Quentin Tarantino has been talking about his “Southern” movie for a while. Tarantino’s never been shy about talking about future projects or just talking in general, but all he would reveal for a while is that he’s working on a movie that combines a Spaghetti Western sensibility with a movie about slavery. When the cover page of his script leaked, the title was revealed to be Django Unchained, which some pointed out was a reference to the 1966 film Django, and its subsequent spinoffs. Okay, anyway, the full script leaked, and I figured I’d highlight some of its interesting points so people that think they’re better than me that don’t want to read a 168 pages still know what the score is. Also I should mention I’m not too well-versed in Spaghetti Westerns or really anything at all so I’d recommend not listening to me ever.
The basic plot is as follows: Django is freed from slavery by a German retired dentist-turned bounty hunter Dr. Schultz. You’d think that it would be the other way around, you would retire from bounty hunting to settle down as a dentist, but that is not the case in this particular film. Dr. Schultz recruits Django to track down Django’s former owners, who turn out to be wanted criminals with a bounty on their heads. Django reminisces about all the horrible things these slave owners have done to him and his fellow slaves, and kills them in cold blood once they reach their plantation. Dr. Schultz is impressed, and decides to take Django under his wing as his bounty hunting partner.
As much fun as Django is having killing horrible, pasty white people, he is more focused on tracking down his wife, Broomhilda, and freeing her from the German people that gave her that name that I’m sure gets her teased often by her fellow slaves. Maybe something like “Broomdildo” might be funny? Or like “Dustpan” or something? I’m not very good at this. Anyway, Dr. Schultz knows Django isn’t ready to undertake the mission of getting Groompillow back yet, so he trains him to become a bad ass while they hunt down outlaws.
In the film’s only perspective change, there is a flashback to when Django and Broomhilda were separated at a slave auction. Broomhilda ends up with a family that is looking for a slave companion for their pathetic son. If any agents are reading this, I think I’d be perfect for this part, please contact me soon to hammer out the details. Broomhilda’s lame boyfriend takes her out to what seems to be a resort for sad white men who force sad, beautiful black women (also known as Ponies) to be their mates. The boyfriend guy is dumb and loses Broomhilda in a game of poker to a plantation owner named Calvin Candie, who kills him, then takes Broomy to his plantation/slave suffering haven known as Candyland. Keep in mind this is set in the 1800s so that probably seemed more clever and less sinister to Candie at the time.
Under the guise of being Dr. Schultz’s slave consultant (also known as a One-Eyed Charlie [no that does not mean penis]), Django and Dr. Schultz meet Candie, and are invited to Candyland under the guise of wanting to purchase a Mandigo, which I learned were slaves trained to fight to the death while white men cheered them on and bet on the outcome.
They reach Candyland, and are treated as guests. There the audience meets the Mandigo trainer Ace Woody (no that does not mean penis), and the suck up House Slave Stephen. Stephen is the only character without a memorable name, so a helpful way to remember him is he will be played by Samuel L. Jackson, that’s something you can keep with you in your mind’s back pocket as I finish up the recap. Django is forced to keep his cool while in the presence of these jerks that stole his wife and cause suffering of his fellow slaves on a daily basis. He even takes time out of his busy schedule to beat Stephen’s ass behind closed doors for being a kiss-ass house slave that rats out other slaves and has a cushy job living in doors and waiting on the Candie family while the rest of the slaves toil in the cotton fields. This beat down, while I’m sure very satisfying for Django, only makes Stephen suspicious.
Dr. Schultz has Candie send Broomhilda up to his room under the pretense of wanting to speak German with her. Her and Django reunite finally, but they have to keep it on the downlow until they can get out of there. During dinner, Stephen sees Django and Broomhilda exchanging glances, and when Dr. Schultz begins to negotiate to buy Broomhilda from Candie, Stephen figures out their ruse: they are not here to buy a fighter, they are here to rescue the lady with the craziest name in all the South.
Stephen rats out Django, Broomhilda, and Dr. Schultz to Candie, who, instead of getting mad, decides to use the situation to his advantage. He calls Dr. Schultz out on what he was doing, and makes him pay 12,000 to free Broomhilda, even though the script makes it very clear she isn’t worth more than 500 dollars. I’m glad they didn’t have TV back then because if The Price is Right was on, it probably would be a lot less fun.
Alright, at this point, all hell breaks loose, so check out the exciting conclusion at the bottom if you don’t mind spoilers.
Django (Jamie Foxx): Will Smith was supposedly Tarantino’s first choice for Django, but after reading the script, it’s become clear why Smith passed, especially given how hands-on he wants to be with all of his projects now. The role of Django seems like the kind that actors would be excited to take on. He’s got a clear arc to follow, he starts off understandably pensive, which means that Foxx will have to convey a lot emotion through nonverbal acting. As the movie progresses, and Django learns to trust Dr. Schultz, Foxx will get to get to flesh out Django into a fuller character through their buddy-buddy conversations. By the end of script, Django is a full-fledged badass, which I’m sure Foxx will be able to pull off.
Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz): Reading the script, it’s clear Dr. Schultz was written with Waltz in mind. The character has a similar demeanor to the Jew Hunter in that he’s smart, articulate, charming, and violent. Although the character is very similar, Dr. Schultz has a bit of naivete to him that the Jew Hunter lacked. This may be due to Dr. Schultz being new to America, and being shocked with the horrors of slavery that are laid before him. Either way, Waltz will bring the perfect balance of charm, menace, and humor that made his previous Tarantino role so memorable.
Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio): It will be nice to see DiCaprio stray from his normal “brooding protagonist with a secret” kind of character that he’s played more recently. On the page, Calvin Candie is a pretty enormous asshole, so it will be interesting to see how DiCaprio chooses to portray him in order to make the character a tiny bit more sympathetic and three-dimensional. Also, it’ll be fun to watch him be an asshole I’m assuming.
Ace Woody (Kevin Costner): Kevin Costner seems to be one of those wildcard casting moves that Tarantino always seems to incorporate into his films. Ace Woody isn’t as big of a character as I was expecting, with only a couple scenes near the end of the film. Still, like DiCaprio, it will be interesting to see where Costner takes the character, and to see him play a villian.
Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson): Stephen will probably be a shock to some people. Even Wikipedia doesn’t want to believe Samuel L. Jackson will go so far against what he normally plays. They describe the character of Stephen as a “wise, proud house slave.” While I guess it’s true that Stephen is wise, and I guess he might be proud, but I wouldn’t use those adjectives to describe him. Really, Jackson is going to be playing a sniveling, cowardly, kiss-ass house slave that is remains loyal to the likes of Candie and Ace Woody despite their inhumanity to Stephen’s fellow slaves. It remains to be seen how Jackson will play it.
The Big Finale: (WARNING: Spoilers for a movie that has not begun shooting are below. I guess technically every word of this entire thing is a spoiler, but if you want to keep this movie a surprise, you can stop reading now because this part will definitely be a surprise.)
Okay, so Dr. Schultz buys Broomhilda, but Candie taunts him by refusing to let them leave until they shake hands and seal the deal. Dr. Schultz can’t take it anymore, so as he reaches to shake Candie’s hand, a gun slides out of his sleeve Travis Bickle style, and he shoots Candie in the heart. Ace Woody then shoots Dr. Schultz in the head, which causes it to promptly explode. Django gets knocked out.
He wakes up stripped nude, and hanging upside-down from a rope. Here’s where it gets interesting, and here is where you realize why Will Smith didn’t take the role. Ace Woody enters, and begins to monologue about how Django and Dr. Schultz ruined his slave trading livelihood. He is so upset, he grabs a handful of Django’s genitals, and moves to cut off his testicles. Stephen mercifully enters right before the snipping begins and says they have other plans for Django.
Once Ace Woody leaves, Stephen takes this opportunity to take his turn in monologuing and grabbing Django’s nuts as well. He mercifully lets go off Django’s nuts, tortures him briefly, then sends him on his way to work on a chain gang smashing rocks until he dies a very slow death from fatigue.
On his way to the chain gang, Django is able to convince some Australian fellows to release him, promising them that they will get a large bounty that is supposedly placed on the folks back at the plantation’s head. The dopey Australians buy it, and release him. Django kills them, then rides back to Candyland.
Finally, Django is ready for the final showdown with the remaining people at Candyland. He lines up everyone there that has wronged him, including Mrs. Candie, Stephen, and Ace Woody, and hands them all guns in holsters. Six bad guys all stand facing Django in a showdown. I guess this could technically be called a Mexican Standoff–one of Tarantino’s staples–but I don’t think even the root’nest toot’nest gunslinging Mexican would touch 6 to 1 odds.
As soon as one of them reaches for their gun, Django uses his quick-draw skills learned from Dr. Schultz to shoot all 6 of them with his revolver before any of them know what hit them. They slump to the ground in pain. Django grabs some dynamite, and throws it among the wounded. He shoots the dynamite and it blows everyone to pieces, and he rides off with Broomhilda to make babies and give them weird names. The End.
My View on the Structure/Tone:
While Tarantino does do rewrites as the he’s shooting, from I’ve gathered reading the Inglourious Basterds script is that it’s mostly tweaks and editing, and once he’s got the final draft of the script and it’s been faxed out to everybody in LA, that’s pretty much what the movie will be, so I’m assuming the basic plot I’ve outlined won’t change, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, the script is more basic than most of other Tarantino’s work. For one, it’s linear other than the occasional flashback, and other than a small section, it is told entirely from the perspective of Django. It’s like that movie Unstoppable, but instead of a train, it’s a freed slave, and instead of stopping the train, the goal is to get reunite with his wife and hopefully kill everyone if he can. What I’m saying is, unlike some Tarantino movies, the script does not have many asides, or a lot of off-the-cuff conversations. Not that I have a problem with any of those things. What I’m saying is, the script is full of no-nonsense characters that have no tolerance for nonsense.
