down our throats dozens of times. But how can we object? It's period realism, right? The naughty little boy has done a clever thing!)

Violence in the hands of a master can be cathartic or give us insight into the human soul. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Haneke all introduce violence into stories to make us better understand the human condition. But torture-porn artists want to titillate, not illuminate. I'd guess Tarantino would claim to be exposing the horrors of slavery, showing how evil it really was, as if that hadn't been done countless times before. But he's not enough of an artist to get us to think, just enough of one to get us to flinch -- or, if we're twisted, to open our eyes wider in glee.

The movie, TV and video game industries have long played down the links between dehumanizing violence onscreen and acts of extreme violence in our societies, although virtually every medical group that's not in their pay contradicts them. But the show business magazine Variety reported yesterday that Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, has finally admitted his industry needs to be part of "the national conversation about violence."

I'd guess he was motivated by the murders of more than two dozen people at an elementary school in Connecticut, the state he represented in Congress for 36 years. But as long as Tarantino's movies top $100 million at the domestic box office, I don't believe Hollywood's contribution to that conversation will be worth a wooden nickel.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for you in leaving a horrible, sadistic movie. As a general rule I avoid R-rated movies myself.

Anonymous said...

I thought your job was to review movies? I suppose the desire for societal commentary was too great. I'm anxious to hear more about these medical groups who've found the link between violent video games and movies and violence in society. I'm sure violent T.V. and movies contributed to the violence during "Django's" time. Afterall, that was a much less violent time in America's history, no?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really give a rat's ass what movie this guy does or does not see?

Anonymous said...

If you hadn't told us you walked out on the movie, we'd never have known. Or cared.

Anonymous said...

THis guy is horrible and his taste in movies is horrendous. Cannot believe the Observer pays him to write. Looking forword to anything Tarintino. He makes great films with great dialougue that escapes the typical Hollywood formula.

Anonymous said...

Boo Whoo......ban guns too!

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous DECEMBER 21, 2012 11:01 AM

Obviously, you cared enough to read the headline on the homepage, read the blurb, click on it, read it, and post a comment.

I love when people exhibit stupidity, arrogance, and ass hat behavior. Brings a lot of entertainment to my life.

Patrick Phillips said...

Lawrence Toppman has written about the arts for 32 years in Charlotte, has sung with Opera Carolina for three decades and can't think of an art form he doesn't embrace.

I can think of one, Tarintino.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of gratuitous violence. Especially in shows/movies I'd otherwise love. Can't they at least just HINT at the act being committed, instead of showing it in all of its gore? I'm having a hard time watching Boardwalk Empire anymore for the same reason.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tired of gratuitous violence. Especially in shows/movies I'd otherwise love. Can't they at least just HINT at the act being committed, instead of showing it in all of its gore? I'm having a hard time watching Boardwalk Empire anymore for the same reason.

Big_D said...

Hmmm. They did the same stuff in Gangs of New York and everybody said it was great.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for expressing your and opinion on this movie. Since I became Catholic, I try not to watch or listen to things that are not uplifting. Edifying to my spirit. I've cut out R rated movies as I have a 5 year old and it's so much better when we can watch TV as a family. Now if I could get my husband to give up his taste for blood, guts, and gore. -_-

Anonymous said...

How come everything on anything to do with an Observer blog/forum ends up being a friggin religious or ethics debate. Its GREAT if you found God/Mr Magoo/Buddah whomever; what I and some others wanna know is why doesn't Toppman just do HIS JOB and REVIEW the movie, liek he's paid to do?..if he wants to slam it/praise it whatever but he bailed on his job, and then is so preening he can't even bring himself to read wire service reviews to pick one to run...c'mon you're not that precious...its not like I'd pay attention to his review anyway as Toppman is to movie reviewing what Justin Bieber is to heavy metal music......maybe the worst movie reviewer I've read on an amazingly consistent basis

Wiley Coyote said...

(A side thought: Tarantino has been rebuked for throwing the word "nigger" around, so he set this film in 1858 -- "two years before the Civil War," as the title card erroneously states -- and shoves the word down our throats dozens of times. But how can we object? It's period realism, right? The naughty little boy has done a clever thing!)

Toppman, you must live in cave.

In the past two months on two seperate occasions, I've had a Black male pull up to the gas pump next to me, sound system blaring, where anyone within 50 feet can hear every word of rap spewing from the windows as he gets gas with the music blaring.

In the time it takes to fill up a car, I heard the "N" word over a dozen times, along with the d, mf, w, c, b, s, h and other words thrown inbetween.

There's a real world out there Toppman...perhaps you should check out the real horror going on in it.

