Django Chained: Tarantino and the American Slave

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In just barely over a week since its Christmas release, Quentin Tarantino’s eighth feature film, Django Unchained, has exhaustively become a source of public controversy for its setting amongst southern, pre-Civil War plantations where the height of the black man’s plight in the United States was the accepted norm. Not the least of the film’s detractors, the also ever-increasingly controversial auteur Spike Lee has openly refused to patronize his notorious rival’s latest, fairly stating he cannot comment much further due to this position but adding that the piece appears to be a disgrace to his ancestors.

As talked to death as the subject already feels, my own leanings would leave me remiss not to weigh in after what feels like much more than seven days digesting and discussing the new work of one of my – and just about everyone else’s – favorite filmmakers, and the decidedly preemptive reaction to it from, sure enough, another of my favorite filmmakers (whose own new narrative feature, the important Red Hook Summer, is one of my more cherished films this past year).

Reviews proper from all sides have naturally covered Django‘s technical successes and falterings plenty, and of both the film does indeed have plenty. Yes, Sally Menke’s absence is greatly felt. No, the Tupac in the otherwise characteristically superb soundtrack doesn’t quite fit. Maybe our progressively shameless filmmaker has finally tipped the scales toward fanboy regurgitation as opposed to the previously more elegant reframing of his worthily beloved grindhouse fare. To the film’s credit it is never boring even in its less wieldy stretches, and like anything else in its creator’s catalogue it easily invites reevaluation through revisitation. Through all this Django still feels as though it may be good – if not comparatively good for Tarantino – and I can see the entertainment value. Ethically, however, is where Django truly finds its fault.

So let’s dig in.

Considering ethics alone, I find myself compelled to place Django Unchained toward the bottom of the 2012 stack (in the cold company of John Carter, Mirror Mirror and 2016: Obama’s America), and certainly that of Tarantino’s career thus far, even if that may sound like a hyperbolic stretch based on the fact that the lowbrow material’s sole aim is to but entertain. Therein, however, does lie one major issue, in that more than 2.5 hours of being bombarded with graphic brutality against the enslaved does not entertainment make. Okay, there is more to Django than just that but the barrage of visceral cruelty against those who were then considered 1/3rd of a person is so persistent that it demands to be addressed, and this introduces the more important issue: Django Unchained is ultimately not concerned with slavery despite its gratuitous focus on as much.

American slavery’s gravest ills loom dark throughout, yet the film steers clear from directly addressing its own subject matter. Our ensemble cast may extensively verbalize for or against slavery so we will experience less doubt in their motives and rapidly align ourselves accordingly, but all this comes of use for is a means to more easily make heroes or villains of thinly wrought characters.

This is a revenge picture and nothing more – which would be perfectly acceptable; not every movie with slavery in it needs to be Amistad or Roots, or Lincoln for that matter – but at nearly every turn Django puts itself in a position where it becomes its obligation – nay, its responsibility – to address the viciously inhumane setting its characters are weaving through and in certain cases enforcing. It is calling out for our hero to become Tarantino’s Nat Turner, though stubbornly it can’t be budged beyond its selfish aim. This is a gross social disrespect that makes fools of we the audience and a fool of its otherwise impressive filmmaker.

Incidentally, this also makes it all the more troubling when the slave condition, of all things, is frequently played for laughs – something best exemplified when primary antagonist Calvin Candie (a terrifyingly against-type Leonardo DiCaprio) disgustingly ridicules a slave for not knowing a certain word’s definition at a point where this same conditional ignorance has been previously implemented in whimsical efforts to make Django himself (Jamie Foxx) more endearing.

Tarantino’s prior offering, the objectively similar and – despite the occasional stylistic misstep – vastly superior Inglourious Basterds not only brilliantly twists its deliberate contradictions regarding its amusing-turned-revolting descents in to screen violence back on its audience to make for an intriguing underlying commentary, it also gracefully avoids Django‘s detrimental issues that have me so hung up. Outside Hans Landa’s (Christoph Waltz) descriptions of his profession, Basterds does not explicitly depict the evil of the Holocaust, wisely choosing to take such information as read. On top of that, through its well-drawn individual characters the story actually is about fighting the Nazis as opposed to a personal vendetta and we do get to see the ultimate goal achieved as a Jew cathartically blasts to pieces none other than Adolf Hitler himself.

