Directed by Quentin Tarantino
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00000000 / Kraken
I have a bit of a vexed relationship with Quentin Tarantino altho – not in the way that most people seem to have.
Sorry – but the whole thing with him writing characters who use the “N” word I find very difficult to care about. One of the core tenets of my faith is the idea that we need more people writing stories from perspectives and points of view other than their own because frankly that’s the only thing that’s going to save us. Learning about how different people think and how the way they see the world differs to ours seems like one of the best ways to create a harmonious society. And you know – empathy and all that shit. I feel like I understand some of the reasons behind the whole “we need women telling stories about women” or “black people telling stories about black people” etc and so – my own point of view is that this doesn’t go far enough: we need different people telling stories about different points of view and interrogating all of our certainties rather than just reinforcing the categories that already exist. The idea of a culture where the only stories a writer can tell are the ones that match their particular demographic / identity seems like something from a nightmare frankly…
Altho I’ll concede that maybe this is a little highfalutin when really it seems all that people are really concerned about is whether or not Samuel L Jackson should say a particular word or not.
(Question: if I type the “N” word here – does that count as a transgression? I mean: I have mixed heritage but I look like a white guy. Also it seems like the “N” word never really took off in England in the same way as the States. Growing up the racial epithet of choice where I was growing up was related more to that character from the Marmalade jars than anywhere else…).
But yeah: that’s pretty much all by the by. My thing with Tarantino isn’t any of that. It’s more this pretty much unique thing where I kinda realise that all of his movies are really well made, solidly constructed and (dare I say it?) objectivity “good” – but they all pretty much leave me cold. Which I’ve got to say – puzzles the hell of me. With pretty much everything else out there – if it’s good it means I like it and if it’s bad it means that I don’t. But with Tarantino it’s like the meal is cooked to perfection and everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be but – it just doesn’t do anything for me. Like: The Hateful Eight was the best example for this where it was like: everything about this movie is exquisitely made and intelligently put together but it’s just kinda… (uh oh) boring? It’s overlong and there’s not enough stuff happening and I don’t really know why I should care (maybe this is the England / America thing again?). Which feels like pretty much every Tarantino film in a nutshell: this long meandering thing with all sorts of stuff and things that don’t really go anyway. One example which leaps to mind is actually from Kill Bill 2 where just before Uma Thurman gets to Bills she stops off at a cafe and speaks to this Spanish Pimp guy (“Esteban Vihaio”) for erm… no real reason at all? You know: it’s just a dash of local colour and a thing about how men treat women and something something – I don’t know. But that’s kinda like Tarantino in a nutshell: he’s never really that concerned about the story he’s telling. He never really goes direct – instead he likes to take his own sweet time.
Except of course the exception to all of that is: Django Unchained. Which holy fuck – even tho as I write this I’ve only seen once – is almost definitely my most favourite Tarantino movie of them all (with second place going to: Inglourious Basterds which is: kinda similar in lots of ways?). And yeah – I think the reason why I love Django so much is that it’s basically the most direct of all of his movies. There’s a goal (Broomhilda) and there’s a hero that has to work his way through various levels in order to get there. Which I think is pretty much all I need for a good time at the movies.
Also: I kinda feel like people never really give enough emphasis to a good bit of catharsis because my oh my: I’ve rarely felt as good as the end of this movie when Django just struts around blowing all of those motherfuckers away – you know? It just feels good in a way that you only get in stories.
…what do you think?
The Gap between Panels
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Django is in keeping with all of Tarantino’s late work in that it’s inspired by trash / genre cinema and b-movies but is literally twice as long as those same b-movies, the extra space taken up with interminable talking designed to raise tension and only partly succeeding. I guess the fact that it’s marginally less tiresome than the equally long Sergio Leone westerns which are its most direct forebears is some kind of achievement.
There are moments that stick out and stay with you – usually ones of horrific violence which effectively convey the inhumanity of slavery. But there is an awful amount of waiting until you get to those climaxes, and I honestly spent large portions of the film bored and not caring about what happens next.
