[The following is an excerpt from script of my video analysis on the use of violence in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. Be sure to watch the video above for a better understanding.]
Quentin Tarantino has always been a huge fan of violence in cinema. While he has stated multiple times that he is against real-life violence, calling it “One of the worst aspects of America”, movie violence can be fun. With a career packed of darkly comedic masterpieces that range from crime films to World War II epics, Django Unchained still remains my favorite movie of his, and one of the key aspects in it is how violence is used.
We can split the violence in the movie into two categories: violence against the good guys and violence against the bad guys.
An hour into the movie, we get into one of the most infamous scenes of the film: the Mandingo fight. While there are no historical proofs of such a thing during that period of time, Tarantino uses the plot device of many blaxploitation movies (including 1975’s Mandingo, one of his personal favorites) to illustrate the sadistic nature of the main villain of the picture, Calvin Candie. The 3-minute scene is very claustrophobic and intense, and while many may consider it hard to watch, I prefer saying that it is hard to hear: instead of focusing on the broken arm, the eyes gouged out or the head smashed with the hammer, we mostly see the reactions of the other gentlemen around the table, with Schultz and others feeling as uncomfortable as the audience members, while Candie is full of joy as he sees that his player is winning the game. There is nothing glorious about this scene, and there is no need to watch the gore: the sound design is enough to make this moment stick in your mind.
Then, we get to Candyland and the turning point of the movie: after a 20-minute dinner scene that has masterful tension-building, Django and Schultz have finally reached their goal of saving Broomhilda. The last thing to do to complete the transaction is for Schultz to shake Calvin’s hand, otherwise the deal is null. After having witnessed horrible acts of violence and being forced to keep up a façade, Schultz loses his temper and shoots Candie cold in the heart, paying homage to 1968’s The Mercenary. Schultz apologises, and Pooch kills him using his double-barrelled shotgun.
Now, after a life-time of holding back, a life of slavery, a life of pain, a life of constraints, Django is finally unchained, and he doesn’t hold back. The shootout that follows suit is bloody, gory, funny and immensely cathartic: it is an explosion of emotions and violence, and that can be seen in the mountains of blood that spill out of Candie’s man. It is over the top, and immensely satisfying. All of these men had it coming. The same happens during the last few action scenes of the movie, but in a less explosive manner so that the explosion of Candyland is even more satisfying.
As you can see, in Django Unchained Tarantino uses two different types of violence and blends them together to create a movie that manages to make the bloody comeuppance of the villains both satisfying and darkly funny and the death and pain of the good guys dramatic and painful. I still consider this to be the crowning jewel of Tarantino’s filmography, and my personal favorite movie of all time.