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Cinema in Focus: ‘Django Unchanged’

3 Stars — Challenging

This is not an easy film to watch and if bloody violence is disturbing, then choose another. Produced by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), the story of Django, (“the D is silent”), portrays a highly graphic form of the worst of American slavery just prior to the Civil War.

Django Unchained is part comedy, part history lesson and part shock treatment. While entertaining on one level, it will leave you reeling from the disintegration of humanitarian and spiritual values that it portrays.

Django (Jamie Fox) is a slave being transported by a cruel handler who has an apparent chance meeting with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is a bounty hunter who has sought out Django because of his knowledge of murderers Schultz seeks to return “dead or alive” for the reward offered.

Schultz has no problem eliminating anyone who gets in his way. Through a series of murders, comical conversations with stereotypical Southern buffoons, plantation owners, Ku Klux Klan members, and “Negro” caricatures, Schultz eliminates everyone who gets in his way with a cheery retort, friendly “good-bye” and a deadly bullet to the head.

When Django proves his worth, he is offered not only his freedom but a partnership with Schultz. In exchange for this help, Django asks for help in finding his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold to another cruel master named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of the wealthy Candieland Plantation.

If nothing else, Schultz is a resourceful and eloquent gentleman in a land of uneducated country folk. Trained to have nerves of steel, he enters situations few would enter. Teamed up with Django, they make quite a stir when they enter the South. Most Southerners have never seen a freed slave, let alone one who has the audacity to ride into town on a horse and make demands from “white folk” while wearing dark glasses and looking like an angry sheriff.

Through a series of schemes, they locate Broomhilda, an African-American who had the good fortune to have been educated and named by a German woman. With Schultz’s ability to speak German as well as English, unbeknown to her, she is part of an elaborate charade concocted by him to buy her freedom, supposedly for his own sexual amusement.

Needless to say, Schultz and Django’s schemes rarely come without unforeseen consequences. And, like most Tarantino films, those consequences come with a lot of gratuitous blood and dead bodies. While there are funny moments thrown in, the numbing impact of the mayhem leaves the viewer emotionally brutalized while laughing at its absurdity.

There have been many stories of slavery that show images of man’s inhumanity to man. Recent films such as Lincoln show a contrasting glimpse of those who value life and are working to help our nation with its transition during the mid-19th century. Django Unchained is the underbelly of this social metamorphosis. It does underscore the alternative to social and spiritual redemption, namely the power of revenge. While lots of movies portray death, none will do it with a more vivid and colorful sense of self-righteous glee.

Discussion:

» Do you believe films such as this increase the violence in society? On what basis do you support your opinion?

» The desire to protect a person we love in a horrendous situation is easily understood. How far would you go to free a loved one from slavery? Are you involved in the modern anti-slavery movement?

» The lack of empathy for the persons Schultz kills infers that he is a murderous sociopath, but one who is killing criminals. Do you believe that makes him different from a sociopath who kills children in a school?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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