Thinkin’ Djincoln

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Django is amusing, until it isn’t. Lincoln starts out dreadfully, then quickly becomes excellent. Both movies take the bold stand that slavery is wrong. I’m joining them in their fight against this problem.

Columns, Daniel Kilian, Homepage Sub  •  Jan 17, 2013

These last two weekends I watched Django and Lincoln, and this pairing of movies taught me some things. Foremost, I cannot smuggle in three tall boys and not have to go to the bathroom three times. Having learned that, I forewent the beer for Lincoln, and learned that the small soda at the Regent theater is thirty-two ounces. Where is Michael Bloomberg when you need him?

Now the movies. Django is amusing, until it isn’t. Lincoln starts out dreadfully, then quickly becomes excellent. Django himself isn’t much of a character, except that he’s played by Jamie Foxx (did Eric Marlon Bishop give his screen name just two Xs because he didn’t want to be extravagant?), who simmers with his underwritten part until he gets to assume a role within the role. Still he is outshone by Christoph Waltz as the eccentric German bounty hunter. Lincoln’s got some great supporting roles, but it’s Daniel Day Lewis who captivates, because he’s Abraham Lincoln. I heard Lewis was so focused on his role he absorbed his cheekbones into his skull. Yes, he’s got another Oscar coming, and yes, yuck-heads, we’ve all heard the vampire-hunter jokes.

Both movies take the bold stand that slavery is wrong. I’m joining them in their fight against this problem. Slavery is bad! Seriously, is Hollywood so pussyfooted that it can’t take on more controversial issues than this? Quentin Tarentino is on a mission to act out revenge-fantasy genre films for all the ethnic groups, so each group can look happily on historical events that didn’t happen. Look for a jujitsu film soon where the hero uses his martial arts skills to win World War II for Japan. Spielberg saves the slaves after a storied career in which he’s taught us that the Holocaust was bad, dinosaurs are dangerous, and it’s morally wrong (without getting into all the architectural problems) to build houses on graveyards without moving the bodies. Do all the battlers have to be long dead and in their graves before we can decide who won?

Yes, Django makes our blood boil afresh at the visceral indignity and the acted brutality of its depiction. Yes, Lincoln plays on our lack of historical knowledge to build suspense around the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment; we know it’ll happen, but will the great man have to die first, or can he wrest the bill from Congress through sheer political manipulation? These films are valuable enliveners of history, but they’re hardly brave.

So what? Hollywood’s always a mass-market friendly-fare easy-idealism pabulum pusher? It’s always been white hats against black hats because that’s what people understand, and why not? Well, devil’s advocate, while you’re accepting moral vacuity and creative laziness, I’m expecting more boldness from our best film-makers.

So what would be bold?  How about a villain who’s not completely noble? How about an ending where a massacre and the loss of a dear friend elicits more than giggles and horse tricks? Was Raging Bull such a bad picture? Was Little Big Man too much of a bummer?  We’re at war right now. How about a story that balances the need for a soldier to get home alive, versus the needs of a young Afghani girl to get an education? Django pretends to be a black slave trader. Why not make a movie out of The Known World, one of the best books of the last ten years, which features a black slave-owner? 

If it needs to be a Manichean struggle of good versus evil, how about something that’s going on right now? Why not address the fact that the world’s getting hotter, that it’s all our fault and we’re doing nothing about it? Don’t tell me Al Gore’s already done it, or that a fictional take would be some preach-fest with Matt Damon. You can make a movie with the Lava Men, who burn everything they touch because we fracked them out of the ground and the higher temperatures are unleashing the dawn of Lava Men and the only thing that’s going to stop them are the Giant Octopuses that comes out of the deep ocean because we’ve overfished its food supply and so it’s Giant Octopuses versus the Lava Men which seems like it’s going to work out fine and they’ll cancel each other out but then it turns into a Giant Lava Octopus and only Matt Damon can save us now (Okay, he demanded to be attached to the script. We couldn’t shake him, but it’s still going to be awesome) with the power of love. I call it OctoLavaPocalyptMania, and I have the whole script written, or I can give you the treatment if you know someone in development.

What about the genocides and enslavements going on now, in Congo, Thailand and Bangladesh? You can still do it with some white actors to make it palatable to Americans. What about a movie where a man gets appointed head of the CIA, even though he secretly masterminded a campaign of torture? Or how about the fact that we’ve got flying robots killing people, and we’re not sure who, how many, or where? I could easily turn the Lava Men into flying robots. Turning lava men into robots is supposed to be easy; a movie’s morality doesn’t need to be so simple.

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Dan Kilian
Dan Kilian writes songs, essays, fictions and lies in Sunnyside New York. He is the creative director for The Consumers*, a musical act, and the lead singer of Dan Kilian and The Million Man Band. He is the host of A Couple Nights A Week, an online interview program, and the Editor and a contributor to Klog, a literary blog.