Posts Tagged ‘Revenge’

ImageThe summer is filled with buzzing—weed-whackers, motorized toys, motorcycles in the distance…and insects. Most of the insects are nothing more than an annoyance; these are the house flys, the beetles bumping endlessly against the screen, the cicadas in the trees. Then you have the more sinister insects, the ones that bite and sting and burrow in your skin and menace the world. These insects produce a different, more ominous buzz. A low pitched, creeping sort of vibration that drones on like industrial machinery.

 I woke from a power nap one afternoon to such a sound and jumped to attention. Though usually a slow-riser, I was immediately alert. Natural selection kicked in and flight was immediately engaged. I skittered into the next room and peered around the corner. Circling the living room was a massive hornet. His lean, striped abdomen bobbed gently, like a boxer’s power hand cocked, waiting for the moment to land the hay maker. This was the conquistador of hornets. He had ventured into the new world of my living room in search of food and nest building material—hornet gold. He was not to be trusted and I knew right away he was no Quetzalcoatl but a yellow and black demon. After several attempts to kill the fiend, I finally dealt a death blow when he became trapped against a sunny window.

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Hernan Cortez, himself. He won’t be conquering anyone now.

I should have known there were more barbarian predators lurking nearby. When I discovered the nest my reaction was hardly one of shock. It was Saturday, errand day, and I was in the mode of checking things off the list. This would be one more short term goal achieved, I thought, as I shook the can of hornet spray. The unsuspecting hornets were hard at work constructing their fortress where, no doubt, they were raising an army intent on destroying the human race. I said a prayer. I raised my can and pressed the button.

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The horror.

Their skinny bodies dropped from the nest like ash from the sky during a wildfire. Convinced they were helpless, I knocked the nest to ground and watched the last few evil bugs writhe slowly as their dismal lives faded away. The world was once again safe for democracy.

Just as I was about to go inside, a hornet returned; he must have been out getting a pack of smokes or something. He flew around confused, circling the spot where his home used to be. Where was the nest? Where was his family? He looked to the ground, and with horror, spotted them all scattered and stiff on the concrete, drenched in poison.Image He thought of all the mistakes he’d made, the selfishness and sin of his younger years. Why did those innocents have to be the ones to die? Why had he been spared? Why had the God of all Hornets forsaken him?

He looked at me. I looked back at him, imagined the hatred in his eyes. I watched him swear to avenge this senseless genocide. I felt my fingers loosen from the can. I let it drop to the ground and ran inside.

What had I done? I’d made a martyr of the colony. But I had to do it! It was them or me! I had to defend my home; it was survival of the fittest and damn it, I’M the fittest! But still. I’d created a hornet holocaust.

Now every day when I go outside, I have to do it with eyes in the back of my head. I know he’s there, in the shadows of the gutter, or inside some hollow log nearby, just waiting, waiting for the right time to attack. Or maybe he’s after every human he can find. Hundreds of good men, women and children are feeling the wrath of my actions while peacefully sunbathing or mowing the lawn. Like the hornet himself, my suffering is not physical, but psychological—the pain of guilt.

I will live the rest of my summer in a deep paranoia, never more than an arm’s length from my precious hornet spray. He haunts my dreams as if a Mel Gibson character.

There is no hope for me. Save yourselves.

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Blood erupts from bludgeoned bodies like the murky water of a pond disturbed by tossed stones. It coats the virgin white flowers of a spring meadow when a man on horseback is shot. It is smeared, by a sleezy Leonardo DiCaprio across Kerry Washington’s beautiful and terrified face. One loses track of the body count somewhere in the neighborhood of the second act as one by one, slave owners drop in montage and quick cuts just as fast and Jamie Foxx can pull the trigger.

It would be naïve to react with shock at the overwhelming brutality of a Quentin Tarantino picture, after all without the appropriate amount sadism, murder and racism, viewers would feel somewhat betrayed.  Kill Bill: Volume 1 probably had a body count higher than Django, and its most violent scenes took on a (sometimes literally) cartoonish quality. In the same way as Tarantino’s first four films, it existed in a world that was fabricated, representing no particular time-period in a hyper-stylized version of a place (Kurasawa’s Tokyo, Ford’s Texas desert, etc.). With Django and Inglorious Basterds before it, Tarantino has placed the revenge theme in historical context in a way designed to strike a tender chord easily accessible in the American psyche. He has one purpose: to make the viewer feel comfortable with all that blood.

With the exception of a few unfortunate innocents—some “mandingo fighters” and of course, Cristoph Waltz’s smooth talking vigilante—the overwhelming majority of slaughtered souls have one thing in common. They are all ugly, remorseless caricatures who exist in a dimension as emotionally distant as Tarantino’s gorgeous and classic panoramic shots. These guys had it coming, and in this frontier justice, we are meant to delight. But there is tragic miscalculation: The Holocaust and American Slavery remain the two titans of American shame and emotional suffering and continue to affect us all on a personal and visceral level. We don’t want to see these things downgraded to vehicles for style. These topics must be handled with care.

If we are to simply address the ideas of good and evil as stock entities and polarized opposites, it becomes very easy to identify with the dashing, gun-slinger who clearly represents good. Tarantino, the film historian, asks us to consider the Western, the Blaxploitation film and the Revenge Plot as vehicles for this purpose. Of course the characters have limited emotional depth or psychological motivation or fear—they are not meant to represent actual people like you and me, just idealized form. The film explicitly references Seigfried and Broomhilda, but unlike the epic tale, Jamie Foxx’s hero has no tragic flaw. The minute he jumps on a horse, he is unstoppable, unflappable and unrelatable. There is nothing about American slavery as emotionally simple as that.

There is a moment early in the second act where Django is reluctant to kill a target because the man’s son is with him. Convinced by Schultz that this is the job, he finally pulls the trigger, dutiful but reluctant. When later, he poses as a Black slave-trader, he treats the slaves with coldness and brutality. As Schultz questions his behavior, he defiantly references the earlier incident. Is there a moral dilemma here? Maybe Django has actually become the sinister character he is portraying. Maybe there is a deeper, institutionalized self-loathing that is manifest in his treatment of his black brothers who remind him of what he really is. Maybe he is so consumed with personal revenge that it transcends the hatred he feels for the system that brutalized him.

We never find out.

There is no suggestion that any of these potentially meaty themes are resolved or considered as Django systematically liberates Broomhilda and destroys Candieland and virtually everyone in it before riding off to moonlit freedom.

Django is not really engaged with the world that makes up the plot. He is inadequately hurt, enthralled, joyous or reluctant. If you seek to feel some sense of remorse or self-doubt or the sort we all feel every day, than you won’t find it here or in anything this talented auteur has done in fifteen years. Maybe some day.