‘Django Unchained’ & American Society- What’s it say about us?

movie poster cover for Django Unchained
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Django Unchained was a 2012 American movie by Quentin Tarantino that shook up so many of its viewers. With references to Spaghetti Westerns, Southern epics, and slavery pieces to name a few, this movie also had a lot to say about American society overall. Down below are a few of the points about our society, past and present, that were referenced in Django Unchained.

That’s Racist

The most obvious thing that Django Unchained tells us about America is slavery and racism. We all know about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the nation’s history of African enslavement. In the movie, we see how pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific concepts were used in those days to justify slavery.

You remember the whole scene where Mr. Candie (DiCaprio’s character) uses one of his former slave’s skulls to demonstrate how black people are anatomically inferior to whites. Or that scene where the slaver uses the Bible to justify his whipping and punishing of the “sub-human” slaves.

The cold part is that this stuff really happened, and a lot. It seems like every five words in Django is the “n-word,” and this is more for a shock effect than anything. I mean, I’m sure white people in those days called black people nigger a lot, but not like every five seconds. Still, the use of this word and other racial slurs in the movie shows us how language has been used throughout our country’s history to uplift certain groups and diminish others. And that goes both ways.

Read more: Are there many interracial couples in America?

Okay, so we saw whips and chains, physical representations of bondage and dominance — not to get freaky. Oh, and we saw a glimpse of a pre-Ku Klux Klan group in one of the funniest scenes of the entire movie. The KKK really formed after abolition as a kind of retaliation against blacks gaining equality. Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Cristoph Waltz) later in the movie start to be treated with a bit of respect when they are presumed to have money and status. This shows how even racism can be curbed when there are benefits involved.

Frontier Living

Django Unchained at its heart is a Western, so the usual gun-slinging and street shootouts had to be a part of it. The characters throughout most of the movie are riding horses and carriages across open landscapes, mountains, and everything we associate with the Old West. We even see the classic cowboy stand-offs in the small frontier town, people running to get the sheriff, and a saloon fight.

The Antebellum South is also represented when they get to Mississippi. There we see big plantations and plantation homes being worked by slaves. Besides that, we get a look at some slave quarters, those common oak and poplar trees of the South, and big fields of cotton to be picked. And of course, all around is the sense of white dominance and complacency for being in control of that crazy world they’d created.

Read more: Isn’t America all cold and snowy?

The Outlaw is B(l)ack!

Another thing this movie does is show audiences how black outlaws and bounty hunters did exist in the Old Western days. I feel like this movie opened up in many ways for people to learn about such figures as black cowboys and bounty hunters, a subject that was not really touched on before in movies or TV (at least to this extent).

Django shows in part the presence of these lesser-known historic black figures of that time, informing that they were also a part of the development of the country. There’s also something many people forget, that some slaves were able to buy their freedom and lead interesting lives outside of the establishment.

Read more: Aren’t there a lot of black people in America, like on TV?

Reparations … or Revenge?

Since the times of slavery in America, there has been a sense of black people recovering some kind of dignity, strength, even ranging into dominance. It’s important to remember that not all people in any group will want the same things, which is normal. Still, when Django goes and kills all of the slavers that did him wrong, there’s this sense of “justice served cold” that reverberates off of every gunshot and explosion.

There’s a constant debate in the USA of whether there should be reparations or compensation given to black Americans for the terrible deeds taken against their ancestors. There is this underlying feeling of getting revenge on these racist actions, which is completely exploited in this movie. Let me also remind you that the German’s full name is Dr. “King” Schultz, likely a nod to Dr. Martin Luther King as a kind of liberator and symbol for good.

Through all the killing that Django does, we also get an idea of the violent nature of rebellions in general, especially as it deals with the black-led ones. There was many a violent uprising in America’s past, and this movie plays a bit on such true historic bloodbaths.

And the White Director

So Quentin Tarantino doesn’t look very black, as far as most of us can tell. The fact that a white guy had directed a movie like this did conjure up some backlash for the film. Django Unchained touches on some pretty sensitive subject matter, particularly concerning black Americans. So one might imagine how some people felt uncomfortable with it.

Tarantino movies aren’t for everyone and lots of people are already uneased by the cartoonish violence in them. Put that together with about a thousand “n-bombs” and you’ve got a sure recipe for retaliation. Even though many people thought he had no business making a movie about slavery, there were still those that enjoyed Django Unchained regardless of its crazy subject matter. Q. T. does actually have a cameo in the movie and gets blown up, which shows that even the director wasn’t safe from Django’s vengeful rage.