What’s frustrating is that Tarantino is capable of making energetic and effective genre pieces if he wants to. The Grindhouse cut of Death Proof – the one designed to be shown with Planet Terror as a double-bill but as far as I know never released on DVD – is lean and mean in the way that everything else since Kill Bill isn’t. That’s why it’s fair to describe the director as indulging himself with this late work. He doesn’t have an editor that can stand up to his whims.
Maybe the issue is that Tarantino’s early work had these very sophisticated interwoven plot structures, while his latter films started using a more episodic approach. In Django this isn’t as explicit, but as Joel says it’s still a very linear film where every bit develops from the one before and there is a clear objective pretty much from the start. Perhaps the appetite for digressions falls when you plan your story this way – the audience just wants to get to the point. Whereas in the early films you couldn’t tell where the films would end up, or what the point is, so the audience is encouraged to watch more actively in order to piece it all together.
But my favourite Tarantino film is Jackie Brown so what the hell do I know.
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00000000 / Kraken
This here is from an article by The Last Psychiatrist (which yeah is still my favourite thing on the internet ever).
The article is called No Self-Respecting Woman Would Go Out Without Make Up and if I’d recommend you go and read one thing today then it would be that. It says a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff but the bit that’s pertinent to the subject in hand is when it talks about Django Unchained and what the hell I’m gonna copy and paste a whole big chuck for your intellectual enjoyment (you lucky people!)
Anyway, perfectly ordinary slaveowner DiCaprio asks a rhetorical question, a fundamental question, that has occurred to every 7th grade white boy and about 10% of 7th grade white girls, and the profound question he asked was: “Why don’t they just rise up?”
Kneel down, Quentin Tarantino is a genius. That question should properly come from the mouth of the German dentist: this isn’t his country, he doesn’t really have an instinctive feel for the system, so it’s completely legitimate for a guy who doesn’t know the score to ask this question, which is why 7th grade boys ask it; they themselves haven’t yet felt the crushing weight of the system, so immediately you should ask, how early have girls been crushed that they don’t think to ask this? But Tarantino puts this question in the mouth of the power, it is spoken by the very lips of that system; because of course the reason they don’t rise up is that he– that system– taught them not to. When the system tells you what to do, you have no choice but to obey.
If “the system tells you what to do” doesn’t seem very compelling, remember that the movie you are watching is Django UNCHAINED. Why did Django rise up? He went from whipped slave to stylish gunman in 15 minutes. How come Django was so quickly freed not just from physical slavery, but from the 40 years of repeated psychological oppression that still keeps every other slave in self-check? Did he swallow the Red Pill? How did he suddenly acquire the emotional courage to kill white people?”
The dentist freed him.” So? Lots of free blacks in the South, no uprisings. “He’s ‘one in ten thousand’?” Everybody is 1 in 10000, check a chart. “He got a gun?” Doesn’t help, even today there are gun owners all over America who feel that they aren’t free. No. You should read this next sentence, get yourself a drink, and consider your own slavery: the system told Django that he was allowed to. He was given a document that said he was a bounty hunter, and as an agent of the system, he was allowed to kill white people. That his new job happened to coincide with the trappings of power is 100% an accident, the system decided what he was worth and what he could do with his life. His powers were on loan, he wasn’t even a vassal, he was a tool.
I think this kinda insight is why I love Django Unchained so much. Although I’ll admit that the thought didn’t even cross my mind the first time I watched it. Instead (like I already said) I was completely wrapped up by all of the lovely, thick, juicy catharsis. I mean: I know that the template for every action movie is basically – hit the hero down until the end when the hero finally gets to win. But well – it’s not exactly a template that’s strictly adhered to you know? The narcissistic mainstream being what it is – most movies won’t really allow their heroes to sink too low because it’s too unbecoming (Avengers: Infinity War being one of the few recent exceptions and you know – that’s kinda a big part of the reason why I love it so). But Django goes all in twice. Once at the start where he literally doesn’t even have a shirt on his back and he’s – chained. And then again in the big third act twist where the bad guys get the – well – upper hand…
Our old regular friend of the Film Club Spike Lee remarked when Django was released that “Slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western” which well yeah no duh thanks for that Spike. One is a historical epoch and one is a genre so consider my mind blown all the way open. But hell: all credit to Tarantino to realizing that if you’re looking for a setting of heightened emotions (and what is cinema / drama if not a series f heightened emotions?) then setting a story in a place where the gravest injustices take every day seems like – in reterospect – a bit of a no-brainer. All of human experience is fodder for the stories we tell right? So why is it only that “respectable” tales like 12 Years a Slave allowed to venture into areas? Whose purpose does it serve to keep these spaces sacred?Ilia said that “Django is in keeping with all of Tarantino’s late work in that it’s inspired by trash / genre cinema and b-movies” – but god: isn’t that basically like all films ever? Show me a film that is composed of at least some trash and I’ll show you a film that hardly anyone watches.
