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Django Unchained is one of those films that I can’t help resenting for the fact that I enjoyed it just fine. Since falling in love with the director’s work in the late 1990s, every Quentin Tarantino feature excepting Death Proof has blown me away in one way or another, with Inglourious Basterds shocking me in its ability to challenge Pulp Fiction as my favorite of the filmmaker’s resume. As such, it was disarming to leave Django with no strong feelings either way — I laughed, I gasped, I checked my mental watch. It was fine. And that’s the last thing I could ever want from a director who prides himself on being explosive. So maybe it is this ambivalence that makes me hesitant to accept another Western from the director, as he announced on Tuesday night’s episode of The Tonight Show.
But I’m not so sure that I can blame my feelings on Django entirely for wanting Tarantino to shy away from the Western genre, at least for now. I’d be just as ill at ease to hear that Tarantino was taking on another World War II epic, or another war film in general. Just as I want his pictures to be shocking and stirring, I want them to be new. I want to go into every Tarantino movie wondering, “What on Earth is he going to do with this one?” And then finding out, in a whimsical blaze of glory.
Part of what makes the experience of his films so great is the innate worry that comes along with them. A movie about Uma Thurman slicing hundreds of people to bits after some crime kingpin destroyed her unborn child? And more jarring yet, one about World War II and the seizure and murder of innocent Jews in Europe? Apprehensions about Tarantino’s ability to handle WWII with tact were set to rest in such a spectacular way within the first few scenes of Basterds. I don’t want to enter a Tarantino flick knowing that he can do it, I want to enter one hoping that he can.
That’s why a Western to follow Django can be seen as a little bit of a letdown. Although I wasn’t thrilled with Django, I admired the world that Tarantino built. He created a story and its universe adequately. And maybe it’s this “adequacy” that he can prove to conquer with another Western; maybe his challenge this time around isn’t the threat of a horrible (or offensive) product, but one that is in no real way provocative. But this, inherently, is a less exciting quest, and as a lifelong Tarantino devotee, all I want is that excitement — and dread — when approaching his new projects. I’m not worried that he won’t be able to make another perfectly watchable Western. But I want to be.