Culture Street

Django Unchained

On January 29, 2013

By Rebecca McRitchie

Django Unchained is yet another masterpiece from writer-director genius, Quentin Tarantino.

Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Tarantino’s latest revenge fantasy is set in the antebellum  era of the Deep South. The movie follows a freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), who sets out with the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife from the clutches of a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

In Django Unchained, Tarantino retells the Norse myth of Siegfried and Broomhilda and sets it against the backdrop of pre-Civil War America. Influenced by the movies of Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone, Tarantino also presents this myth and the historical brutality of slavery in the genre of a spaghetti western. Although it may seem like a risky decision to frame the sensitive topic of slavery in such a way, Tarantino accomplishes it so skillfully and with such narrative intelligence and visual style that every scene, from beginning to end, whether comedic or horrific, is exceptionally powerful.

Unlike a history piece that solely relays facts, Django Unchained is an exciting western adventure that does not dare to omit or gloss-over the brutal violence that occurred in America’s history. Women are whipped and abused, men are forced to fight each other to the death and one is even torn apart by dogs. However, it is seeing their abusers – the white supremacists, Mandingo fighting enthusiasts and slave whippers – get their comeuppance which makes the violence not only bearable but intensely satisfying. Interestingly, what I found particularly chilling was Tarantino’s ability to make Phrenology, the pseudo science of the time, just as frightening. In a scene that shows off Leonardo DiCaprio’s outstanding acting ability (DiCaprio actually smashes a glass with his hand and never breaks character despite bleeding profusely) Tarantino shows the audience that although the villainous Calvin Candie may not have existed in history, the scientific ‘truth’ that allowed the bourgeoisie of the Deep South to justify their actions against African-Americans, did.

Django Unchained is also superbly acted. Not only is DiCaprio magnificent as the evil plantation owner, but Samuel L. Jackson is marvellously insidious as Candie’s valet.
As Django’s wife, Broomhilda, Kerri Washington is brilliant, particularly in a shattering flashback scene, and Christoph Waltz continues his unique ability to ‘sing’ Tarantino’s intelligent dialogue. Saturated with Tarantino’s ironic mix of humour and violence, Django Unchained is the first MUST-see movie of 2013.

Overall, I give Django Unchained 4.5 out of 5. Thrilling, heart wrenching, brutal and funny, Django Unchained is an excellent film. Only slightly more limited due to its genre than its predecessor Inglorious Basterds but fans of Tarantino or the spaghetti western are sure to enjoy the subtle and overt winks and nudges. Keep an eye out for Tarantino’s cameo as an Australian. It is hard to miss.



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