Saturday, 21 January 2017

Thought 440: Ethos of Revenge in Tarantino Movies

Django Unchained - a revenge movie both for the wrongs committed to the main character's wife by the despicable and affected slave-owner as well as the wrongs, more generally and abstractly, perpetrated by US black slavery generally. It is in fact the liberal-minded Christopher Waltz character, a German-born white man, who kills the white slave owner, on grounds mostly of his boiled-up hatred of racism and its justifications for slavery, expounded at length by said slave-owner (Leonardo Dicaprio), not the black man who has himself undergone slavery played by Jamie Foxx. The latter takes his sweetest revenge against another black man, a house slave sold heart and soul to the cause of the slave-owner's immoral slave practice and even more sadistic in his treatment of black slaves than his master, despite being, well, black. No wonder did this movie provoke a degree of anger among black commentators. 

Death Proof - a movie of revenge against a particular psychopath who preys on young women and thereby also one of revenge of the female sex, portrayed very assertively in the film, against old-school macho men who delight in denigrating women. This is done also through making some of the women be just as interested in and partial to kick-arse cars and other typically male preoccupations like sex and drink. 

Inglorious Basterds - a highly fictional yet entertaining counter-factual movie where World War Two Jewish protagonists kill the entirety of the Third Reich high brass in a revenge storyline which only art and its imagination can bring forth after the fact of the historical events themselves. It is interesting to note that it is the Jewish woman (a self-proclaimed 'Jewess') whose family was massacred at the beginning of the movie who wreaks the most damage as opposed to the toughened up Jewish men known as the Inglorious Basterds who wind up playing a more minor role. 

Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2 - This is a marital, couple-based form of revenge which I'm sure many who've fallen out with romantic/marriage partners can get something out of. What's interesting here is that the main protagonist enjoys the revenge process for its own sake, as revealed by the end of Volume 2, and that she goes all the way, leaving no stone unturned, until she, the so-called Bride, is reunited with her offspring. The husband/father is utterly expendable despite taking care of the child in the mother's absence - a plot point that can be read from a feminist angle, an ideology not without some basis in revenge, as showing that men are somewhat redundant when it comes to the raising and nurturing of children. 

My Take: Tarantino in both his themes and his - let's face it - attractive aesthetic of violence and gore, not to mention foul language, can be seen as somewhat of a sick genius. He seems to have a fascination for themes of revenge in the hands of traditionally underdog demographics, be it African-American slaves, teenage women, female spouses or Jews. 

Oliver Stone I believe took umbrage with Tarantino's beautification of violence in his movie Natural Born Killers which is an ultra violent movie that seeks to put one off gratuitous violence in movies through precisely over exposure to gratuitous violence. Unfortunately Tarantino's gory efforts are in my opinion artistically more successful, not only in terms of direction but also in terms of light-heartedness and humour, than Oliver Stone's moralistic and largely misunderstood gory opus in all its heavy-handedness and barely concealed seriousness. 

Let it be noted, as a final word, that revenge is a very ancient artistic preoccupation, whether it be Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey (where Achilles avenges his friend Patroclus' murder in the most brutal and unforgiving fashion in the former and where Odysseus kicks everybody's arse at the end of the latter, whether it be the suitors who attempted to seduce his wife and depleted his property in his absence or even the house maids who merely slept with them), Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy where Orestes kills his own mother out of revenge for his father's death at her hands which was itself committed out of revenge considerations or the heartfelt tragedies of playwright Euripides, such as Medea, Hecabe and Electra which show revenge in all its gruesome, raw reality.