Boy, I Swear

Another common feature in Tarantino’s movies is the liberal and consistent tendency of his characters to swear. This is just his style, and it comes more so from this culture surrounding Hollywood or Southern California — where almost everyone I know curses. Some are offended by this constant use of bad words, and others could care less.

One thing that’s funny about this, though, is that people back in those times (early-mid 1800s) definitely did not curse as much as in the movie. Sure, there was cursing, but people back in those days were generally pretty conservative and religious by today’s standards. I had this same thought watching The Hateful Eight which had a similar amount of cussing in a time period that people probably didn’t have such dirty mouths.

Read more: The Wolf of Wall Street

This feature of the movie was likely used to connect modern audiences to this past period in time, similar to how the score contained some rap songs. It also reminds audiences that this story is fictional and for entertainment purposes, so don’t be taking it all so seriously.

America, the Beautiful Mixed Baby

In Django Unchained are black people (obviously), Germans, Australians, other Americans, and Mr. Candie who loves French — even though he can’t speak or understand it. Some aspects of the culture, especially on the German side, are explored a bit deeper. With all of this, we get reminded of America’s very mixed heritage.

Germans at a certain point in the U.S. interior were very prevalent and made up a large part of the immigration there. All these different people of varying backgrounds remind us of this uncommon origin we share that turned the U.S. into a land of immigrants. It also reminds us that a large part of the country, like the West, was built by outlaws, runaways, and people seeking the thrill of adventure until turning it into what it is today.

Read more: Aren’t Americans white?

**What did you think of this movie? Are you fond of Tarantino or do you avoid his movies at all costs? If you can, share what else Django Unchained showed us about American or world society. Also, feel free to check out similar posts on At the Movies. Message me at tietewaller@gmail.com for direct contact or to collaborate on something! Thank you for reading and peace to you.

Gone Girl + society [2014] – What’s it say about us?

A small-town girl from the American Midwest disappears suddenly … and her husband is the prime suspect. Well, actually she’s a grown woman, but you get my point. This is the main plot of this post’s subject, Gone Girl. It was a book by Gillian Flynn that turned into a popular movie. It’s directed by David Fincher (for the movie nerds out there) and was nominated for a lot of awards too. By the way, this is part of a series where we (lightly) analyze English-language movies. If you like that sort of thing, there are more posts like this here.

The book cover of Gone Girl, novel by Gillian Flynn

We’ll look at what the movie has to say about American society at large, as well as some general themes of the film. If you haven’t seen it yet, there might be some spoilers, I can’t make any promises. You can find it on platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix, though it depends on your country or region. The trailer is up top in case you want to refresh your memory or check it out for the first time.

Movie Setting

What does the movie, Gone Girl, have to say about American culture or society? For starters, let’s look at where it’s set. The movie takes place mostly in a fictional town in northeast Missouri. It’s not far from the Mississippi River which forms the border with Illinois. Why is that important? Well, Missouri is a state smack in the middle of the USA. Southern Missouri is a lot more like the South in terms of culture and other ways, while the north is a bit more like the Midwest. Even being in the same country (in this case the same state), being in the Midwest shows a greater lean towards mainstream, heartland American values and identity. You can kind of see the difference in accents, where some people have stronger “rural” or Southern accents where others have a more typical American accent. I’ll explain a bit later.

A map showing the course of the Mississippi River in North America, the setting of Gone Girl
course of the Mississippi River – By Mulad at English Wikipedia

The Mississippi River is the longest, most iconic river in the country. We see big homes with green lawns, quiet streets with cul-de-sacs, and small brick-stone towns. This is all typical of an American city suburb. There are also some scenes that describe what the weather is like in much of the Midwest during the summer. You have people searching for Amy (the gone “girl”) in green fields full of bugs and sweating under the sticky, humid air. There are some scenes by the river or poolside that show us how hot it is. I don’t remember if there is a winter scene, but I feel like there was. Either way, the Midwest also gets extremely cold in the winter months.

Gone Girl is set in modern times, which is important for this next section.

The Media

Maybe you haven’t noticed lately, but the media, especially social and mass media, have been impacting lots of people’s behaviors. From liking photos to deciding whether or not to wear a mask, these platforms have a bigger impression on most of us than we might think. The news especially has a way of leading us into believing what the studio thinks. If they don’t think anything, they are good at making the situation a lot more dramatic than it is. Even before Covid (I know, feels like forever), lots of people were suspicious of mass media and the news. They have a habit of accentuating the bad stuff and pushing people to be more scared than they need to. I’m sure this happens almost everywhere, but Americans have a long history of being suspicious of the government and any other entity that has too much power.