While I’m not too knowledgeable about Spaghetti Westerns, I have to say a good portion of the script reminded me of a buddy cop movie: a genre of which I am very knowledgeable, and can prove my knowledge with a spot on Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan impression. Oh don’t believe me? Check this out. “Jackie: Please, I don’t want trouble. Chris: EEEE!!” But seriously, I like buddy cop movies, and Django Unchained has all the staples. Once Django and Dr. Schultz team up to become a bounty hunting duo. It’s a fish out of water story, complete with training montages, lessons being learned on both sides, and plenty of fun friendship moments between the partners.
The script also reminded me of the niche horror genre that existed in the seventies that included films such as The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House On the Left, and others. They all seemed to follow the formula of subjecting the main character (and the audience to a lesser extent) to horrible violence in the first half, and then releasing that tension with the cathartic killing of all those involved. Django Unchained, unlike many of these movies, seems to have more going for it, and there are a variety of emotions, including a lot of humorous scenes, some romance, and tension. However, it still does follow Django as he relives the horrors of slavery, which builds until finally the anger he and the audience shares is released as he kills everyone and rides off with his bride.
Another thing that stands out is the fact that this movie is set before there was any type of popular culture in America, which means no radio, no television, no movies, no pop songs from the ‘60s, and no old cereal boxes, which all happen to be some of Tarantino’s favorite things. However, like my terrible Unstoppable analogy implied, this movie doesn’t really slow down for things like pop culture, it’s all about pushing the film forward, making you hate the people Django hates, and keeping the story going until the final confrontation. You don’t remember a scene in Unstoppable where the train takes a break do you? Denzel Washington and Chris Pine don’t hop out of the locomotive for a minute to grab lunch do they? Right. They don’t. The analogy stands.
As expected with Tarantino, the script really pulls no punches in showing violence or any other sort of inhumanity that goes along with slavery. We see men beaten to death, ripped apart by dogs, shot in many number of ways, and there is plenty of whipping and other forms of slave torture. While Inglourious Basterds presented a more complex look on Nazis and the Third Reich, making you feel bad for being like Hitler and getting excited over seeing a film about your county’s enemy getting slaughtered. As far as I remember, though, in Django Unchained, if the character owns slaves, they are irredeemable pieces of shit. Not to seem like I am criticizing the script for that however, or trying to defend slave owners. Unlike World War II, there hasn’t been a great deal of movies about slavery in the United States, and it still remains a regrettable part of the country’s not-so-distant memory.
This movie isn’t about the complexities of slave owning, or how slaves allowed a young America to prosper through free labor, it is about the horrors that went on that still aren’t really talked about. Before reading, I think the most graphic depiction of slavery I had seen was Amistad, which covered some of the same ground as Django Unchained, such as the brutal whippings that went on, or the carefree mass murder that slave owners got away with. The script deals with other aspects, however, that I had no idea about, such as people owning “Ponies,” basically sex slaves. Or, the brutal idea of Mandigo fighting, where slaves were forced to fight to the death for the enjoyment of sadistic slave owners. In addition, unlike current movies about slavery that I’ve seen, Django Unchained presents these under the pretense of being a Western-style action movie, with gunslinging and cool music. It’s actually labeled that, by the way, the stage directions read “CUE cool MUSIC” during the film’s climax.
That’s not to say the script does not have flaws, especially with some of the secondary characters, and the simple plot that seem a tad more one-dimensional than Tarantino normally goes for. The script doesn’t really have as many “oh shit” type twists and turns that characterize movies like Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, but that might just be the nature of Tarantino being focused on a single protagonist’s goal, and staying true to the format of a Spaghetti Western’s revenge plot. There are a few overdone characters strewn about, including Broomhilda’s owner, a momma’s boy manchild, and Candie’s wife, who doesn’t have much of a role other than to play the Southern Belle. Of course, the main characters all seem more complex, and maybe these smaller parts just need good character actors to flesh them out. It’s too early on, it’s hard to say for sure.
Overall, it seems like this script is going to rely on casting and acting much more than many other Tarantino scripts. Also, the return to the over-the-top violence and revenge seen in the likes of Kill Bill will most likely be a hit with crowds, especially as a cathartic release in response to the torture and mutilation that goes on in the beginning of the movie.
The ticket or rental price will be worth seeing how the ending plays out. Will they show Kevin Costner and Samuel L. Jackson doing what the script describes, or will it just be implied? Only time will tell.