And of course the really interesting thing about Django (and maybe this applies to all movies?) but however much I might like it: I’m always going to be kept at one remove away from it’s full effect. In much the same way that Taken is meticulously designed for single dads who are having trouble relating to their daughters – Django is probably the best fantasy I can think of for black male youths (Whoops? Shit – do I sound condescending? I sure hope not). But fuck – if I’d experienced a life of being marginalized and looked down upon and had my humanity identified by the colour of my skin – a film where the protagonist experienced that but to a whole greater severity and then finished the film by blowing them all away with righteous vengeance seems like a lot stronger medicine than whatever Black Panther is supposed to be. But then I guess Django doesn’t have that Marvel flavour that helps make the whole thing go down easily…
Oh and – can we just get a mention for the Tarantino as Australian slave-owner scene (which ends with him getting blown up by frigging dynamite!!) – I mean. That’s a whole new sphere of crazy genius.
Also: a shout out for “could you please stop playing Beethoven?” which is my favourite line in the movie and reverberates through my head in ways that I’m not sure that I can fully explain.
And also you know – the obvious:
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9
Beethoven took two years (1822–1824) to write what many people believe to be his best work. “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125” is a choral symphony and you may be more familiar with it as “Ode to Joy.”
This symphony is a favorite for music students, classical music fans, and filmmakers alike. This single symphony offers high drama, soft melodies, and lots of action, giving movie directors so more than enough to work with.
- “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994)
- “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
- “Cruel Intentions” (1999)
- “Dead Poets Society” (1989)
- “Die Hard” (1988)
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As someone who could fairly be accused of being a fan of super hero movies, I find that Westerns, a similarly dominant genre in its time, do very little for me. Even a lot of the solid gold classics felt like fulfilling an obligation to be a film knower abouter rather than leaving me hungry for more.
In fact although there are definitely fairly tedious comparisons that can be made between these two genres, to my mind the real progeny of westerns is the 90s crime thriller. That is where the morally compromised sheriff and gold hearted outlaw stories have ended up, with the red and yellow hues of the prairie swapped out for the blue and neon of urban decay. Quentin Tarantino clearly has a strong foot in the latter camp and understands the conversation that needs to be had as he brings the tropes he helped develop back home to the Wild West. Firstly it was absolutely correct to hack down the genre’s cheerful airbrushing of slavery and exploitation, but secondly and more importantly it’s also destroying the Cowboy character. Django is not the noble avenger of Unforgiven or the tired samurai of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, (phew don’t think anyone will noticed that these are the only Westerns I’ve seen) But rather the sort of vindictive prick that is at the heart of most Tarantino movies, the sort of git who doesn’t run away from a fight but has to choose between a baseball bat and a chainsaw, who will eat his unarmed victim’s hamburger before gunning them down, who will pluck out someone’s one remaining eye before just walking off. He’s at best an inglorious basterd with a score to settle with the whole world.
What establishes him not as an invincible Mary Sue hero, but as a merciless force to be reckoned with is when even the (also fairly heartless) Christoph Waltz is looking at Django like maybe he’s gone too far. Django isn’t haunted by the man he left to the dogs, and isn’t even exacting justice at the end when he tortures both Samuel Jackson and Walter Goggins, and blows away a defenceless Lara Lee, he’s showing that he is at last completely unchained from any sort of self doubt.
