I went to see this movie without reading any reviews or seeing much about it in the media except that some people (including director Spike Lee) found it offensive. I didn’t feel unprepared, however, since I need no introduction to Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic aesthetic. His films are not for everyone, but it seems likely he will be remembered as a crucial figure in film history that left his stamp indelibly on the art form. Loving the older films, especially those outside the mainstream of respectability, he is known for brilliant dialogue, surprising humor, graphic, stylized action, and a willingness to play with conventions of chronology, emotion, and morality to the point of offense.
The story line of Django Unchained is simple. A bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, played with wonderful charm by Christoph Waltz, is looking for three criminals he cannot identify. He rescues a slave, Django, played by Jamie Foxx who knows the men in question. In exchange for Django’s help, Schultz promises to give him his freedom, some cash, and help in rescuing his wife who has been sold to a different plantation owner. The depictions of slavery over which plantation owner Calvin Candie rules, played with inhuman ferocity covered by Southern manners by Leonardo DiCaprio are as horrifying as the scenes of the Klan led by Big Daddy, played by Don Johnson are ridiculous. Django Unchained makes us anti-slavery not with careful reasons why the practice is unethical and evil but by designing scenes that depict cruelty and dehumanization that are rightly, deeply offensive. And Candie’s black butler, Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson, makes us nervous—he is a slave so he should be one of the good guys, but he is not. In the end, before a sentimental shot in the moonlight, vengeance is dealt out in unrelenting intensity.
Perhaps the most revealing part of watching Django Unchained for me was not in the movie but in the theater. Tarantino is a powerful writer and director, and the film sweeps us along to the bloodbath at the end. We have already been sickened by the depictions of slavery, wondering how human beings can treat people with such wickedness. We are yearning for justice and for freedom, as Django does, and fear that the effort to rescue his wife, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington will fail. So, when Django draws his gun we cheer, as my fellow movie watchers did, without bothering to reflect on whether cheering for vengeance is the same as yearning for justice. The killing is done in Tarantino style, with geysers of blood, so that the rooms of the big house are splattered with it. It is almost as if he is saying no amount of human blood is sufficient to make up for the evil perpetrated by human beings in history.
I agree. Which is one reason why I am a Christian and believe in the cross.