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movie: Django Unchained (2012)

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.


Rating: 9 splattered walls.

12 Responses

  1. I’m hoping to see this movie tomorrow night on cheap night in Notting Hill. Come on Better Half and get out of work on time. I love Tarantino and I am expecting blood and guts. not that I like seeing it, but he has a way of making it look real and fake at the same time i don’t get too disturbed by it. And thank goodness females are not victimized in this one. I feel like that is such an easy target–not sure that is coming across right. Guess I’m saying I get tired of rape scenes. I know it happened then. I know it happens now–still too much! But it shouldn’t be tossed around all of the time. As a woman I get tired of seeing it. We already have to fear it and it seems every crime show or whatnot has rape victims.

    • No, I understand your point perfectly, TBM: it’s an “easy” target because rape was so common under slavery, it would have been so easy (and accurate) to put it in; and that’s what I so appreciated that Tarantino didn’t take the easy route. Right?

      Hope you get to see it!!

  2. I agree (with everything). 🙂

    And the way it avoids rape hadn’t occurred to me — that’s a very good point. And, yes, complaining that a Tarantino movie has violence is a bit like seeing a romantic comedy and complaining that the couple got together at the end. What were you expecting? 🙂

    I wrote about Django Unchained here:
    http://u-town.com/collins/?p=3917

    • Great, thanks for the link Anthony, I’m on my way over to read your review! Yes, I know, Tarantino = blood & guts; I just felt like I bore saying for anyone who might be shocked. 🙂

    • It wouldn’t let me comment over there. :-/ Agree wholeheartedly with your review, too, and funny, I hadn’t considered how passively Broomhilda waits for her rescue. Does this negate the credit we give Tarantino for avoiding rape? (I submit that it does not.)

      Also interesting to contemplate his movies moving towards a focus on women; I’m going to have to sit down with a list and think about that one.

      • 1) No, nothing about the movie is diminished by my one qualm. Still an excellent movie.

        2) My blog is self-hosted, so you have to register to comment. It’s really simple. 🙂

        3) I saw an article which did (sort of) answer (or at least acknowledge) my one question about the movie (http://tinyurl.com/bdd8o5y). I was quite aware of it during a couple of scenes, but then so many other things happened that I forgot. 🙂

        4) I think including rape just for historical accuracy would be terrible. It existed, and “mandingo” fighting apparently didn’t, but so what? This is not, as the soundtrack regularly reminds us, a documentary.

        5) I think I’m going to do a blog post about Tarantino’s language.

      • The masked woman passed me entirely by! How interesting. Tarantino is clever. I am excited about your post on his language!! And absolutely right, historical accuracy is no reason to include the rape. It’s just that it would have been so easy for him to include it with that excuse; and I find it so refreshing that he didn’t.

      • I wrote the blog post about Tarantino’s and language:
        http://u-town.com/collins/?p=3946

  3. Thanks, Anthony! I’m on the road at the moment so it will take me a while to take a look at this but I’ve marked it for later. Am interested. Thanks for the head’s up.

  4. […] team called the “Basterds,” and Christoph Waltz (who was positively outstanding in Django Unchained) as an S.S. leader named Landa. In this telling, the Basterds put together a plot to kill Hitler; […]

  5. […] the other hand, where I think the extensive use of the n-word in Django Unchained was fairly well justified and pointed, it grated here. There were many references to race that felt […]

  6. […] best-known themes. And I’m no Puritan when it comes to that stuff (for example, I loved Django Unchained). But here – and with the added misogyny, which he is not so well-known for – it felt […]

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