I think one thing I was disappointed with was Broomhilda. When we first meet her she is being punished for some sort of transgression, and then when we catch up with her she has been locked in a box again as some sort of punishment, and I assumed that like Broomhilda it was because she was also an untameable lioness. So why then in this film is she a skittish, practically mute, Princess Peach character?
Now we know Tarantino has no problem writing chunky female characters, whether Jackie Brown, the Bride or even Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. Also Kerry Washington also plays Oliver Pope in Scandal, who is such a strong female character at one point in that show she becomes the head of the illuminati!The setup is all there for her to join Django in his enlightened Will to Power murder spree, Matilda to his Leon. But no.
Is she so weak to offset Django’s baddassery? To show that why she’s been broken, he has managed to rise up as a sort of superhero? It seems like a wasted opportunity and also presumably means that their relationship is doomed. They can’t really settle down to a life of “Hey honey, just gonna murder a man in front of his kid for money, looking forward to that pie you making when I get home.” Or are they just permanently on the run? In which case she is just gonna get shot and what’s Django gonna do then? Its a weird choice.
Of course this extra characterisation might have made the film even longer, and Illya says, it is just waaay to long. Even leaving aside that any film over ~105 minutes are usually examples of cowardly editing, there is a lot of filler that could have been lost. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I just felt tired by the end of the film, although it’s possible I was just tired anyway.
People have problems with Tarantino but he has largely avoided “selling out” which means he has built up a legacy as a film maker, and this legacy pays off in lots of different ways. By contrast if you look at the list of best selling movies of all the time there is a lot of shit, obviously, but one that stands out is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland which made more than $1billion! Now I love the book to a degree which surprises even myself, but why would a $1billion dollars worth of people turn up for this film? To answer my own rhetorical question it was because on paper it seemed like all the ingredients for a nailed on classic. Tim Burton has a unique style and the rubes like me thought, “yes please I want to Lewis Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece mixed with Burton’s macabre charm” but instead we got, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland which happened to be directed by Tim Burton, and the outcome was both predictable and complete garbage. Now as I have said in previous posts Sleepy Hollow is one of my favourite movies, and who doesn’t like Nightmare Before Christmas? But it’s been ten years since Alice and I haven’t been interested in seeing a film of his since.
Not that I am full of uncritical praise for Quentin Tarantino’s work, but all his films feel like his films and he has a hallmark of quality in terms of production. I think the best way I can describe his added value is that there is a lack of creative claustrophobia. So many movies feel like they a start off in a box and sure they might break out of that box, or do something different with it, but you know where those films live, you know their lineages and reference points and tropes, you can lean to the person sitting next to you and annoyingly say “she thinks his hesitation means he’s going to propose but actually he’s a under the thrall of time travelling ghosts… you can tell by the camera angle, it’s textbook.” Because not only have we seen it all before but we have seen it done in a million spin offs, and indeed seen a million spin offs of a plot device where the characters are forced to live the same moment over and over. For most films and tv the narrative decision tree looms over everything, as evidenced by people moaning about Infinity War killing off Spider-Man and saying “oh well he’ll definitely be back, cos they’ve already greenlit the sequel” which managed to miss the point from a standing start. They knew audiences know that and they did it anyway.
This “fuck you, I’m gonna do it anyway” approach is how I docked with Tarantino in the first place. My earliest experience of Tarantino magic was Dusk til Dawn. Actually my first experience of his work was True Romance, which he also wrote, and that helped because when I saw Dusk til Dawn, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting. Dusty rust belt America where everyone is a fast talking wiseass, everyone is corrupt, and there will be a lot of murdering. And Dusk til Dawn sets that all up very nicely with your indie crime drama cast: you’ve got Juliette Lewis from Natural Born Killers, George Clooney doing his “range” work, Harvey Keitel being Harvey Keitel, and of course Tarantino himself who was famously redefining the crime-thriller genre at the time. So that serious cast in a hostage situation, there’s gonna be tension, character beats, betrayal and probably some of sort of shoot out. I feel prepped as an audience member so that when The Twist comes and it’s like a surprise birthday party when you thought you were getting takeaway chicken. Now it is not just the big twist of Dusk Til Dawn which made it seem to cool to smart-alecky 17 year old me, but it was that all the choices the film made seemed to care so little for how the film was supposed to go.
