Argo Screw Yourself! Why Django Unchained Was the Only Movie That Mattered at the Oscars - Reason.com
[…]It’s no simple feat to reimagine the Man with No Name as a black slave and in so doing Tarantino powerfully revised one of the central plots in American storytelling, one first identified by the critic Leslie Fiedler.
In his 1948 essay, “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!,” Fiedler posited that much of classic American literature revolved around a juvenile fantasy in which white boys flee from what is inevitably figured in explicitly female terms as civilized adulthood. Again and again, observed Fiedler, at the heart of “classic” American tales, you find a white male who runs away in the company of a dark Other rather than submit to the pressures of living an engaged, responsible adult life. The result is a sort of “innocent homosexuality,” or a pre-pubescent fantasy in which boys can always stay boys, having adventures out of reach of girls. The archetypes include Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby-Dick, and, of course Huck Finn and his slave companion Jim. Throughout Huckleberry Finn, Jim stays close with Huck, who at novel’s end famously declares that he must light out for the territory rather than be “sivilized”. What makes Jim’s devotion to Huck—he sticks around even when he can easily escape from Tom Sawer’s relatives who are holding him captive—even more stunning is the fact that his original impetus for escaping from his owner was a fear that he was going to be sold down the river, away from his wife who lives on a nearby plantation. Early on in the novel, as Huck and Jim plan to make landfall in Cairo, Illinois (where Jim can be free), Jim talks of working to make money to buy his wife’s freedom.
Django Unchained reverses this narrative in a way particularly suited to 21st century America that is largely, though certainly not fully, post-racial. Christoph Waltz’s character, the bounty hunter King Schultz, forms a pact with Jamie Foxx’s Django with the explicit goal of finding and freeing Foxx’s enslaved wife. Indeed, Schulz puts himself in mortal danger specifically to help Django in his quest, thus reversing the relationship of Jim regarding Huck. From a Fiedlerian perspective, the conclusion of Django—in which black man and black woman are reunited over the body of a self-sacrificing white man—can be read as a powerful sign of cultural maturation. Rather than fleeing from “sivilization” and all that in entails (first and foremost marriage), the whole point of the movie is to arrive at that very moment. The works illuminated so well and disturbingly by Fiedler’s “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!” literally cannot come to a similar conclusion.
No matter how entertaining or well-executed they might have been, that sort of psychological and archetypal depth was missing from the other best picture nominees at this year’s Oscars.