Django Unchained, Western Django, and the Unspoken Redemption of Christoph Waltz
It can be said that Django Unchained is the best film of 2013. So far. Two weeks into 2013. But I can say that now and still stand firmly behind that fact at the end of the year. Though most critics put it on their best of 2012 lists, I did not. The main reason for this is because I saw it in 2013. But I am actually glad, because this film (much like Killer Joe) needs its own article. Why? My reasoning is simple. This film was so much more than it is getting credit for. It is not just a revenge film, as many are writing it off as. Tarantino showed so much maturity and growth in this film, even though most of mass media seems to be, per usual with his films, focusing on issues of race and violence. ”But it’s a revenge movie, Remy, that focuses on race and violence.” Well, I would argue that. To all, I would say this is a love story, through and through. Jamie Foxx as Dajngo is not specifically seeking revenge, in so much as he is seeking to be back with his wife. And as oppose to revenge, can’t it be argued that this is a film about redemption? Sit down, because this is about to take a turn. Not even the redemption of the Django character, but the redemption of the Hans Landa character from Inglorious Basterds, played with deviant glee by the always brilliant Christoph Waltz. Whom, in turn, plays the real driving force in Django Unchained, Dr. King Schultz. The man who frees Django with his own agenda as a bounty hunter. But he sees the fire in Django, and sees fit to help him reunite with his wife, no matter what it costs him. We all loved to hate this man in Inglorious Basterds, yet, in Django, he was one of the most well spoken, endearing characters I have ever seen in a film, bounty hunter or not. And you don’t think Tarantino did that switch up of Christoph Waltz on purpose? Than you are not giving either man enough credit. Read on, my friends. And fear not, there are no plot spoilers in here, just some theories.
Before I go off into my theories about this film and redemption, I really do want to stop for a moment and give some real credit to it as a whole. From the casting to the dialogue, and even the perfect score to the movie, everything about it hits the target it aims for. It is clear to see a more mature Tarantino at work here, as well. The blood is all so wonderfully over-the-top that it takes some of the impact off the violence, which was a brilliant move. The over-the-top violence is used because Django is an homage to earlier Django movies from the exploitation era of the seventies, where everything, from the guts to the boobs, were bigger and more in your face.
What, you didn’t older Django movies existed? Really??!!
Yes, this is an idea of just show spot on an homage Django Unchained was. It even used the same (awesome) theme
And that’s not all. There were a bunch of Django movies. Here, have another:
All Tarantino did was throw in some amazing characters and dialogue, change a few races up, and BAM, Django was unchained.
So if you weren’t aware it was more than just an awesome film, now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Even before Tarantino could film Django, he was cast as a role in Sukiyaki Western Django, by celebrated director (and one of my personal favorites) Takashi Miike. Director of Ichi the Killer, Audition, and many other disturbingly awesome films. So being in a Django only imspired him further to finish his own Django. Take notes, there will be a quiz later. And Sukiyaki Western Django is a fucking amazing film. Amazing.
So if you’re keeping score, before Tarantino could make an homage Django movie about Django, he had to star in an homage Django movie, inspired by Django. SO, before he could do Django, he had to do another Django, that was ALSO honoring Django. Holy fuck, my nose is bleeding. Djangoception.
Once Sukiyaki Western Django was done filming, he could start his own Django homage picture, Django Unchained. As I stated earlier, it was an homage to an awesome film from an awesome era of film-making (the spaghetti western) that has obviously inspired many other amazing directors as well. Hell, even the best video game of the last decade was an homage to the spaghetti western, Red Dead Redemption. Suddenly, the western was hot again, hotter than it had been in ages, and no time was more ripe for Quentin for further stoke that fire with Django Unchained.
Tarantino had already done the perfect revenge movie, Inglorious Basterds. And this is what brings all this together. Following its release, every group was up in arms. Some people were saying it was antisemitic because they said it portrays its Jeiwsh characters as no different from the Nazis in the film, which is silly, and sort of the point of the film. There were also people clamoring to call it anti-German. And the central German in the plot was Hans Landa. The creepy-ass, milk-drinking, Jew-killing psychopath. Christoph Waltz was cast to play him (after Tarantino had almost cast Leonardo DiCaprio, who he later cast as the villain in Django) and Waltz played him so brilliantly, he would go on to win accolades for the role, including a best supporting actor Golden Globe.
And while Tarantino is known to give recurring roles to his favorite actors (Sam Jackson, anyone?) there was a major change-up in Django, with his most vile character from his last film, being made into his kindest character for this film. But the transition, for me, anyway, wasn’t an easy one at first. Waltz was SO palpably evil in Basterds, that when Django begins with him brandishing guns and threatening people, I had no idea where he was going, which in turn, made his eventual-slow reveal as being such a kind character a powerful one to watch. Not only is he good to Django, he was kind and civil to everyone he meets, even when they are shoving guns in his face. There are also scenes where King Schultz has an incredibly hard time standing by, watching slaves get beaten and abused, and at times, Django has to remind HIM the role they both play, and how they need to seem detached for it to work. It was startling to see, but the German was one of the warmest, most genuine people in the film, with the truest sense of honor I have ever seen on film. That may be an exaggeration, but even I’m not sure. He was, pretty much, THAT good.
My point for writing this article is, I can’t be the only one who noticed this, right? The complete switch up and reversal of the audiences expectations? And Tarantino did it a few other times with other brilliant casting choices as well. Having the always charming Leonardo DiCaprio playing an vile slave owner who enjoys a good Mandingo fight while he drinks with his buddies, was startling, ye worked wonderfully.
As unsettling as it was, having Sam Jackson play a racist black guy, who is such a disgusting person, he fills you with a hate so ripe it tastes like vomit in your mouth when he is on-screen, was undeniably brilliant casting. Tarantino took all the actors and tropes from other films and flipped them. He even toned down his typical violence, even if you may think otherwise. Granted, the ratings board are always up his ass, so you know a great deal was cut from Django to garner the film an R rating. But this also means there will realistically be a director’s cut released eventually that will show the film how Tarantino had originally envisioned it, and safe to say I can’t be the only one looking forward to that. For example, the thumbs in the eyes scene during the Mandingo fight was filmed and meant to be shown with the thumbs going into the eye sockets, but the ratings board made him cut away, even though many R rated horror films have shown that exact type of kill before. That is the stuff Tarantino has to put up with. But with Django, it all seems to fit quite well. The reversal of his prior characterizations worked very well, and the cartoon violence that is associated with exploitation film works wonderfully here. Yes, people look like they are made of Gushers when they get shot, geysers of raspberry red blood jutting out ten feet, but it makes for less cringing from the audience, which is needed in a story this intense.
At times, a love story. At times, a revenge story. At other times, a potent mix of both. But at its heart, Django Unchained is a powerful story of redemption, and one that every human can relate to, one some level. And props for Tarantino for introducing Christoph Waltz into my world. In one film, I fear him. In another, I want to hug the man. I can’t help but wonder what he has in store for us next.