Django Unchained is a 2012 Revisionist Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Set in the Old West and Antebellum South, it is a highly-stylized, heavily-revisionist tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, in particular the 1966 Italian film Django by Sergio Corbucci. The dark humor amidst such a tragic era where slavery is rife, is typical for the type of film-making Tarantino excels at. With a diverse and talented cast including Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Waltz and Samuel L Jackson (a regular in Tarantino’s movies), the movie deals with the plot of a young slave named Django, who with the help of a bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, tries to free his wife Broomhilda from the clutches of the ruthless plantation owner Calvin J Candie.
The movie begins with an introduction to the two “heroes” of the movie, as we encounter in Texas, in the year 1858, brothers Ace and Dicky Speck drive a group of shackled black slaves on foot. Among them is Django, sold off and separated from his wife Broomhilda von Shaft, a house slave who speaks German and English. They are stopped by Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter seeking to buy Django for his knowledge of the three outlawed Brittle brothers, overseers at the plantation of Django’s previous owner and for whom Schultz has a warrant. When Ace levels his gun at Schultz, Schultz kills him and shoots Dicky’s horse. As a result, the horse falls on top of Dicky, pinning him to the ground. Schultz insists on paying a fair price for Django before leaving Dicky to the newly freed slaves, who kill him and on the instructions of Dr. Schultz, follow the North Star to freedom. Schultz offers Django his freedom and $75 in exchange for help tracking down the Brittles.
Django and Schultz kill the Brittle brothers at Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett’s Tennessee plantation. Bennett rounds up a posse whom Schultz ambushes with explosives, killing most of them while Django kills Bennett (a hilarious scene which also references the Ku Klux Klan in a subtle manner). Feeling responsible for Django, Schultz takes him on as an apprentice and agrees to help him find and rescue Broomhilda.
They return to Texas where Django collects his first bounty, keeping the handbill as a memento. He and Schultz rack up several bounties before spring, when they travel to Mississippi and learn that Broomhilda’s new owner is Calvin J. Candie, the charming but cruel owner of the Candyland plantation, where slaves are forced to wrestle to the death in brutal “Mandingo” fights. Schultz and Django hatch a plan. They know that if they offer to buy Broomhilda, Calvin will price her beyond reach, so they will instead offer $12,000 for one of his best fighters as a pretext to acquiring Broomhilda for a nominal sum. They can then feign second thoughts about buying the fighter and leave with just Broomhilda. They meet Calvin at his gentlemen’s club, with Django posing as a black slaver and make the offer. Intrigued, Calvin invites them to the Candyland plantation.
Having told Broomhilda of their plan, Schultz offers to buy her as his escort while negotiating the initial deal during dinner. Calvin’s staunchly loyal head house slave Stephen (played wonderfully by Samuel L Jackson) realizes that Broomhilda knows Django, accurately deduces their plan and alerts Calvin. Calvin alters the deal at gunpoint to sell Broomhilda for $12,000 instead of the fighter. Schultz reluctantly agrees. During the sale’s finalization, Calvin threatens to have Broomhilda shot if Schultz does not shake his hand to seal the deal, and Schultz instead shoots him dead. Calvin’s bodyguard kills Schultz, and Django goes on a rampage, killing the bodyguard, the lawyer, and several of Calvin’s henchmen, but is forced to surrender when Stephen takes Broomhilda hostage.
The next morning, Django is tortured and about to be castrated when Stephen arrives, halting the torture to say that Calvin’s sister Lara has taken charge and that Django will instead be sold to a mining company and worked to death. En route there, Django uses his first handbill to prove to his escorts that he is a bounty hunter. He claims the men on the handbill are at Candyland and promises the escorts all but $500 of the reward money. Once released, Django kills his escorts and returns to Candyland with a bag of dynamite. Recovering Broomhilda’s freedom papers from Schultz’s corpse, Django avenges him by killing the trackers and frees Broomhilda just as Calvin’s mourners return from his burial. At the mansion, Django kills Lara and the remaining henchmen, releases the two remaining house slaves, and kneecaps Stephen before igniting the dynamite he had planted throughout the mansion. Django and Broomhilda watch from a distance as the mansion explodes before riding off together.
Django Unchained offers one fascinating scene after the other, but it never trivializes the atrocities inflicted on the black slaves by white slaveowners in the 1800s. The movie introduces various characters and how all of these are fascinating in their own way. The superb performances by the entire cast, result in a movie that has you glued to your seat from start to finish. Even the supporting cast involving the first plantation owner “Big Daddy”, is so complex a character, that he also manages to intrigue audiences. His greed and loathing for blacks is constantly at war within himself. Another great character was Samuel L Jackson playing the head slave at the Candyland plantation, Stephen Warren. Stephen, a black slave, loves his owner and is actually more interested in thwarting Django, who as a black slaver, fascinates Calvin Candie and is held in esteem by him, thus bringing Stephen’s jealousy out in full force. As the audience, one notices these characters as the silent building blocks of this movie, a movie whose plot is quite simple but the characters end up complicating the same.
Just like the previously reviewed Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is crazily entertaining with an audacious plot and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness, a trait that is becoming a common theme in Tarantino’s movies. The frequent and excessive use of the “N-word” in the movie, is discomforting for the modern ear but Tarantino’s movies have always had it and in a movie about mid-1800s, slave owning Southern USA, it is completely at home. The movie also makes people think about the horrors of slavery and the blatant racism which still carries over to the modern era where we still see atrocities being committed though not as brazenly as in the 1800s.
Watch Django Unchained for its fascinating and fast-paced entertainment and the wonderful performances of its cast. Allow Tarantino to transport you to a whole new environment.