Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“Django Unchained” shows slavery with a novel perspective

Samia Kemal ’14
Staff Writer

Anyone who has ever seen a Quentin Tarantino movie understands the brash, stylized, ferocity in his vision. In the past, Tarantino produced classics out of the likes of “Kill Bill” and “Inglorious Basterds.”  These are films that could have easily succumbed to the label of simply “a cult classic.” They have all the makings including inside jokes, quippy dialogue, and stylized violence. However, Tarantino’s movies have crossed over the boundary of cult classic and garnered a huge following, along with Oscar recognition.

His most recent film, “Django Unchained” (2012) is no exception. The film follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who was freed from a chain gang by the German bounty hunter “Schultz” (Christoph Waltz). Together, the two set off on a mission to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of her cruel master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Like “Inglorious Basterds” and “Kill Bill,” Tarantino chooses to take characters that have historically been oppressed (such as Jews in Nazi Germany and Women who have undergone assault) and lift them up with such vigor that it establishes a certain underdog mentality to his films. In “Django,” Tarantino chooses to focus his attention on Slavery in America, and gives us a perspective that we’re not typically used to seeing.

 What also undoubtedly imbues a film with “Tarantino-esque” qualities is both the artistic portrayal of violence and a melding of unlikely genres. “Django” is bursting with the same high-energy shots that made Tarantino’s other films so memorable. There’s something visionary and otherworldly in the way that violence can be taken and deconstructed. 

Tarantino’s melding of genres is most apparent when listening to the soundtrack of his films. The contrast of seeing a John Wayne reminiscent gun fight scene paired with a bass-heavy Rick Ross song creates a juxtaposition that, in the hands of a less skilled director, would fail miserably.

There is also some unusual references and parallels towards German mythology in the film. Django’s wife, Broomhilda, is fluent in German, and Schultz shows a particular interest in her lingual ability. There is little to no historical accuracy that points towards southern slave women being capable of speaking in German, yet with Tarantino, we are taken by the hand, guided through a vision, and told to throw all our notions of accuracy and movie convention out the wind.

At this year’s Academy Awards, “Django Unchained” was nominated for five different categories. Of those, it won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (written directly for screen) and actor Christoph Waltz took away the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Dr. King Schultz.

Tarantino revealed that when writing the characters, the role of Dr. King Schultz was written specifically with Waltz in mind. This comes as no surprise after seeing his first performance in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” in which he won an Oscar for his chilling performance as Col. Hans Landa. The win for Landa was well-earned but Waltz’s second Oscar for “Django” seems less deserved due to his already established sly and contemplative style. The role of Schultz was indeed praise-worthy, but not all that different or challenging from the characters of Waltz’s past.

I don’t have many qualms with “Django Unchained,” and much of that is due to my appreciation of Quentin Tarantino as both a writer and a director. I view him as one of the most creative and eccentric filmmakers of our time, and I credit him for both taking risks and simultaneously having fun with the films that he makes. Large audiences took offense to many of the racial dynamics that were portrayed in Django (there was very specific criticism directed towards Samuel L. Jackson’s character) however, when the dynamics are put aside, there is still something to be said for the underdog mentality that Tarantino caters to in his films. No matter who it is that is taking a stance against “the bad guys”, the end result is always very satisfying. It makes us feel as though we too can seize what we want, and that maybe one day we can be taken seriously for being ourselves.

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