Confession: I love revenge movies. Make them gory, make them violent, make them brutal. I respond to them at a basic emotional level. I think it's because revenge stories function in a parred down, heightened moral universe: a wrong has been committed, and it must be punished. It satisfies a basic desire for justice in the simplest form possible. We live in a world, after all, where justice isn't as straightforward as punishing the right bad guy and we're not often rewarded for being bloodthirsty.
Revenge stories are also effective as metaphors, letting us get back at big, historical enemies and ideas. So you can imagine my excitement for this past Christmas, when Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained came out. It seemed like the revenge film par excellence, tackling a controversial historical enemy, letting the oppressed rise up to take out their oppressor in the most flashy and cathartic way possible. Tarantino, after all, directed the Kill Bill movies, my personal favorite revenge stories, a pastiche of every old-school kung fu movie where the protagonist has to get revenge on the enemy clan.
And Django was a great film, and a lot of interesting things have been written about it (I'd cite something here, but, really, just google it). It attempts to be both a revenge romp about killing slave owners and a thoughtful commentary on slavery, and ends up succeeding at each about 75 percent of the time.
But these are just scaffolding. Despite first appearances, I don't think Django Unchained is a revenge epic. It's a love story. It took me a little while to figure out, but Django wasn’t the year's big revenge movie. That honor goes to Zero Dark Thirty.