Monday, June 6, 2011

Tarantino's Got the Right Idea; Or, Why Fantasy Matters

Quentin TarantinoLast week, I was reading about Quentin Tarantino's latest project--a film called Django Unchained, which, according to a commenter over at Hollywood Elsewhere, tells the story of a freed slave named Django who works with a bounty hunter to find and free his wife.  What is interesting about this movie to me is the form that it's going to take--something that has the action and adventure of a "spaghetti Western," but that takes place in the time and space of the Civil War and that Tarantino would call a "Southern."

Tarantino talks about his rationale for this decision, explaining, "I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to."

Now, on the surface, this doesn't seem to have very much to do with fantasy and science fiction.  But my first thought when reading Tarantino's explanation for why he's choosing to make this movie as a genre film was: "This is why fantasy matters."  Fantasy and science fiction, like spaghetti westerns, give us a way of talking about "big issues," as Tarantino calls them, but without making it glaringly obvious that that's what we are talking about.  Genre fiction provides us with a way to get lost inside a story, a brave new world, a glorious quest without realizing that the story is saying something bigger...and then, three days, a week, even several months from now, the seed that is planted by such stories will work its way through our brains and connect the story to other parts of our lives and start to change the way that we think about the world.

Sure, not all fantasy and science fiction will do this.  Like any other forms of literature, fantasy and science fiction have their fair share of unoriginal, uninspired, and uninspiring works.  But the great works of genre fiction, in my opinion, are the ones that subtly weave questions of truth in and out of a thrilling story filled with fantastic characters--and at the end of the story, readers are so invested in the story that they become invested in the questions of truth, as well.

For me, that is why fantasy matters.

Image of Quentin Tarantino originally posted by Siebbi at, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.