A large crowd of protestors walking through the city streets, representing the retaliation against Nick in Gone Girl
the town coming after Nick – by Alex Radelich, Unsplash

Still, this precaution doesn’t keep most of the town along with some of the investigators from believing that Nick (Ben Affleck’s character) really killed his wife. The news repeats this accusation and fires up conflict at a time when Nick’s involvement isn’t really suspected. This plays on our society’s recent growth in protecting women’s rights and protecting women in at-risk situations like domestic violence. Although this is a very real problem across the globe, the story shows how some women take advantage of this movement toward equality. There are those who intentionally try to harm the image of a man. There have been lots of scandals in recent years of women doing exactly this, as a matter of fact.

The fact that the community starts to turn against Nick after seeing the news sheds light on their innocence. There is a general perception that people from the city are sinners and those from the country are saints. That’s meant figuratively, but in Gone Girl, you can see how much of the community was influenced by the news. They were manipulated into the version of the story that would get more views, higher ratings. Another example of this is one of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike’s character) friends who jogs regularly and talks with her. Amy recognizes her innocence and tricks the woman into trusting her, steadily turning the woman against Nick. These people live a more relaxed, quiet, and routine suburban life. They don’t come across many bizarre situations like this very often. In the end, they don’t know what to believe or what to do about it.

Community

A rural town in the country with green hills and forests in the background, a yellow school bus running down the main road, a community like in the movie Gone Girl
small Midwestern community – by Louise Tollisen, Unsplash

Besides them turning against Nick, we also see how tight-knit this community is. This is a common feature in small towns across the country. People really look after each other and talk with one another when passing on the street, which isn’t as common in big cities. Other themes about the characters’ behaviors are the unhappy couple trying to fake a perfect marriage by putting up a false face of unity. Amy is robbed by a traveling couple with guns. This sheds light on the somewhat loose gun laws in certain states and the hardships many people in rural America face. This can go to the point of committing serious crimes on one another. This touches on gun culture being stronger in the American interior too. Missouri actually has a fairly high crime rate and lots of underprivileged areas. This reality is shown in a few scenes too.

Crime & Violence

This is essentially a crime-novel-turned-crime-movie. A cocky big-shot lawyer, constant snooping by the police, and investigators being quick to decide what happened before the case is closed; these are all common tropes in the crime genre. If you watch CSI or Law & Order, you know exactly what I mean. One thing that’s very apparent, especially near the end of the movie, is the high level of violence and bloodshed. Gone Girl isn’t really a violent movie, but it has a big bloody moment towards the end.

This touches on how common violence is in American moviemaking. I don’t want to say that we all love blood and guts (some do), but from our movies, you’d think so! There is also the theme of a couple staying together “for the baby,” which Amy sneakily tricks Nick into having. She uses her pregnancy in the end to trap Nick into their marriage. This is another note on the manipulation some women perform over men in their complicated relationships. To be fair, she manipulates pretty much everybody in this movie.

A small light sky blue woodshed with a small garden and trees in the background, a symbol of the woodshed in Gone Girl
a creepy woodshed – by James Frid, Pexels.com

The “Woodshed”

Besides small-town family values, heartland America identity, and rural/suburban naivety, there’s one last theme that’s really interesting. If you want, you can read more about this here. The woodshed is where Amy leaves her secrets, and it’s where Nick eventually finds out what’s happening. The woodshed represents a common part of many American homes where a family might store things they don’t use often. It can also be an unexpected symbol for how a figurative “mess” builds up during a relationship, then gets pushed deeper into the “shed.” There’s a related phrase in English: “come out of the woodwork.” This means that something comes out of hiding and into the light from an unexpected place. Basically, it becomes clearer. This seems like a funny way to show this idea. The truth comes out of the actual woodwork, or rather, the woodshed.

Last Thoughts

That’s all, everybody. I hope you enjoyed this look at Gone Girl and some of its themes, meanings, and cultural insights. It’s a story about relationship issues, lies, manipulation, and a whole lot of media interference. Even though Nick cheated on his wife, Amy did a lot more than expose him for it. She kind of ruined his life, not to mention forcing him to keep a marriage he was all but done with. This movie is reminiscent of a TV crime series, and it shows us why those programs can be addicting. Some of the most outrageous and deviant crimes happen out in the country where it seems like no one is watching. But boy, did we watch this one!

Please comment if you agree or disagree with parts of this post. What other ways does Gone Girl touch on true or stereotypical parts of American society? What about society in another country? Share your thoughts, my wonderful reader! And take care out there.