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Django Unchained and the Quest for Revenge

Violent and troubling visions of our own culture can help Christians answer the call to love.
Django Unchained and the Quest for Revenge
Image: Courtesy the Weinstein Company
Blaze of Glory

On Christmas Day—while Americans were still grieving for victims of the Newtown elementary-school massacre—Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's latest film, opened nation-wide.

Set in the 1850s, a slave (played by Jamie Foxx) is freed and trained by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to help him kill bad guys. Eventually, they set out to rescue Django's enslaved wife from a sadistic plantation owner. Extravagant shootouts, sickening carnage, and vigilante justice ensue.

Did the wounded American public boycott the movie and condemn Tarantino for insensitivity? Hardly. Django Unchained earned more than $60 million in the first six days. And Hollywood, being a business-minded town, will get the message: "More, please."

Before we flog Tarantino for his extreme depictions of violence, or condemn Django Unchained outright, or call for censorship of artists who paint scenes of atrocity and bloody vengeance, consider these questions.

1. Are people really so bloodthirsty?

Stories of vigilante justice and revenge oversimplify the world into good guys and bad guys, and glorify individuals who resolve by force whatever grieves or offends them. They answer violence with violence, ad infinitum.

Such art lacks any vision for peace, reconciliation, or the redemption of enemies.

But it is also unfair to convict audiences of mere bloodlust. Many are compelled by an honorable passion, a perception of injustice, a desire to see order restored. When the audience cheers for the rescue of Django's wife, or for the punishment of a man who castrated slaves, there is genuine conscience at work.

It falls short of a mature respect for love, mercy, and grace, but it's a step in the right direction. ...

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