Have you ever seen a funny movie about slavery? If you said no, you clearly haven’t seen Django, the Christmas Quentin Tarantino movie starring Jamie Foxx. THIS MOVIE. I don’t even know how I feel in terms of racial complexities because there’s a LOT. First of all, as a white girl in the south, I knew very early on you simply don’t say “the N word” but in this movie people were saying it left and right. Obviously it was set in 1858 two years before the civil war so it was accurate to the time, but it was really interesting and at times uncomfortable to sit in a theatre with all colors, races and creeds and watch this movie that you know was made by a white man about racism. But I’m all for people exploring taboo subjects in an artistic/meaningful way, it’s why I study offensive jokes. BUT back to Django.
So, Jamie Foxx is a slave and very early on in the movie, possibly the first scene (this is how terrible my memory is, I literally watched this movie seven hours ago and I already forgot lots of it) this German man named Schultz comes and buys him. But he’s this bounty hunter and he hates slavery and he is generally pretty open-minded for the time period (whatever that even means idk). The scene where he buys/frees Django (he grants him his freedom when he buys him) is insane, there’s this line of people in chains, and this guy in a carriage with a tooth on top of it (he’s the bounty hunter but he used to be a dentist) comes and he’s asking the slaves (omg this is really awkward to write about) questions and the two white guys who are selling them don’t like it, and one pulls a gun on this guy (Schultz) SO HE JUST SHOOTS HIM IN THE HEAD and his brother in the leg, and here we are introduced to the copious amount of bloodpacks that are about to be used in this film because he’s just fucking SPURTING red corn syrup everywhere. Then Schultz resumes talking to Django in a calm measured tone.
This is a key introduction to Schultz’s character, he has a flair for the dramatic but is always within his own logic. Later in the movie, he and Django go to a town and he shoots the sheriff in front of everyone and literally the entire town surrounds them with gun barrels and it seems impossible that they would get out of this alive (basically like every scene in Wanted) but then Schultz just comes out and explains that their “sheriff” was really a crook and there was a bounty on his head and blah blah blah they’ve turned the tables on everyone! (Tarantino uses this trait to later explain the very convoluted plot to buy Django’s wife back- but we didn’t get there yet!)
So, Django and Schultz team up because Schultz is trying to find these three brothers to kill them but he doesn’t know what they look like so he needs Django to help him identify them because he used to work on the plantation they owned. They go there and Django ends up killing two of the brothers (he whips one to death in a very satisfying scene) and Schultz kills one.
After Schultz informs Django that he can pick out/wear his own clothes now that he’s free, he starts dressing like a steampunk Andre 3000 (AWESOME) and the aforementioned killing scene was done in an all blue satin three piece suit complete with a huge white eyelet bow. They leave this plantation pretty quickly, the owner (Don Johnson) who is called “Big Daddy” by all the female slaves is apparently also a member of the KKK. In one of the funniest scenes of the film there is a discussion between all the members of the KKK (cue Jonah Hill as ‘bag head #2’) about how they can’t see out of the eyeholes in their sheets and the subtle blame shifting among the members of the group for this problem. They go to kill Django and Schultz who have anticipated this night raid and are hiding in a tree. They have planted dynamite in the stagecoach and after detonating it, they proceed to pick off the fleeing KKK members. In a pivotal moment, Schultz hands Django the rifle and he kills “Big Daddy,” a kill that is filmed entirely through the lens of the horse’s running legs (slow motion) which are spattered with blood, then continue as the limp body of their rider falls to the ground.
Django’s knack for killing leads Schultz to offer him a position as his partner, which Django accepts. It has also been established that Django has a wife (Kerry Washington- one of the most beautiful women to put on a dress) named Broomhilda (her owners were German) that has been sold whom he needs to rescue. Schultz is German and he proceeds to tell Django of a German folk story where a knight has to rescue his true love, Broomhilda, and that it is every German’s duty to help him. He takes this quest to heart and fully invests in Django’s rescue mission. They keep killing and eventually find where Broomhilda is, a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) called “Candieland.” (!!!)