Though he is never in a position to fictionally alter history by ending slavery altogether and this is not expected of him as of the film’s onset, Tarantino’s underdeveloped protagonist Django is in fact never concerned with anything more than the rescue of another underdeveloped individual (Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington) with whom he shares a – you guessed it – underdeveloped relationship, and on several occasions intentionally ignores this bigger fight that is persistently thrust in his face. By design – perhaps due to a broad attempt to make the good and the bad foils of one another – the one fleeting act that could prove exception to these qualms is not even enacted by Django, its potential for catharsis neutered (much like many other examples of retaliatory violence found within) and its thematic resonance quickly swept under a rug.

By the climax Django is seeing through purely vengeance-tinted lenses to the point that he fails – not even trying – to recruit his enslaved brothers in the interest of a far superior final confrontation. Further still he shows no hint of sympathy for another slave whom he despises before even meeting him simply due to the man’s circumstantial status on a plantation, compromising a potentially intriguing trajectory for Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen. When all is said and done the dubiously comical Stephen may not deserve mercy, but here we have yet another neglected facet of the potently present overarching conflict.

As for a sly twisting of contradictions a la Basterds, one might observe the aforementioned instances of black characters not knowing certain “five-dollar words” due to their oppression, noting that these instances’ differences begin to tread down this road. I would agree, but it’s a false start that leads nowhere.

Now, all this said, I do recognize that Django Unchained is still an exploitation movie. In fact, to go further in this appearance than its definitively exploitative title that marries Franco Nero to pepla, its narrative essentially provides the skeleton of classic blaxploitation. As such I do not presume it is some kind of major setback for blacks in contemporary society, and it is certainly not as backwards as something like 2011′s stereotype-reinforcing, white savior fluff piece The Help. I ask us to remember, however, that the widespread enslavement of blacks in America is only a century and a half old, and of course the widespread oppression of blacks remained stubbornly prevalent after the passing of the 13th Amendment and well in to the 20th Century. To say it is no longer a sore spot despite what we may wish would be a sorry mistake. The conversation is not over.

What Tarantino does not seem to comprehend here is the idea of “representing”, that being a term I admit has lost some of its significance over the decades through overuse in popular culture (a note for those who have seen the film in question: it does not equate to a prancing pony). The blaxploitation films Tarantino reveres “represented” by exploiting the black experience to inspire and empower when no other films would, and through this they created positive symbols. Contrarily, while too caught in its meager efforts to pay all-too overt homage to the spaghetti western in the face of its chosen conflict, Django Unchained exploits the black experience to evoke hatred – hatred it is satisfied to leave dangling come the roll of the credits, rendering it a negative, shameful and, yes, disgraceful picture in a time when many non-white films are getting shafted in the mainstream. As Spike Lee might say, that’s the truth, Ruth.

Finally, to take a cue from Django‘s superior forebears and put a bow on this editorial with a positive note, if one is interested in a worthy film sharing the vein of Django Unchained, I will recommend Paul Bogart’s 1971 western Skin Game starring Louis Gossett Jr. and James Garner. It may not be particularly proficient in terms of technical execution, like Django, and in this direct comparison it certainly does not possess Django‘s abrupt force that has been winning over so many audiences, but its story is wholly captivating as it charts ahead-of-their-times black and white partners utilizing the racism around them to pull off lucrative cons before becoming involved in a more poignant scenario covering themes of African heritage and taking action when finding a cause bigger than yourself, and a resulting Robin Hood-esque battle against greater injustice.



By Tom Stoup

Perpetually aspiring filmmaker Tom Stoup has been regularly featured as an editor, interviewer and contributing writer in Icon Magazine, Behold Florida and ReelTimePodcast.org. He has earned a degree in the science of film, currently co-hosts "Almost Arthouse" with Ty Landis and blogs at WeToldYouWhattoDream.blogspot.com.

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16 Responses to Django Chained: Tarantino and the American Slave

  1. Rosie January 5, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is not a revenge tale, even if the story does end with the hero getting his revenge. Nor is it about ending slavery. His main goal is to attain his own freedom by helping the German bounty hunter, find his wife and free her any way possible. Most of the people who went to see this movie – regardless of their ethnic background – understood this. However, I wonder if the writer of this article did. “DJANGO UNCHAINED” did portray some very ugly aspects of slavery. But it did not portray the entire aspect of 19th century American slavery. And as a motion picture, there is no way it could have achieved this. Hell, a historical documentary is barely able to achieve this. Anyone with common sense would realize this.