Discussing the Alien ending, it came down to “what if the Alien had killed Ripley?” But what if the Alien and Ripley suddenly had to put aside their differences and fight off a horde of vampires? Or what if just as the Alien was about to win Ripley’s Mexican connection turned up out of nowhere and blasted open the airlock to unknowingly save the day? Or what if Ripley killed Hitler and the Alien got away only to be branded with a swastika on its forehead?
In the “shake my hand” scene you are thinking both “Cristoph Waltz you know he’s on to you, just walk away” and also “Leonardo Dicaprio, these guys deadly killers, why are you making a fuss?” And both characters do what they have to do, regardless of whether or not it is particularly helpful for the story.
The scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta accidentally shoots a guy in the back of his car is probably the best example of Tarantino just following his characters around and escalating from there. It works not only to tell a cool story but also to provide narrative tension, because you know at any point things can get messy really quickly. Indeed he banks on this with the scene in the bar early on when Christoph Waltz kills the sheriff, you’re thinking “what’s this guy doing?! He’s deliberately antagonising an entire town. He’s crazy!” And the film gives you room to believe that maybe he is just that crazy before pulling things back in.
In a Tarantino movie the characters do not do as their told, they don’t conveniently follow to shortest route to the pay off, and that means you never “know” what’s gonna happen, which is such a ridiculously rare commodity that he remains one of the most interesting prominent film makers.
Ah, Tarantino. The ultimate fanboy turned auteur. I cringe whenever I hear the throwaway phrase ‘gratuitous violence’ in the description of a Tarantino movie. The violence in his films is not gratuitous. Anything but – it’s an essential aspect of his oeuvre, his hyper discernible mise en scène. Yeah, sometimes it’s indulgent and heavy handed and crude, like a dog hoiking up its posterior to mark its territory. I don’t love it, but I appreciate its utility. And it is – for the most part – genuinely entertaining entertainment, a curiously rare thing, no?
OK, but then there’s the matter of his characters’ (or shall we just cut the crap and say ‘his’?) prodigious use of the word ‘nigger’, which had its apotheosis in Django. I remember at the time reading from a whole bunch of people who were falling over themselves to condemn Tarantino ‘in the strongest possible terms’, vowing to boycott the movie, etc. Meh. Whatever my feelings about this word (strongly negative – no prizes), and whatever Tarantino’s reasons are for the verbal diarrhoea, I just can’t get behind the screeching reactions. This sort of censure of artistic endeavour either is a) evidence of homo sapiens’ enduring link to pond life, b) marking to the end of western civilisation, or c) both. OK, if anyone counters with that one example of the pea brained white supremacist who used art as cover while actually – cleverly! – reveling in the racial slur, I will stand corrected and eat my hat.
I really enjoyed my experience of watching Django. No joke, I found it delightful. I dunno, maybe it had something to do with the scale of the thing (it remains, to date, the only Tarantino film I’ve seen on release at the cinema), but this film definitely scratched an itch, that I didn’t even know I had. And even afterwards, after I’d come down from the delicious sugar rush of the build up and all of the inevitable bloody sadistic murdering that followed, I reveled in the aftertaste of the thing. The one big catch for me was having this particular salve administered by a white dude from Tennessee who claims to have been a black slave in a former life, and who said that he made this movie to gift black men the folk hero they never had. Oy vey, his publicist must have had a fun few days, haha!
Someone earlier in the thread referenced Matilda and Leon, can’t quite remember in what context, I think to do with Broomhilda’s lack of agency? Speaking of, my delight in the revenge-of-the-grossly-oppressed fantasy has been further mellowed by The Last Psychiatrist’s thesis that Django is basically just a tool. That angle hadn’t crossed my mind at all. Dammit, so few things in life I consume with unmitigated enjoyment, and now this… Anyway, I digress from my digression. Did LGNNFC do Leon yet? I love that film, ahhh, so much. Wanted to name my kids Leon and Matilda, and tell everyone who ever asked that, yes, they were named after Besson’s characters. My partner said no. My partner said, what if we don’t have a girl after this boy, then we will have named our son Leon for nothing (oh, but we did; and Leon even on its own wouldn’t be for nothing!). So I put this down as the (n + 1) entry in my list of times I momentarily wished I were a single parent.