This plantation is known for being a a ruthless and terrible place, for Candie is into “Mandingo fighting” which apparently is a fight to the death between two slaves that both owners bet on and watch as entertainment. According to the internet this was not actually a real practice, there were organized fights for money they just weren’t to the death (“not economical”) however it has come up in film before, there is a film called “Mandingo” (which Quentin Tarantino has said is one of his ‘favorite movies’) about a slave who is trained to fight to the death in bare knuckle boxing matches.
But so clearly it’s real fucked up in there, and the first scene with Leo there is one of these fights going on and it’s..really fucked up. This movie is honestly a roller coaster of emotions. Ugh, the one guy has to kill this other guy with a hammer then as he’s literally covered in another (dead) man’s blood Leonardo DiCaprio asks the bartender to give him a tall beer because he “earned it.” What. But so the plan Django and Schultz devise to get Broomhilda back is to pretend to be interested in Mandingo fighters, then casually get Broomhilda in with that sale because Schultz is German and she can speak German (her owners were German). There’s a wonderful interview with Quentin Tarantino where he explains why this elaborate plot is necessary which I would suggest reading if it didn’t make sense to you that devoted a large portion of the movie to this somewhat roundabout scheme.
OH also at Candieland ranch is a CANTANKEROUS AS FUCK Samuel L. Jackson who was a very funny but very complex character; essentially he is an elderly black man who seems to hate slaves.
Basically, spoiler alert, Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen) figures out that Django and Schultz are playing Mr. Candie and they really just want Broomhilda and he tells Candie. What happens next is one of the best things I have ever seen- Leonardo DiCaprio comes back with this monologue that is so well acted I gained new respect for him which I thought was impossible because I thought he already had all of it, but he didn’t. He does such a good job in this movie. There really are no words.
The end of the movie pretty much turns into a blood bath which shouldn’t surprise you about a Tarantino film (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglorious Bastards, Death Proof- they all have it) then Django escapes with Kerry Washington and there’s some classic Q.T wry humor thrown in. As my brother pointed out, they set it up nicely for a sequel but I hope there isn’t one. This movie seemed like a contained experience rather than an ongoing cash cow but who knows. Unrelated, the soundtrack was EXCELLENT I think I’m going to buy it for my brother for Christmas sssh don’t tell him.
The movie oscillates between comedy and truly horrific scenes about slavery. In the article ‘The Django Moment‘ Cord Jefferson notes, “it’s almost impossible to not feel self-conscious when Tarantino asks you to rapidly fluctuate between laughing at the ridiculousness of Django‘s characters and falling silent with shame at the film’s authentic historical traumas.” These historical traumas include Kerry Washington being whipped against a tree while Django pleads on his knees for them to beat him instead, a man getting mauled by dogs for trying to escape the plantation, the “hotbox” a metal box in the ground slaves are put into naked as punishment, a scene where Jamie Foxx is suspended naked in a barn and a man almost cuts his balls off, etc. These scenes are key in striking a balance in terms of complexity and tone of the subject matter the film tackles.
There’s a lot of talk (mainly on twitter) about if this movie is racist or not and how it brings up points of discomfort for both races involved. A movie made by a white man about slavery that’s a comedy is clearly an emotional minefield. I was definitely uncomfortable at times in the theatre, especially realizing that white people and black people were sometimes laughing at different parts, and was that okay, etc. But here is my opinion: there is a lot of racism in this country that people refuse to acknowledge. There is institutionalized racism in the police system, there is ignorant racism in the “less diverse” states (New England/Midwest I’m looking at you) there’s lot of racism because people refuse to talk about race. They want to live in a ‘post-racial’ society which clearly doesn’t exist, and they (mainly white people) want to put discussions of race behind them because it’s uncomfortable. So what we get is ‘whitewashing,’ where privileged white people who think of themselves as liberal (organic food/buy Toms) try to say everything is equal and good and everyone is the same. But we’re not, people are different and different cultures have different experiences and everything is not the same. SO this movie, whether you think it was racist or not, I think is doing an important service to our cultural psyche by bringing up topics that most people do not discuss.
Overall, I thought this movie did an amazing job and I think everyone should see it. It was especially amazing to see it on Christmas- there’s something ironic about seeing a violent movie about white people oppressing others on one of the biggest christian holidays of the year lol. 🙂
(Also I’m DYING to know what Spike Lee and Tyler the Creator think of it)