For those not in the know, Quentin Tarantino has mentioned that his movies exist in two separate universes. They exist either in his “realer than real” universe, or his “movie movie” universe. Most of his films fall under the “realer than real” category, which Tarantino has said is his heightened version of reality. A heightened version of reality where Hitler’s face got totally shot and exploded, and guys that look like Sam Jackson are EVERYWHERE. However, he has also said that both Kill Bill and From Dusk Til Dawn exist in his “movie movie” universe. Meaning these are the movies that the people in his “realer than real” universe go an see.
There are a few rules for each universe regarding characters. The “Movie Movie” universe is the only Tarantino universe where characters like Hattori Hanzo and Pai Mei can come from other fictional universes and be a part of the action. The characters in his “real” universe can make appearances in his other “real” universe movies, but characters from other fiction can not, and his “real” characters cannot appear in the “movie universe.”
I probably explained that terribly, but there are plenty of places online that lay things out better than me. Check out this Cracked.com article or this handy bullet-point list if you’re the type of person that likes these explained coherently. Simply put, if a character from Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds, True Romance, or Death Proof went to go see a movie, they might see From Dusk Til Dawn or Kill Bill on the marquee.
So now the question arises, now that Django Unchained has come out, which universe does it belong in? Due to its similarity with Inglourious Basterds, I think many are assuming Django can be placed in the “real” universe. In my opinion though, the case isn’t as cut and dry and many Tarantino enthusiasts claim it to be, I’d argue that Django Unchained belongs in the “movie movie” universe.
The most compelling evidence for this is Tarantino stating in no uncertain terms that Django and Broomhilda are ancestors of John Shaft. You know, from the movie Shaft? Which can be confirmed by Broomhilda’s last name, mentioned a few times in the movie: von Shaft. I guess at some point the Shafts thought the “von” made the name less phallic so they dropped it. Good move. But anyway, as the Tarantino Universe rules mention, characters from unrelated works of fiction can not appear in the “real” universe. Which can then be extrapolated to also mean the ancestors of fictional characters. If they were in the “real” universe, how could Django and Broomhilda be the great-great-grandparents of a fictional character? It wouldn’t make sense.
And even beyond that small bit of evidence, the very theme of “mythology” that is present in Django Unchained seems to confirm this theory. Remember the quick flashback at the end, where Dr. Schultz tells Django that he’ll be “known as the fastest gun in the South”? That is the moment that solidifies Django’s status as more as a folk hero, and less as a real person. The film also strengthens Django’s legend status by going out of its way to point out his story’s similarity to that of Broomhila and Siegfried in German folklore. We’re not necessarily watching a “Tarantino” movie, we’re watching a folk tale.
This also explains why Django Unchained seems to lack a lot of the Tarantino staples. Why is Broomhilda relegated to being simply the damsel in distress that needs saving, when Tarantino normally writes stronger, more complex female characters? Why does this film lack Tarantino’s usual non-linear storytelling? Why does it have very few asides in the dialogue? Why are all the villains so over-the-top in their evil and ignorance? Why is our hero seemingly invincible? Where are all those sexy, sexy feet shots that Tarantino loves to include? Are all these examples due to laziness, or bad writing, or Tarantino losing his touch? No. I’d argue those distinct Tarantino elements aren’t there because we’re not watching a film set in Tarantino’s real universe. We are watching a legend that is being presented in the “movie” universe.
Or (SPOILERS by the way) think back to the torture sequence. What was the worst punishment Stephen could think of for Django? Not castration, not being torn apart by dogs, but having his name and his legend go untold. So that was ultimately the punishment they chose for him, they sent him to a place that was going to replace his name with a number, take away his voice, work him until he died, and then finally throw him into a mass grave. In a “real” universe, torture and death are the ultimate threat, but since this is mythology, the threat of taking away a hero’s identity is far greater than simply killing him.
That’s what I took away from the film at least. I’ve only seen it twice, and my mind may change after subsequent viewings, but I think it’s safe to say that at the very least, the story of Django is a tale that any character in Tarantino’s “real” universe just as well as a German knows the story of Broomhilda and Siegfried. It’s a Southern fairy tale. If the story of Django is a legend told in Tarantino’s “realer than real” universe, and I think it would then make sense that Django Unchained is a film adaptation of that story, which would place it firmly in the “movie movie” universe.
Boy, we really went down the rabbit hole of geekery on that one, huh? Hopefully some of that makes sense. I know it’s not a fully formed idea, but I think it’s definitely worth some thought for those that are interested in the “Tarantino Universe” discussion. Feel free to discuss further or call me a dope in the comments.