My friend Rob got me Rio Bravo for Christmas because he’s an awesome kind of guy. Unfortunately, the year is running out, and I have one more western I absolutely have to watch first. (Because I made a list and said I’d stick to it, damn it — but don’t think I wasn’t tempted to throw this list out the window in favor of other movies — like the aforementioned Rio Bravo, for instance, or possibly Westworld. Oh, Westworld. Why didn’t anyone TELL me there was a robot western out there?)
The western I actually will be reviewing today?
I had fun with Django. Up until the last twenty minutes, anyway.
A coffin-toting drifter saves a woman in peril and ends up in the middle of a conflict between Mexican revolutionaries and fashionable, racist bastards.
1. Let it be said: the opening credits are pretty awesome.
I can’t really think of a better way to begin a western than to have a mysterious stranger drag a coffin across the muddy ground. I mean, that’s just kind of perfect. Couple that with the awesome theme music (used again in Django Unchained), and you’ve got yourself a winner. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either, because Wikipedia tells me there are dozens of homages to this all over. The one I’m most familiar with is from Cowboy Bebop. Man, I love that show.
2. Adding on to Rio Bravo and Westworld — another movie I need to watch next year, clearly, is Yojimbo. The basic plot of Django strongly reminds me of A Fistful of Dollars, which of course totally rips off Yojimbo. Basically, we owe everything to Akira Kurosawa.
3. Of course, I like A Fistful of Dollars a lot more than I like Django, probably because A Fistful of Dollars doesn’t have Maria.
Not that Maria (Loredana Nusciak) is a totally terrible character, but her feelings for Django make very little sense to me. Gratitude, I get. Even a little more than gratitude, maybe — you know, he saved her life, and there’s some whole fairytale bullshit that goes along with that. It happens a little fast for me, but fine. I can deal.
But as the story continues, their relationship . . . changes. Or should. Django (Franco Nero) isn’t exactly Prince Charming here, which hey, that’s fine with me — who wants Prince Charming in a spaghetti western, anyway? (Well, actually . . . huh. That’s . . . there’s potential in that, I think. Maybe I could — no, no. Too many freaking projects as is.) But even though Django is kind of an ass, Maria’s still like, “I love you. You’re so awesome; I want to have your babies,” and I’m like, “WHAT? Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me right now?”
4. And a continuing yay! for feminism — of course the prostitutes get into a mud fight.
You know what? This is bullshit. I don’t mind the gratuitous sexy mud fight here or there, but I demand equal treatment. We can begin with a movie that features a tag team brawl between Team Inception (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy) and Team Avengers (Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans). Then I’ll be happy.
5. Django is a very violent and very messy film. Lots of red. Obviously I approve. One scene actually made me cringe a bit, and I always like it when movies can do that.
6. There are some pretty awesome moments in Django. I enjoy a lot of the gunfights, especially the last one. (In fact, the last five minutes of the movie are great. It’s the fifteen that precede it where I have problems.) There’s also a reveal I like. It’s a lot of fun, this movie . . . but it’s hard to get past some of the conveniences. Like this one thing happens, right, and it’s kind of a huge plot point, but it’s just done in such a bullshit way that I don’t know how you could possibly take it seriously.
7. And the . . . I don’t know . . . the emotional fallout from this thing that happens? It’s rushed and not particularly well-written and ultimately doesn’t succeed because character arcs should be built throughout film, not encapsulated in fifteen minutes in the top half of the last inning.
Django does a good job with the action and the violence and the iconic imagery. It’s considerably less successful at characterization.
If you want to hear more about it — or at least figure out what’s going on with that coffin — continue below.
This is inside the coffin:
I love that the last two westerns I watched both featured anachronistic machine guns.
We aren’t going over the whole film today because I’m lazy and I’d rather be eating Christmas candy. (Surely it’s not possible to do both at the same time.) Let’s just do this barebones style: Django saves Maria from certain death but then later hands her back to the Mexican revolutionary bandits when it suits him. See, he needs the bandits to help him steal gold from the evil racist Major Jackson. And it’s not just about gold — Jackson also killed Django’s wife once upon a time. (Why? Cause that’s just what wives are for, obviously.)
But it’s also at least a little about the gold because when General Rodriguez refuses to give Django his cut, Django immediately steals all of the loot and runs away. Maria catches him, though, and demands to go with him. I can totally see her choosing this, since Django’s her best chance at getting away from Rodriguez (who wants her in his bed) and Jackson (who wants her in the ground).
This is where I have problems:
Maria: “Let go of that gold, Django. What do you care about it? We’ll start a new life together. I’ll help you forget.”
Look, Maria. I get that Django saved you and all, but he also totally betrayed you and was going to leave your ass behind — why in God’s name do you want to spend the rest of your life with him? And “I love you”? REALLY? You’ve known him for like a day!
Then something equally terrible happens: all the stolen gold falls into a convenient pile of quicksand.
Writer Joe: Quicksand, Writer Susan? Quicksand?
Writer Susan: What’s wrong with quicksand? Quicksand’s great! We can just dump the whole coffin full of gold in there and BOOM! It’s gone!
Writer Joe: But doesn’t that feel a bit convenient? I mean, how often do you really just stroll right by a pile of quicksand . . . pile? Pool? Whatever, you know what I mean.
Writer Susan: Look, everyone knows that quicksand is awesome. And if you’re that worried about it, we’ll just foreshadow it earlier. Like . . . yeah, like in the beginning of the movie, Django can rescue Maria near quicksand. Then after they’ve escaped, they can come back to the same spot, and that’s where they’ll lose the gold.
Writer Joe: Okay, I guess that sounds reasonable, or at least slightly less preposterous. So how does the coffin end up in the quicksand, anyway?
