I’ve felt ambivalent about Quentin Tarantino for a long time. I loved his debut Reservoir Dogs – a great heist movie that was fast, inventive, witty and frightening – but found it hard to feel so enthusiastic about his next film, Pulp Fiction.
I admired the skill with which the story was told, the action set pieces, and dark humour, snappy dialogue, but I had an uneasy feeling that it had crossed a line. In the first film it was always clear that the bad guys were bad guys and deserved a bad end. In the second there were subtle differences that suggested that there was no such thing as a bad guy and the violence was all part of a jolly game laid on for our amusement.
It left me feeling that Tarantino had drifted into morally dubious territory, a feeling that was intensified when I saw From Dusk till Dawn, for which he wrote the screenplay, which asked us to accept as heroes two bank robbers who begin the film by kidnapping then murdering an innocent female bank clerk. It left a nasty taste in the mouth that has put me off seeing any of his movies since.
I have been tempted to break the boycott by the reviews for his new effort, Django Unchained, on the strength from some glowing reviews. The fact that it’s about a slave fighting back in 19th century America has made me think maybe there are some genuine good and guys in it. But I’m not sure after watching Tarantino’s latest tantrum.
The strop he threw at Krishna Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 for asking about the possibility of a link between enjoying screen violence and inflicting it on others made it clear this is someone who doesn’t want to face an awkward question about what he does. It’s not an easy one to answer, and it’s full of ambiguities. Most of us enjoy screen violence – you can go back to the earliest cowboy or gangster films to see it was a key ingredient of their success – and the moral context or characterisations of those involved affect us all in different ways. But it is a serious that has issue with a lot of implications for a society which has its share of real life random violence.
I don’t expect Tarantino to have easy answers, but he makes a lot of money and has won worldwide fame by depicting violence in a way that suggests it’s there to be enjoyed. It’s the defining element of his career. He has an obligation to at least debate the question, no matter how often he’s asked, and throwing a wobbly at an interviewer isn’t going to win him any friends, and may lose a few who are currently on his side.
And I still haven’t made up my mind about whether to see Django Unchained.