Battling Slavery: Fantasy and Actuality in Django Unchained and Lincoln

Django Unchained

If Quentin Tarantino had directed Lincoln, the film would have most likely ended with all the no voters in the House of Representatives being gunned down by Private Harold Green and Corporal Ira Clark, who appear at the beginning of the film. And this ending would have felt satisfying, if historically inaccurate.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained have much in common in terms of topic and setting. Yet they are poles apart in terms of style and tone. In the UK, the films have been released a week apart, in the all important awards season. Perhaps less of a coincidence but more significantly, the release of these two films sandwich President Obama’s inauguration. Although these movies have no overt link to the second term of America’s first mixed-race president, it nevertheless seems like the fruition of events that transpire in the two narratives.

In contrasting Django Unchained with Lincoln, it can be argued that Tarantino’s film represents the fantasy of the abolishment of slavery whilst  Spielberg’s picture represents the actuality. Although it would be impossible to ascertain just how accurate Lincoln is as a study of a long-dead figure, the vote to pass the thirteenth amendment in 1865 is more difficult to dispute. Django Unchained meanwhile deals in pure fiction, however entertaining this may be.

Lincoln

Ultimately, Django Unchained version of overcoming slavery feels more gratifying than Lincoln’s, than the actuality of events. The story of a black former slave who enacts revenge against the barbaric slave owners engenders more passion than the privileged politician seeking to right a wide-scale wrong. Django Unchained offers a catharsis; the kind of revenge that is only appropriate in a film as outlandish as Tarantino’s.

Quentin Tarantino offers us viewers a protagonist that we can get behind. It is not necessary to be able to relate to the race of Django; fighting back against slavery and injustice is something for all to admire. Rather it is Django’s position as an underdog that empowers the character in a way that Abraham Lincoln lacks. As the victim of prejudice and mistreatment, Django is a character we want to overcome the odds.

In Lincoln, the president’s connection with the issue of slavery is markedly different. His encounters with black people are limited to a conversation with soldiers at the beginning of the film and the presence of his butler (born a free man) and his wife’s maid Elizabeth Keckley. It is the personal relationship with the issue that is missing, in spite of Lincoln’s admirable intentions. Django meanwhile is something of a trailblazer, bucking the conventions of the time and aided by his white friend Dr Schultz. Whilst it is true that Django’s aim is not to end slavery (his vendetta is a personal one), in killing merciless slave owners he does free at least some of the enslaved.

Django Unchained

Lincoln uses his position as the most powerful individual in the white male political class to exact change. His crusade is a pivotal and historically one. There is something more satisfying, however, about a former slave eliminating those who trade in human life. Django is the protagonist we want to cheer along to his goal.

Lincoln and Django Unchained depict an era that seems as alien as it is unpalatable. A glance at this week’s events in Washington DC indicates how much things have changed since then. It was Lincoln who facilitated this change back in 1865. But how much more fun would it be if it had been Django?

Django Unchained is in cinemas now. Lincoln is released in UK cinemas on 25th January 2013.

Film Review: Lincoln

LincolnSteven Spielberg’s Lincoln is exactly what you would expect. The historical drama is solid, and boasts great performances.

In 1865 the American Civil War is heading towards its conclusion. President Abraham Lincoln aims to make a landmark constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Lincoln faces a race against time to obtain the necessary votes before peace is declared and he loses the opportunity to end slavery forever…

Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner tell an absorbing story with Lincoln. The film is a good history lesson for those with little knowledge of the period or the title figure. The complexity of the issue and the varying divisions are rendered digestible. Although the focus is placed on the president and his motivations, there is at least a little space allotted to why some politicians may have been reluctant to vote yes.

There is a sense of gravitas that permeates the entire film. This is enabled by Spielberg’s directorial flair and John Williams’ grandiose score. The film undoubtedly focuses on a serious issue. Nevertheless, this dies not mean that it is without humour and warmth. Despite the overall sombre tone, there are moments of lightness.

Despite the wartime setting, there is little action in Lincoln. Spielberg chooses instead to concentrate on the political sphere. The war scenes that do feature are portrayed with the requisite violence. The film does not shy away from depicting the consequences of Lincoln’s ambitions.

Daniel Day Lewis is as superb as ever as Abraham Lincoln. He is supported by a strong cast that includes Sally Field as Mary Tood Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Jared Harris and James Spader also stand out among the supporting cast.

Steven Spielberg tackles an important person and event with the substance they deserve. Lincoln is worthy of its numerous nominations.

Trailer Round-Up

A bumper post of trailers to round off the week, with Epic, Jack the Giant Slayer and more…

Epic

What more do you want from an animated film than talking animals and a fun dog? Epic is the new animated feature from the makers of Rio and Ice Age. The film is due for release in May 2013.

Jack the Giant Slayer

The fairy tale gets a twist in Jack the Giant Slayer. Starring Nicholas Hoult and Ewan McGregor, Jack the Giant Slayer has a touch of Lord of the Rings to it. The film will be released on 22 March 2013.

Zero Dark Thirty

Following the success of Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow returns with Zero Dark Thirty. The film tells the story of Osama Bin Laden’s pursuit and capture. Starring Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton, Zero Dark Thirty is out on 25th January 2013.

Oz The Great and Powerful

Treasure! Broken dolls! Lots of emerald! Munchkins! Fireworks! Michelle Williams looking lovely! A hot slice monkey in a uniform! Oz The Great and Powerful looks enchanting from this first trailer. The film is due for release on 8th March 2013.

Les Miserables

This film version of Les Miserables looks like an all-star spectacular. Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried, the film is sure to pique the interest of fans of the musical as well as those less familiar with it. Les Miserables hits cinemas on 11th January 2013.

Lincoln

This trailer is ripe with the scent of Oscar nominations. Directed by Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Abraham Lincoln in this sumptuous-looking historical drama. Lincoln is out in cinemas on 25th January 2013.