    Reply
  2. perry zanett January 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Dear Tom,
    As a film critic myself–and author of a long-planned book to be entitled “The Villains”–I took great pleasure in reading all of the foregoing critiques of “Django Unchained”, especially the highly intelligent ones of Tom Stoup.
    As I have not yet seen “Django Unchained”, I can make only highly-limited comments upon it, but I know that those I have to make are quite correct.
    First, Tom, as intelligent as your comments are, your claim that Django’s desire for mere personal revenge, as opposed to a crusading fervor to end slavery is too limited a feeling for a man who has experienced the all of the brutality and ugliness of slavery is refuted by history itself, in the person of the Thracian slave-turned-gladiator-turned-slave-revolt leader, Spartacus. As the late George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the “Flashman” novels and a veteran screenwright himself, remarked of Spartacus in Fraser’s own “The Hollywood History of The World”–and as any historian of the ancient gladiator’s uprising will agree–it would be impossible to see the brave Thracian as a revolutionary of any kind, or even as a crusader against slavery, as there is no indication that he had any objective other than to lead only himself and those who followed him to freedom, and not to abolish the entire practice of human enslavement at all.
    Also, to say that Django could never be a slaveowner himself is also most historically inaccurate, as many freed black slaves in America went on to own other black slaves themselves.

    Reply
  3. Mario in Philly January 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    While I have mixed feelings about Django Unchained, there are good qualities – like cinematography and acting. But there are problems, like writing and editing and S. Jackson’s character. As Tom mentions, Django and Broomhilda are underdeveloped characters, and several scenes, particularly the dinner scene, could use an edit. Tarantino’s movie rewrites history as entertainment, and pits the black protagonist against a comedic stereotype. I wonder if the movie Lincoln would be elevated with numerous uses of the n-word.

    Reply
  4. Julian Carrington January 2, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    While I’d hope to be less curt than tmk, I’m basically in agreement with his/her response.

    I think that far from being reprehensible, “Django Unchained” is a long overdue and much needed attempt to redress the conspicuous dearth of depictions of slavery in American popular culture.

    I’m not sure what you mean by your suggestion that “the film steers clear from directly addressing its own subject matter,” but I profoundly disagree with the notion that “Django Unchained” uses slavery purely as a pretext for exploitative violence. Indeed, I think the opposite is true.

    First, I think it’s crucially important to draw a distinction between the manner in which the film depicts violence against white characters as against black characters. While, yes, the violence enacted against white characters is generally cartoonish, cathartic and very much intended to entertain, the violence enacted against slaves in “Django Unchained” is, in every instance, utterly repugnant by design.

    I sense a very deliberate intent by Tarantino to represent the full extent of the dehumanizing cruelty perpetrated against African Americans under slavery, and to do so in a manner that is neither sadistic nor titillating, as his representations of violence so often are.

    The Mandingo fight in Candie’s club, for example, is absolutely gut-wrenching, and the scene is cut in a manner – via insert shots of the blithe reactions of Sheba and Butch – that specifically draws attention to the way that southern gentility was a veneer for cruelty and barbarism.

    The other instances of anti-slave violence – d’Artagnan torn apart by dogs, Hildy in the hot box, Django’s near castration – are equally stomach turning, and, I think, a fairly clear attempt to present an inventory of the utter moral degradation slavery represented.

    So, contrary to your assertion that Tarantino is using slavery merely to delineate good characters from bad, I think what he’s actually doing is asking contemporary audiences to confront slavery’s horrors head-on. And while you quite correctly note that Tarantino shied away from depicting some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust in “Basterds,” the simple fact is that, in terms of representations in popular culture, the horrors of the Holocaust are far more familiar than those of slavery.

    While contemporary audiences probably abhor slavery implicitly, “Django Unchained” exposes viewers to the shocking reality of slavery in all its gory details. (Frankly, unlike Spike Lee, I think it would have been disrespectful to my ancestors had it not done so.) Furthermore, I think that in taking his depictions of slavery to such graphic extremes, Tarantino is providing viewers of with a sense of just how profoundly pernicious slavery was, and why we still continue to live under its legacy of hatred.