Anonymous said...

The best thing about our good buddy Larry T. here is that he is consistent. I've pretty much discovered that if he hates it, I would love it. Oddly though, I do agree with him about Tarantino films...

ncdave77 said...

You've clicked on his blog - not CO's review of the film. Why can't he share his feelings in a blog post? I've always appreciated Larry and his wide knowledge and appreciation of the arts. He's dead on with Tarantino - he hasn't put together a solid film since Jackie Brown.

Anonymous said...

Whether you agree with Lawrence's post or not, there is no reason to be abusive. And no reason to use foul language.
None of you have seen the movie yourselves anyway!

And Lawrence Topman, please! This is your gig, don't be afraid to remove abusive and profane comments. It's not sensorship.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is a BLOG, people. Get a life with your loser comments. Seriously. Good for Lawrence for walking out on a movie he deemed as a total waste of his time. Now why don't those of you with your abusive comments go try to add something positive to our deteriorating society!

Mindy said...

Thank you for your wonderful review. I, myself, have walked out of Tarantino films as well. I didn't know what it was called but "torture porn" hits it right on the nail.

tarhoosier said...

I saw the previews, which must have been R rated, and squirmed in my seat in the theater. I would never subject myself to that experience. Too coarse, bitter and unredeemed.
I go to the theater for something other than what I may overhear at a convenience store or traffic signal.

Anonymous said...

It is censorship but you wouldnt know that being that you can't spell the word.

Anonymous said...

Being that it is your job to review movies I find it deplorable and lazy that you walked out of a movie which you didn't like. At least watch the whole thing and write a bad review like a professional.

Paul said...

I appreciate your honest and thought-provoking response to this film, Lawrence. Keep up the fine work.

Anonymous said...

I, too, appreciate your forthright opinion. Not all movies (even those made by so called masters) deserve to be seen. And this sounds like a movie I would want to avoid. Thank you. As for you haters. I feel sorry for you. You need a better hobby.

GSO Cats fan said...

This review is far more thoughtful than most Tarantino films. Larry, I appreciate your stand, and I look forward to reading your other reviews on movies that are actually worth watching.

Anonymous said...

Anyone with half a brain would know that scene wasnt about enjoying the suffering of others, it was about cringing at what a bastard Candie is. You didnt do your job. End of story.

Anonymous said...

The scene which caused Lawrence to walk out of the theater was not torture porn. The shots during the scene were focused on Candie's sadistic face, Django's purposeful distance from the situation, and Dr. Shultz's obvious disgust with what he was seeing. At no point during that scene did I think the editing was done in a way to allow anyone enjoyment of what was on screen. It was shot and edited specifically to develop the characters and their motivations. You know, filmmaking 101 or something.

Anonymous said...

I applaud this guy walking out. I stayed for the whole movie (The Hobbit was sold out) and I wish I would have walked out.
On top of that I couldn't believe all the children under 10 years old that were there. What's up with that?

Bubba Boner said...

Looks as if Lawrence has his small cult writing in, so he can save face with the Charlotte readers. Lawrence, your writing fits an artsy-fartsy magazine, not a southern, low-brow newspaper. The residents here want a review for the masses, not an opinion fit for Tea Party 1%'ers. You have to know your audience, Lawrence, as you have never been able to relate or connect with the Queen City crowd. The reason being, as a Wake Forest Grad, you always considered yourself far superior to the "simpletons," and you make sure to let everyone know your movie reviews are of a much higher intellectual level.
Your wantonness for the life of Manhattan, or your desire to run with the beatniks in San Francisco clearly oozes out in every movie review you publish on the CO. I'm sorry you were born a simply Simon from Salisbury, but no one made you stay stationed in the south.
You have much in common with Quentin Tarantino, as both of you are legends in your own mind and look for ways to be one step above the "average Joe." Lawrence, for your sake, I wish you would have left the State, taken a chance, a reached your true calling. You are a brilliant movie review critic...just not for the masses. You must have some pretty incriminating pictures of Ann Caulkins.

Anonymous said...

Bubba: that was surprisingly eloquent considering the word "bonor" is located within your name.

Anonymous said...

Except for ignorance of the meaning of the word "wantonness."

Melinda Wheeler said...

I really respect the fact that you walked out since that is what any sane person should do in the circumstances. It is a sad commentary on our country that someone like Quentin Tarantino will make millions on such trash. I am glad there are film critics with the integrity to object to this sort of thing...

Unknown said...

If you don't like them using the word nigger in a period film, what word should they use when referring to a black person they disdain, who is perhaps not a slave?

"They ought to take that black person and make a slave out of him."?

That hardly works.