I was not expecting to be so moved by a Tarantino movie, especially one that was ostensibly a riff on the idea of a “spaghetti western” (a Western-genre movie produced by Italians, with a certain characteristic ironic theme) – but I was wrong. And gloriously so. While Pulp Fiction has cemented itself as Tarantino’s crowning achievement, Django Unchained seems to be very much in the running for that same rank. It tells the tale of a slave, Django, who is freed in the strangest of circumstances – in the middle of the night by a traveling German dentist who happens to be a bounty hunter. Django is brought into the world of bounty hunting in the blink of an eye, with the comment, “Killing white folks for money – what’s not to like?” If the story ended here, it would be a lousy amoral kind of tale. But this is only the veneer of the story.
Django, it is revealed, is actually a married man who believes strongly in that tie. His primary motivation is not revenge (despite much retribution on Django’s part), but love. And there lies the strange optimism of this rare Tarantino movie. Of course, as with any Tarantino film, there are likely to be many scenes of gore and some overt sexuality. Violence and cursing, too, is nearly omnipresent. However, unlike the nihilist themes of some of his other movies, Django Unchained skirts on the religious at certain points and entirely denies a nihilist ending. Meaning suffuses the scenes. Django almost becomes a certain kind of Christ-figure at one point, taking on the appearance of “sin” to save the one he loves. There are even small hints that he and his Germany-born wife, Broomhilda (yes, really), are Catholics. The majority of the movie is an exploration of the slave trade and the epic fight that Django has to undergo to win her back.
Surprisingly, rather than focusing on being a Western, Django strikes me instead, as the movie itself overtly hints at, as a retelling of the story of Sigfried and Brunnhilde from German legend. The broad outlines are that Siegfried, the hero, must rescue his love, Brunnhilde, from a fire-breathing dragon and a circle of hellfire. And, like the German legend, there's quite a spectacular finish to the hero's exploits.
Many have complained of the racist language used, but it only goes to highlight the dehumanizing crime that slavery was – one cannot come out at the end thinking the language is being endorsed. Slavery is a key theme, while not the overriding one. It serves almost as a backdrop – an unforgettable backdrop, even so – to a story of an epic hero. If you have a light stomach or want to bring younger children, the movie is not for you. But, if you are willing to risk it, Django Unchained is an amazing story.
My Rating: 10 out of 10