Creativity In Film
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained" is a mixture of history, moralizing, violence, and parody. The movie is lengthy, at nearly three hours, but moves quickly. The acting,scenery, costuming, and musical score each add a great deal to the film.
The movie is set in Texas, Mississippi, and the west in 1858, two years before the Civil War. The overarching theme of the movie, the evil of slavery, is brought home from the opening scenes, in which two slave traders lead a coffle of bound slaves through the woods to be sold. The primary character Django Freeman (Jimmie Foxx) is a slave in the coffle rescued by a flamboyant German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), because of his ability to recognize a group of former overseers who are wanted by the law dead or alive. Django and Schultz become companions. Django quickly becomes highly skilled with firearms. He agrees to help Schultz with bounty hunting in exchange for Schultz'assistance in finding and freeing his wife, Broomhilda, (Kerry Washington).
There are many humorous, violent, and colorful scenes before the pair arrive in Meridian, Missippi to learn that Broomhilda is at a large plantation called Candieland owned by Calvin Candie (Leonard DiCaprio), the mercurial arch-villian of the film. Candie is a patron of a vicious gladiatorial-like combat called mandingo in which slaves wrestle to the death. (There is no historical evidence that mandingo fighting took place in the Old South.) Schultz and Django develop an elaborate scheme to find and free Broomhilda under the ruse that Django is a free black slaveholder (there were some in the South) who seeks to buy a slave for mandingo fighting and to pay top dollar.
As the story develops, Tarantino shows a great deal about the brutality of plantation life at Candieland, with characters including the Uncle-Tom slave Stephen (Samuel Jackson) and Candie's widowed sister Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwillie (Laura Cayouette) who displays a great degree of smoldering sexual frustration. The tension builds gradually through the extended plantation scenes until the film explodes in a large cascade of violence and death and destruction, with the triumph of Django over the slaveholder tormentors.
The movie is an eclectic melange of history and echoes of B-grade westerns. Each component of this film, from the depiction of slavery to the language, violence, and use of earlier films, can and has been subjected to extended discussion and reflection. I found that the movie worked well. "Django Unchained" held my attention throughout and made me think about what I had seen long after it ended. Tarantino has imaginatively blended his sources together to create a riveting, entertaining movie with superb performances by Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson. I lost an initial skepticism about this movie. The more I thought about it, the better I liked it.