Arts & EntertainmentSpotlight

Django Unchained

Consider this your warning: If you go to see this movie, do yourself a favor and temporarily ease-up on some of your sensitivities, including but not limited to: pacifism, prudence, and most of all, your convictions about the trajectories of splattering blood.

Moving beyond my gracious warning, (please, no gifts or praise necessary– it was nothing, really) “Django Unchained” is a stew thick with challenges, moral considerations and violence, but it’s also a magnificent tale to revel in. It re-creates a German legend from the Middle Ages, sets it just a tick before the Civil War in the pungent American South, and it still retains the ripe modern age sensibility of Quentin Tarentino.

The accomplished Jamie Foxx is Django (the ‘d’ is…well you already know), a recently escaped and apprehended plantation slave. He and his beloved wife were caught and branded on the face with an ‘r’. After being re-sold separately from his spouse, he soon meets the German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who buys him to help locate three slave-overseers who have committed homicide; as if incarcerating and abusing human beings wasn’t criminal enough. If Django fulfills the task, he’ll earn his freedom and have an opportunity to rescue his wife from the dire situation she is facing as a captive of the cruel plantation, Candie Land. As you can tell, the entire movie takes place within the slave trade – a despicable and grating market of humanity.

The characters of “Django Unchained” all have what Dr. Schultz refers to as “panache,” and seem like archetypes of some powerful ancient myth. Schultz himself is wise and experienced about the workings of these American lands and their peoples, making him a kind of narrator to the movie, and it’s his regular scheming that keeps the thing moving. I especially admired his brazen risk-taking ways, buoyed by clever calculation. In one western town, he shoots down its sheriff, and then resumes his frosty beer in the saloon as the U.S, Marshall and the entire population gathers outside ready to blast. He and Django do escape, but not how I expected.

If Dr. Schultz is clever, the brooding Django is part-Foxx (see what I did there) as he is ever witty in conversation and resourceful in pressure situations. His determination to re-unite with his suffering love is the source of his strength and his greatest flaws making Sir Lancelot a closer comparison than any nineteenth century hero.

Myths have villains, and wow, I did not know Leonardo DiCaprio could be that sinister as Calvin Candie, patriarch of Candie Land. He is the type of enemy whose charm is alluring, but could only be inspired by something like Hell. He is the demonic southern gentleman. He’s teamed with his family’s long-trusted, but irreverent slave retainer, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Stephen is all-knowing when it comes to Candie Land and it could be said he is Django and Dr. Schultz’s most troubling adversary.

Characters in “Django Unchained” are slaves and slave owners. More often than not, the movie’s depictions of racial tyranny and suffering are plain brutal. I simply couldn’t follow the advice above and mute my feelings about the gross oppression on the screen. Watching, I realized how rarely I engage our disappointing legacy of enslaved Americans and how it’s shaped the present. Because of this, I truly consider Django Unchained required viewing. Incredibly, as a lesson, “Django Unchained” is also greatly enjoyable as well.

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Photos by Andrew Cooper, SMPSP / The Weinstien Company