As we have noted before in regard to Quentin Tarantino, even an unserious act (or film) can have serious consequences. The writer-director’s new work, Django Unchained, treats the truth with contempt in its depiction of America’s past. In presenting slavery, at least by implication, as the nation’s original sin and racism as somehow bound up with the character of its people, Tarantino also aligns himself with numerous “left” cultural critics who have been made extremely uncomfortable and unhappy by Steven Spielberg’s-Tony Kushner’s Lincoln.
The overall concern for historical fact at work in Django Unchained can be gauged by its initial title, which explains that the film opens in 1858, “Two years before the Civil War,” a conflict that began in 1861.
Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave being transported across Texas, is freed from his owners by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waitz), a German-born bounty hunter. Schultz has need of Django because the latter can recognize three brothers, for whom the authorities are offering a large reward. In exchange for the slave’s partnership in tracking down additional wanted men, Schultz will help Django rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
After initial unease about shooting a man down in cold blood (the pursued individuals are “Wanted dead or alive”), Django takes to the work with relish. The pair eventually make their way to Candieland, the plantation in question, presided over by its monstrous master, who stages fights to the death between slaves as a form of entertainment and orders one runaway to be torn to pieces by dogs in front of his visitors.
Schultz and Django pretend to be interested in buying one of the prized black gladiators, with Broomhilda merely thrown in as an afterthought, but Candie’s head slave and henchman, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), soon awakes to the fact that the woman is Django’s wife. An outraged Candie thereupon vastly increases the amount demanded for her and, moreover, insists that Schultz shake hands with him to seal the deal.
Pushed to the limit by this final act of humiliation, the bounty hunter shoots Candie, and is killed, in turn, by one of the latter’s thugs. Wholesale slaughter ensues, which ends only with Django wreaking revenge on all the surviving inhabitants of Candieland, including Candie’s unarmed sister.
Django Unchained is a miserable work, implausible and unconvincing from beginning to end (unlike the best “spaghetti Westerns” Tarantino claims to admire).
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