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00000000 / Kraken
If I ever had a kid I’d call it Ripley, Galactus or Batman (they’re all unisex names – shut up).
Re: Tarantino and the use of the N-word. Does anyone mind if I quote from that Last Psychiatrist article again? Because well – I’m gonna quote from that Last Psychiatrist article again (you should read it – it’d be good for you I promise).
This explains the near-universal anxiety over the movie’s frequent use of the word nigger, and someone asked Tarantino if he thought he had used it too much in the movie, and his response was perfect: “too much, in comparison to how much it was used back then?” Nigger, and the violence, was all anyone was upset about. Terry Gross, NPR’s mental Fleshlight, asked Tarantino her typically insightful and nuanced questions: “do you enjoy violent movies less after what happened at Sandy Hook?” Sigh. So there’s the Terry Gross checklist for reviewing Django: gun=bad and saying nigger=bad. Check and check. You know what no one thought badworthy? When the white guy asked to have a certain slave sent to his room to try out her ample vagina, and the prim white lady of the house happily escorted her up. “Go on, do what you’re told, girl.”
I’d venture that Terry Gross and and the gang at HuffPoWo would rather be whipped than be– that’s rape, right?– but that scene didn’t light up their amygdalas, only hearing “nigger” did. I find that highly suspicious, or astoundingly obtuse, or both.
I used to get a lot more angry about this sort of stuff when I just kinda assumed that it was deliberate and calculated. People getting worked up by the most superficial aspects of something rather than anything deeper or well – more important. The basic gist always being – everything in society is fine and dandy and doesn’t need to be commented upon – the most important thing that we need to focus all of our attention is making sure that everyone is always using the right words – yes? And don’t anyone try and trap me with somekinda facile logical checkmate or whatever. Of course I believe that people should be polite with each other and not act in a dickish way (and I second Nieros’ lovely assessment of the word in question “(strongly negative – no prizes)” because yes obviously). But I have a strong mental image of the same people who get so very worked by the word being transported back to the Antebellum South and taking the exact same tack and getting most indigent when Monsieur Candie used the bad word but otherwise being unconcerned by – well – all of the other stuff. Basic point being: society can be racist as possible and the majority of black people and all other ethnic minorities can all be as poor and as exploited as fuck but as long as we’re all using the right words then it doesn’t really matter (wait – which era am I supposed to be talking about again?)
At the risk of being that douche who quotes some Colonel Kurtz on you all – the best line in Apocalypse Now is always going to be: “We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘fuck’ on their aeroplanes because it’s obscene.” Word.
Nowadays tho – I don’t actually see this kinda language policing – what words you can say and what words you can’t – so much as being a deliberate or calculated move by people trying to deflect attention from the much more unpleasant and much more powerful undercurrents of society. I think it’s actually more a pathological thing and – as with pretty much everything – about education and training and bringing people up so they can only see things in a certain way. It’s like with novels innit? Everyone likes to underline their favourite line and pull out a particular quote that they stick on their instagram – but it’s a lot more tricky to work out and talk about what a the whole book means and how or why it hangs together in a certain way and what the story actually means. It’s much easier to focus on what a person or character says and talk about that rather than what the totality of a work says altogether.
(And even when people do try and do this – they fall very easily into the whole “deception equals endorsement” trap which honestly… just makes me want to smash things).
Re: “Speaking of, my delight in the revenge-of-the-grossly-oppressed fantasy has been further mellowed by The Last Psychiatrist’s thesis that Django is basically just a tool.”
I mean – I don’t know if this is going to help any – but I think The Last Psychiatrist’s thesis is that we’re all tools. The systems we live in construct all of our realities and dictate to us the choices we have and the types of lives we can lead. Yes Django’s consciousness is moulded and changed by the circumstances of his life – but that’s everyone. People and characters. John McClane. HAL 9000. Annie Hall. Erik Killmonger. Danny Torrance. Chris Washington. Ellen Ripley. etc and so on.
In other words: ENJOY THE POWER FANTASY.