Django Unchained is the latest from Quentin Tarantino, who wrote the screen play and also acts and directs. I am a fan of Tarantino, and was anxious to see this one in the theatre. We’re not necessarily a family that goes to movies very often at all; but for the second time in about ten days (following Lincoln), we did make it out for this one.
First, a quick plot synopsis. Django is a slave at the beginning of the movie, who is purchased by a former dentist turned bounty hunter, the German Dr. Schultz. Dr. Schultz wants Django to help him identify three brothers with a price on their heads; he frees Django in exchange for his help, as he doesn’t approve of the peculiar institution. The two men get along, and Django tells Dr. Schultz about his wife, Broomhilda, still in slavery in an unknown location. Dr. Schultz is taken by the idea of this slave woman with the German name: Django tells him she was taught to speak German, too, by her first mistress. They agree to work together to raise funds and then ride south to find Broomhilda and buy her freedom, too. When they go to do so, they find her at a plantation know as Candieland, owned by the depraved and very wealthy Mr. Candie. The plot is to not let him know which slave they’re really after; so they pretend that they’re interested in buying a Mandingo fighter: a slave trained to fight other slaves to the death. (Slate says there is no historical evidence of this practice.) Then they’ll casually slip Broomhilda’s purchase in on the way out, predicated upon Dr. Schultz’s appreciation of hearing his native tongue spoken after so many years in the States.
But this is Tarantino, so all does not go according to plan. Also because this is Tarantino, there is a great deal of bloodshed. Much of what I see on the internet about this movie involves warnings about all the gore; which warnings are appropriate, but I guess I would think that, if you were familiar with Tarantino, then his name on this film would be enough to warn you.
Django‘s treatment of slavery is raw, cringe-worthy, and (I think) pretty fair and realistic. The n-word is slathered on generously; but this is historically accurate. I have a medium-to-high tolerance for on-screen violence, but there were two scenes that I looked away from. It’s not pretty stuff, kids; but neither was slavery. On the other hand (and, again, as we expect from Tarantino), there is some bizarrely effective comedy, at the Klan’s expense (IMDB points out that reference to the Klan is anachronistic, FYI). And here’s a bonus: as my father observed, there are no female victims in this movie. Broomhilda is enslaved, but not otherwise victimized. It would have been so easy – and historically plausible – to have her raped; but Tarantino refrained, and we all appreciated that.
This movie strikes me as a historically faithful portrayal of the ugliness of slavery, even while Candie’s depraved playground of violence perhaps leans towards the fantastic end of such things. But there are elements of film genres other than historical drama: this is very much a western, for one thing, with the classic spaghetti-western music playing in several key scenes. (There is also some more modern, decidedly anachronistic music in other scenes. I didn’t find it too jarring, although I did notice it.) And – I keep using this phrase – in classic Tarantino fashion, it’s a fairy tale, too. Django’s ability to ride a horse (bareback, no less) and use a gun seemed highly improbable to me, but I went along with it. I may be biased, because True Romance is my favorite Tarantino flick of all time (he wrote but did not direct), but I was favorably reminded of that film in some of its fairy-tale qualities.
In a few words, Django Unchained is everything we should expect from Tarantino: blood and gore, twisted humor, clever dialogue, fairy-tale endings, and more blood. Also, the acting is excellent. If you like Tarantino (meaning: if you can handle the violence), DO see this movie.