Unfettering Things in “Django Unchained”

It’s funny. It’s gritty. And it’s rare.

Is it sad? Yes, the type of sadness that cradles tears of blissful woe under your eyes.

One thing about western movies before we delve in. There’s the law. But who keeps the law in check? Not really the constables, not the sheriffs, not the marshals. These figures are prone to be corrupt. They will become lazy in just a matter of weeks. The novelty of being a man of status will wear out. Men become corrupt. Money does not. And thats why the bounty hunters are the real keepers of justice. All you need is a functioning firearm and a zeal for money. This is how capitalism started. It wasn’t an ideology, it was the lifestyle of men with flat-brimmed hats, tall boots, and shiny spurs.

Virtues don’t hold the line of justice well; money that ignites self-interest and ambition, does. Of course these are not exactly noble traits of humanity that we like to see. But consider stripping the negative connotation. Self-interest, can be linked to self-indulgent practices and philanthropy alike. Because in the end, we do things that matter to us, alone.

Horrible deeds are usually carried out with greater things in mind. There is no evil mastermind, there is only the mind that perpetually seeks to justify actions. Likewise there is no evil, there is no good. These are mere titles that we allocate to things we find repulsive or things we find truly pleasing. We rationalize, because we like to find purposes in the things we do.

These two bounty hunters below are neither good people, nor bad people. They are just men with arms, driven by revenge, love, and the will to live.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 8.20.17 PM

Django: “His son’s with him.”

Schultz: “Good. He’ll have a loved one with him. Maybe even share a last word.”

The way things are in the society of Django Unchained conflict with our protagonist’s interests, which is a vigilant reminder that societies change but individuals do not. We adapt, certainly, but the fundamental make-up of humanity does not alter so flexibly.

Should we not point our fingers unanimously to Schultz and Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) as both are driven by one unified instinct called hunger to survive? With the privilege of hindsight, we know Calvin is the more immoral one of the two, since he forces male slave fighters to fight to the death, as means of sustenance. But Calvin is a law-abiding citizen, as slavery was legal in Mississipi at the time, and there is nothing immoral in making an earning out of something that lies within the boundaries of law.

Now, whether Schultz got into the bounty business for his own sense of morality or exceptional distaste for criminals remains unclear. But I do think his primary reason for becoming a bounty hunter is to fight for justice where the full dimension of justice is still unshaped in America (i.e. slavery), while his secondary reason is to make a living out of having unlikely adventures which suits his exclusive personality, and his tertiary reason being that he’s just a good shot and enjoys performing scenes of irony where killing a man for a greater cause is not illicit.

By now, I’ve proven sufficiently with my hypothetical deductions that Schultz is a nice man for his job description; whether this man was an accurate representation of who real bounty hunters were, is frankly impossible to know.

Dr. Schultz and his "nigger-loving" smile.
Dr. Schultz and his “nigger-loving” (Calvin Candie, 2012) smile.

Following the deal to buy Broomhilda von Schaft, wife of Django, for $12,000, Calvin requests for Schultz’ handshake. Schultz stubbornly refuses, until Clavin orders his henchman, Mr. Pooch, to empty his sawed-off on Broomhilda, if Schultz tries to leave without a handshake. Schultz walks up to Calvin and confronts him. Then he extends his hand to shoot him with a pocket revolver. Alarmed, Mr. Pooch kills Schultz.

Why would he act so rashly, as to decline Calvin’s proposition for a proper handshake to end the deal and shoot him point-blank in the chest with his mini-revolver? Was he too much of an egoist? In the eyes of a German, did he consider himself better than a Southern American bound by treacherous practice of slavery? Or, was he simply a philanthropist at heart, who genuinely wished Django to earn his freedom through his free will and foresaw that killing Calvin would eventually lead to the birth of Django’s true authentic character that would match the persona of Sigfried who saves Broomhilda from the castle? How complex is Schultz’s character, exactly? Answers to these are neither so linear nor causal. But there’s one thing we know to be true – Schultz is an admirable character, despite his quirky demeanor.

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Schultz: “He walks through hellfire because Broomhilda’s worth it.”

Django: “I know how he feels.”

Schultz: “I think I’m just starting to realize that.”

Dr. Schultz clouded in guilt as he remembers the man fed to the dogs.
Dr. Schultz clouded in guilt as he remembers the man fed to the dogs.

The unexpected death of Dr. King Schultz marks the beginning of Django’s emancipation, hence the title, “Django Unchained”.

Having taken the rough with the smooth, Django reaps his freedom and heads for Broomhilda. He acts on his own, completely autonomous. He also assumes a different identity altogether. Not a bounty hunter aligned with the law, but the outlaw that roams free, albeit with the bounty on his head.

No saddle, no bridle, no reins. Just a black man and the white horse.
No saddle, no bridle, no reins. Just a black man and the white horse.

So you tell me, are there places where the law can’t really keep up with your panache?

Now if I may allow myself to end by bridging a transition from panache to authority, there’s a lot of things from Django Unchained that say about power. The one that can get their hand on the holster the fastest, is the one that dictates the destinies of all the parties involved; also with the luxury of addressing to the impromptu audience of friends and foes, firstly what you think and secondly what all of them should do.

Power retains a more ambiguous definition in Django Unchained – it’s not given to the righteous, but to swift hands. Power is passed down like inheritance, from a man of swift hands to a man of swift hands.

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