    I also think the Stephen character is crucial to Tarantino’s endeavour here, and that you give him short shrift. The fact that Tarantino makes the film’s arch villain a cunning race traitor is a masterstroke, and a powerful representation of how profoundly the racism entailed by slavery became internalized in the American psyche. Stephen is arguably the film’s most intelligent character (he’s certainly sharper than Candie, and any other white character in the film, bar perhaps Shultz), but even he is compelled to betray Django because he’s under the influence of a pervasively poisonous ideology. And when he tells Django that Django will “never leave Candyland” (or something to that effect, I’ve seen the film twice, but can’t remember the precise phrasing), I think Tarantino is making none-too-subtle reference to the fact that racism in America is still very much a virulent force.

    To address some of your other points more briefly:

    I don’t know how anyone is under the impression that Tarantino plays the ill-education of any slave characters for laughs – again, I think his intent is precisely the opposite. Yes, Tarantino does use Django’s quick grasp of the word “positive” to provide a punchline for the felling of the final Brittle brother, but at no point does Tarantino intend to poke fun at a slave for being ill-educated, and anyone who laughed at Django’s limited vocabulary in the early scenes is revealing something ugly (or, to be charitable, immature) about themselves.

    As to your referencing Candie ridiculing a slave – again, I take the precise opposite view of this moment. Tarantino intends Candie to be the object of ridicule here. Candie is foppish, Francophile who doesn’t speak French, who doesn’t know that “prost” is a German toast, and who doesn’t know that Alexandre Dumas was black. For all his pretentious toward sophisticated European enlightenment, he is a smug, hypocritical dullard. When he pokes fun at a slave, he further reinforces his own lack of moral stature.

    You state that “Basterds” wasn’t about a personal vendetta, but if Shosanna Dreyfus recording a message and proclaiming her own face “the face of Jewish vengeance” isn’t personal, I don’t know what is. In the same way, Django’s personal mission comes to stand in for something larger — to represent the fact that African Americans were often agents of their own emancipation in the way that a film like Lincoln (good as it is) ignores. You also seem to take exception with the fact that Django merely frees the slaves in the wagon at the end of the film, rather than enlisting them to join his personal quest. Would his asking them to risk their lives for his cause really have been a more honorable option? Is it really not gratifying enough that they are merely free to make good an escape?

    I do grant you that Tarantino could have offered us a few ancillary black characters who were less passive, but Django’s stature as a lone avenger is clearly partly a reflection of the film’s Spaghetti Western influences, and I’m willing to grant Tarantino some creatively liberty here. Would “Django Unchained” have been a more profoundly redemptive experience if it had portrayed a broader range of rebellious black characters? Probably. But was that Tarantino’s obligation? Certainly not.

    The Blaxploitation cinema of the 70s was well and good, but as empowering as those films were, they were also niche items, reaching a relatively small audience. Tarantino, on the other hand, has made a film that is no less empowering, but that is also entertaining and high-profile enough to appeal mass audiences. More importantly still, he’s done so in a way that refuses to diminish or elide the brutal reality – something that Hollywood has been guilty of for far too long.

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

      I cannot thank you enough for your fair, thorough and honorable response, Julian. I will attempt to respond in turn without repeating too much the ideas I’ve already gone over above.

      Per your suggestions regarding Django Unchained’s depictions of slavery and the subsequent effect(s), I can resolve the interpretation is more up to the individual than usual here. Granted I have yet to pay the film a second visit but I did not infer the idea that Tarantino was asking me as a modern-day moviegoer to confront the horrors of slavery no matter how uncomfortable the experience may be. I attribute this mainly to the fact that so much of this horrific content is left hanging – on display in instances of character development but never really addressed (outside the fleeting final moment of Calvin Candie’s involvement), which is troubling to me considering how often it is brought before us.

      Quickly – I do agree the Mandingo fight is one of the film’s technical highlights that accomplishes what I perceive to be its goals quite well. As a barely related cherry on that bit, even though I find the use of the name “Django” strange the same way I found the slightly-altered use of the title “Inglorious Bastards”, it was nice to hear Franco Nero respond to Django’s instruction, “I know.”

      Your observations regarding Stephen are very interesting, and I will admit Stephen is a character I am still trying to figure out. The idea that Uncle Tom figures are slavery apologists is, quite frankly, new to me, as in my own experience I have always reflected on them as victims in a different situation – mental survivalists. Performance-wise, I felt as though I detected a mean streak of disdain for Candie in Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen… if I detected correctly perhaps this is due to what you aptly observe – that Stephen is more intelligent than Candie – or, as I would be more inclined to comprehend it, that Stephen still recognizes his victimization. Thinking more and more on Stephen – and of course a rewatch will help – bounces me back and forth, as even now I am recalling that it is him who informs Candie as to Schultz’ plot, and this could be taken to exemplify more than just feigned loyalty in the interest of survival. Whatever the case, I do believe Stephen demands more screentime and more development.

