Two hours into Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” I walked out of the theater, not so much in protest but in horror.
I couldn’t take the blood anymore.
All the way home, I kept saying to my husband: It was awful. It was carnage. It was a terrible thing for people to see. Why would anyone make a movie like this? It’s poison. It gets into people’s heads. The gore was not necessary.
But then, later, I thought, if seeing is believing, maybe a movie like this is necessary.
Django is the story of a Scottish-born white bounty hunter who teams up with a black slave in the South in the 1850s, first for his own financial gain, then to find the slave’s young wife. The film is fast-paced, funny, more real than ridiculous, sly and intriguing. But it is also relentlessly brutal.
All the blood and guts and screams eventually took me out of the 1850s and into the recent now, to Newtown and Aurora and Littleton and Tucson and Fort Hood. To the streets of Baltimore and Brockton and Boston. And to the conclusion that movies like this bear a big part of the blame for the violence that is part of our modern world.
This is what I ranted about all the way home.
But then I thought about how slaves were hunted and beaten and raped and eviscerated and hanged long before the advent of moving film. They were sold like horses. They were separated from their families. They were set upon and torn apart by dogs. All of this happened.
But when you see it on a big screen in a movie that’s a little too flip and not at all apologetic. Isn’t “contrite” what we want, a reckoning of right over wrong? But there’s no apology, there’s just people killing and people being killed, and it feels obscene.
But our collective history is obscene. Whipping and chaining and hanging were forms of torture long before the 1850s and all over the world. Crucifixions. Quartering. Burnings at the stake. The rack. The Crusades. And then: concentration camps. The Gulags.
Hollywood did not invent these things.
Our salvation — the wonder and proof that we are more good than we are bad — is that all these years later, despite our blood-soaked ancestry, most of us are still horrified by violence, each time a first time, no matter how frequently we hear about someone being shot or stabbed or cruelly harmed.
A 23-year-old woman we don’t know dies half a world away after being gang-raped on a bus in India, and we care. A homeless woman in Los Angeles is deliberately set on fire, and we care. Day after day, the news assaults us with sorrows that should crush us but haven’t yet because they remain the aberration.
If we were more bad than good, we would shrug away these stories. We wouldn’t react to violence at all. But we do.
A young man born and raised in a North Korean prison camp tells a story of starvation and beatings and mutilation and execution, and the world doesn’t turn its back. People read “Escape from Camp 14” and weep.
A man from Burundi, which borders Rwanda, was in medical school before ethnic cleansing left him on a death list, and he escapes to New York City. His family and friends are dead. He knows no one. He can’t speak English and he has just $200. He works as a delivery boy. He sleeps in a park. And then someone helps him. And then someone else. People read “Strength in What Remains,” and weep, too.
“Django Unchained” is fiction. It’s gore and blood and I would not recommend it. But I can’t hold it responsible for the gore and blood that exist in the real world, that predate movies and exist in places where movies are never seen.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.