You know how in various media you hear about people confusing fear for respect, and not understanding the difference? Django Unchained is very much a movie like that – if you see me squirm or flinch back due to gore and sympathetic pain, it doesn’t mean I actually care for what I see on screen. You need the emotional attachment to be there to begin with and to be enhanced by those sympathetic pain/music sequences, they can’t replace them completely.
I think back to Prison Break, there’s a sequence where they cut off Scofield’s toe, and he’s a character we can relate to, and they do it slowly – so even though we don’t actually see the deed – we’re hugging the back of our seat. Also think of the ending of Requiem for a Dream, where horrible things happen to many of the main characters of the show. Finally, think of Fairy Tail – I touched on how influential the music was on my enjoyment and emotional participation in the show – I’ll be frank, without the music I’d have probably cared for the show a whole lot less.
But that’s just the point, if you see us flinching back or squirming in our seats and you mistake us not enjoying what happening to the people on screen with us actually caring for the characters and the story, then you are mistaken. Django Unchained kept hammering us with big sequences that were supposed to make us care – an epic story, horrible things being done to people, decadence most extreme – but it never did the small thing first, it never created an emotional attachment with us.