      And I do agree with you regarding Candie’s ridicule of D’Artagnan – I may not have illustrated it properly for fear of becoming too tangential as I am prone to do, but I quite nearly believe in that scene that Tarantino was going to turn the implementation of limited vocabulary from Django’s development around on us the same way he did the use of violence in Basterds – the violence against the Nazis is humorous and we in the cinema audience may laugh, but we are disgusted when Hitler does the same when watching violence against his enemies in a cinema audience.

      Ultimately I do recognize many of your points, and greatly respect where you are coming from with them. I do feel the spaghetti leanings compromise the picture, however, leaving me to believe that spaghetti and slavery do not mix. If anything – even if it is widely not for slavery itself but instead for a personal vendetta – at least the oppressors get what’s coming to them… but even then, as you point out in different context, the punishment does not match the crime.

      Reply
  5. Willow Catelyn January 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Tom,

    I’m a fan of Django Unchained. I liked the film a lot, so we are at odds here, but I do highly respect your opinion, especially since it breaks the trend of universal blind acclaim.

    I enjoyed reading everything you had to say about the film. I disagree with many aspects that you criticized such as playing slavery for laughs and the need for a larger uprising towards the end. I can understand the want for Django to fight back as a group with other men in his situation, but it is a bit of an individual story. It is a fairy tale of sorts.

    I also second Trevor’s opinion that with the added scenes it would be possible for some of your problems with the film to be less of an issue. Some of the things that were completely taken out of the film are three or four scenes involving Stephen and Django explaining their relationship and why they hate each other, and Broomhilda’s backstory. The backstory alone would have added around 15 minutes to the film and completely fleshed out her character, and as someone who felt her character was thin this would have been good for me. After reading the script it became very evident that what is on the page and what ended up on the screen are two very different things. The ending is even different. QT changed a lot from script to screen and I would love to know your thoughts on the script if you ever get around to reading it. Right now it is available on the weinstein’s website

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 3, 2013 at 12:25 am

      Once the dust has settled I do feel I should give this original script a look. I have heard the actors helped Tarantino whittle things down, though perhaps this was prior to the version available through TWC… and who knows what got shot and what didn’t. Funny, because the Django/Stephen relationship and the development of Broomhilda are the two key aspects I feel are hurting from a lack of attention in the film.

      I absolutely respect where you are coming from, and agree with others’ sentiments as well that it is primarily spaghetti and, as you note, fairy tale (made most clear in the Siegfried correlation). I obviously do feel that spaghetti does not lend itself to this content, but I do see what Tarantino was going for and recognize that it works far better (in my opinion) in the true spaghetti westerns of the past.

      Reply
  6. Trevor D. January 2, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Hey Tom.

    “Django Unchained” is my favourite film of 2012 that I’ve thus far watched, so naturally the above article and I do not see eye-for-eye. But as usual, you express your opinions elegantly and I enjoy reading your analyses on film.

    I still had minor issues with the film, myself. There were some backstory scenes in the screenplay removed from the film that I felt could have enriched it further, and perhaps have provided the character development you felt was lacking.

    Secondly, Tarantino has not improved as an actor since “Pulp Fiction” and that part should have been played by somebody else – anybody else. It was a little distracting.

    -Trevor

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Re: Tarantino’s cameo… Particularly at the point it comes in! Very immersion-breaking… and silly of him to cast himself against the great Michael Parks.

      As much as I feel I should dread a longer cut of this film, I do feel that it would prosper from as much and would readily welcome such an expansion with hope for precisely what you say was cut.

      Thanks so much for checking out the piece, Trev – here’s hoping all is well with you and that certain upcoming events are falling together as smoothly as possible!!

      Reply
  7. Henry Magnum January 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Tom, I’m sure we would love to share our interpretations but its extremely clear through your over written piece that all you would do is over write a response with your bias well intact. You used so many 5 dollar words in your piece to try to sound intelligent but it was actually quite incoherent and laughable.

    I would assume that you over analyze any and everything around you too much to appreciate actual entertainment, so, carry on. I came across your piece on accident and became so enthralled with the ignorance I was reading that I just had to finish it. Sounds kind of like certain crappy, shameful, and yes, negative movies that make millions of dollars.