Writer Susan: Well, I was thinking Django could throw this strap or something that’s attached to the coffin, right, and the strap would hit his shotgun, and then the shotgun would go off, and the noise would spook the horse, and the horse would buck and launch the coffin, and the coffin would slide down this little hill and land squarely into the quicksand which they’ve been conveniently standing near! What do you think?
Writer Joe: I think it’s one zany theme song away from being a comedy sketch.
Writer Susan: Great! People will love it!
You know, freak accidents happen. They do. I’ve totally been there — only in my case we’d substitute a work cell phone for a coffin of gold and an elevator shaft for a pile/pool of quicksand. (And don’t think my coworkers have stopped teasing me for that one.) But you have to be careful when you write freak accidents into your stories because if you don’t do it extremely well, it will come off as awfully sloppy writing. And man, the writing seems incredibly lazy here. Not to mention just tonally wrong — this is a ridiculous string of events better suited to an absurdist or slapstick comedy.
Django promptly dives into the quicksand, trying to save the gold — but he has to let go, see, just like Maria told him to do. Gah. It would never be subtle, of course, but I don’t think it’d be quite so terrible if she had said that line considerably earlier in the film, like maybe in the first half hour and not two minutes before the gold goes into the terrible sinking abyss. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Django has never seemed particularly obsessed with the gold. Like he planned a heist, sure, and he was pissed when he didn’t get his fair share, but the first time the movie hints that he might be unhealthily obsessed with it is, again, two minutes before the coffin goes into the quicksand. It’s a problem.
Maria runs to the bridge and tries to haul Django out, but she is unceremoniously shot by the Mexican revolutionaries who have caught up. (I guess Rodriguez is especially annoyed that she’s run away twice now.) The revolutionaries save Django instead, but he obviously can’t give them back their gold, which he blames on fate instead of shitty writing. So Rodriguez orders his men to beat the holy hell out of Django’s hands.
They revolutionaries ride off into an ambush and are all promptly killed by Jackson’s men. Meanwhile, Django awkwardly carries a not-quite-dead Maria back to the saloon in town and begs the owner, who was just about to leave, to take care of her. Nathaniel’s like, “All right, but Jackson will be back here any minute, and he’s still pretty pissed at you for stealing his gold and killing a shitload of his guys, so you best skedaddle.” Maria agrees, telling Django not to worry about her, to just leave her behind. Vomit.
But Django’s like no, he has to kill Jackson, it’s no good running, etc. etc.
Which is all well and good as a philosophy but is basically the opposite of everything he’s been doing this whole movie. Somewhere between losing the gold and breaking he’s hands, Django’s apparently had some kind of revelation, and that revelation is this: the best time to kill your mortal enemy is not during any of your multiple opportunities when he’s at your mercy, but when he has backup and you can’t even properly hold a gun. Great revelation, Django. Very bright.
This scene is also a great example of why you should watch the subtitled version of a foreign film instead of the dubbed one. For instance, here is the dialogue with subtitles:
Django: “There is one more thing I have to do. I have to kill Jackson. That’s the only way for this town and for me to have a life again. It’s no good to keep running away. You have to stop and fight until the very end. I understood that when I was squeezing your hand tightly . . . when the casket was going down in the savannah. If I should fail, then at least I tried . . . to get my life back.”
Okay, so the definition of the word ‘savannah’ is admittedly kind of puzzling. But compare that to the dubbed version:
Django: “I’ve still got one thing to do. I’ve gotta kill Jackson. Until he’s dead there isn’t going to be peace for any of us ever. There just isn’t any other way. Jackson has got to die. And I’m the one who has to kill him, Maria. Then we can start a new life together. You see what I mean, Maria, you understand me. If I don’t kill him we’ll never be out of danger. You see, it’s his life or ours.”
Wow. That’s . . . that’s hugely terrible. Especially because, in the original language, Django never gives any real indication that he plans to come back for Maria at all, much less start a new life with her. I get that he’s probably supposed to care about her, since he didn’t leave her to die on the bridge and all, but he certainly never drops the ‘L’ word. And his need to kill Jackson is all about getting his own life back, not necessarily starting a new one with her. So I think it’s totally possible that Django just drifts onto the next town without a second look back.
That would be unfortunate for Maria, though, since that means she’s probably dead.
See, Jackson does indeed go back to the saloon, and he kills Nathaniel for no good reason at all, really. He doesn’t see Maria on the sofa, though, so he leaves to meet up with Django. But she’s still all shot up and useless and is certainly going to bleed to death if no one comes to help her. Even if Django does come, I’m not sure what the hell he’s going to do for her with his two broken hands.
Although, admittedly, the hands don’t stop him from killing Jackson and the more colorful KKK.
The final gunfight takes place in a cemetery — a cemetery where, not coincidentally, Django’s dead wife is buried. (Which makes me wonder how long ago she died and how close they lived to the town — but never mind any of that now.) The whole scene is pretty cool — the framing of it, Django’s resourcefulness, the tension as he keeps dropping the gun. Of course, I also had to laugh at Django because he doesn’t kill Jackson and his red-hooded goons until the guy shoots at him, like, four times and finishes reciting this whole prayer. (Cause, you know. Priorities. Dude’s trying to kill him and all, but hey, it’d be rude to cut him off before he got to the ‘Holy Spirit’ part of reciting the Trinity.)
Django then walks out of the graveyard . . . possibly back to Maria, possibly to some other nameless town . . .
And that’s about it. Except . . .
I’m done. I’m done! CHALLENGE COMPLETED, BITCHES!
Good at the action stuff and the imagery. Not so good at the female characters or the characters arcs in general.
Don’t keep your valuables near quicksand.
Also, don’t be an evil racist because, one, that’s really bad. But also because someone might cut off your ear and force you to eat it.