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      In putting forth such a piece I am, of course, welcoming such criticism… so the best I can do given your finite conclusion here is express thanks for giving my thoughts the time of day in one way or another. Over-written? Perhaps… I launched in thinking of it as a verbal op-ed one sees on CBS’ Sunday Morning – something to be heard as opposed to read.

      If it means a thing, I would make known to one such as yourself who does not otherwise know me and vice versa (though I feel I illustrate as much above), that I am – like anyone else – more than capable of thoroughly enjoying exploitative and even low-brow cinema – the difference here is that Django is constantly placing itself in a position to be considered beyond its status as just entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Place this editorial in a vacuum and factor in your own apparent enjoyment of the film and I suppose your assumption is fair, though I assure you I do not go out of my way to dig these ideas from nothing simply for the sake of it. That said, however, I will add it would be unfortunate for one to be confronted with content the likes of that in Django Unchained and not desire to think about it beyond surface levels.

      Reply
  8. Jon January 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I have to agree that, perhaps, you didn’t “get” the film. While I agree that Django’s relationship with Broomhilda and Broomhilda herself were underdeveloped (I would have killed for another fifteen minutes to properly develop that), I found Foxx’s performance to be the best of the bunch. It was subtle yet explosive (the dogs for subtlety and the whipping for explosive) and gave a visual explanation for his agony. There are also two drawn out scenes (mandingo and dogs) which serve not to entertain with their violence, but to force the viewer into an incredibly uncomfortable position by confronting them with the brutality of slavery as well as adding to Django’s development by showing his walk through hell. Also, every white character in the film is morally compromised. While we are meant to like Schultz, he starts off by “using slavery to his advantage” and then feels paternalistic of the man he just set free. Schultz is by no means angelic and he is also a hot head which leads to his eventual demise. This leaves Django as the only truly heroic figure in the film.

    Finally, I think that saying that all films taking place in the antebellum south having to be structured in the specific way that you mentioned (one freed slave rising up a revolution with his oppressed brothers and sisters) is very limiting. This revenge fantasy was not about Django’s revenge against the slave owners, and there’s an argument to be made that it should have been. While I respect that, as a character study, having Django’s true test be overcoming Stephen’s character (who represents apologism for slavery rather than slavery itself) was incredibly interesting. Yes it was a revenge fantasy and yes it could have been more of a slavery overcoming oppression film than it was. But the character of Django having to overcome something that he could be (an apologist slave) rather than something he could never truly be a part of (slave owners) makes his transformation all the more poignant. Its not just a revenge film, but a film about overcoming an incredible personal struggle.

    So yes, I feel that you did miss something. But the post is very interesting and raises many fair points none the less.

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 2, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Thank you for your thought-out intelligent response.

      I do agree regarding Schultz, as he is the one character who seems to undergo a legitimate arc here. You do make fair points about Django, as well, as when the film is boiled down Django seems to be positioned as Tarantino’s own Man With No Name and here we are seeing why his demeanor is as it is. I can see this… though I still view it as an issue for if Tarantino wished to make a pure spaghetti western, this material – or at least this treatment of it – distracts from that aim with the barrage of ethical challenges.

      At face value the character of Stephen is easily the most interesting to be found here. Perhaps it is wrong of me to feel he deserved a shot at redemption (in an imaginary version of the third act that doesn’t solely rely on vengeance as a theme, that is) for the reason you cite – his being a walking apology for slavery as opposed to a victim of it… but I still have difficulty seeing him as only an antagonist the way I do the plantation owners, because his actions seem to me to be survivalist. Then, it is still difficult to say this assuredly, as much of his characterization is to be taken as read. Maybe a longer cut of the film will shed some light.

      Reply
      • Jon January 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

        In the overall plot of the film as I see it Stephen is not the antagonist, but he is the final obstacle for Django’s character to overcome. I do see that part of the wildly different interpretations of this film are at least at the fault of its genre. Spaghetti Western’s aren’t meant to support ethical dilemma’s and morally complex villains. The hero may have a dark side, but there is good and there is bad and the villains are all bad. I think viewing the film as a Spaghetti Western, it’s one of the best ever made. However, as a visual story of slavery, I can see how there are things to be desired from Stephen’s character and the treatment of the slaves in the background.

        Reply
  9. tmk January 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    You did not get this movie at all.

    Reply
    • Tom Stoup January 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks for reading – would you care to share your interpretation?

      Reply

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