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Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Where Django Unchained is at its most perceptive is in the recognition that violence blunts the moral sensitivities. Later, when a runaway slave is about to be torn apart by dogs, it is Schultz who blanches, offering to intercede and buy the slave and Django who insists that they let him be killed, hideously, so as not to threaten their cover (and, indirectly, his wife's chance for freedom). The ability to embed these sorts of moral conundrums into a somewhat conventional genre piece is what makes Tarantino excel as a writer. Later, when Candie insists that his legal ownership of Broomhilda allows him to do whatever he wants to her, Django's and Schultz's own use of the law to justify their own morally questionable actions make it harder for them to separate legal and moral claims without leaving themselves open to censure.

If there is a weakness to Django, and there is, it is the ending. Having assembled a compelling cast of characters and provided an emotionally clear conflict, Tarantino appears not to know how to deliver an emotional payoff commensurate with what the characters (and audience) have had to endure. As each potential ending proves big—but not big enough—he presses onward, long after the film has descended into bathos and bombast.

That flaw is not quite fatal, however. Even with the unsatisfying resolution, Django Unchained raises powerful and provocative questions. As hellish as its moral universe may be, those whose stomachs can handle the descent will find that even in Tarantino's world—perhaps especially in his world—those moral questions still matter.

Talk About It

1. Are Django's and Schultz's use of violence more justifiable than that of others in the film? What makes it so? The civil law? Some moral law?

2. Are there any places where Django or Schultz violate their own moral code(s) in pursuit of their desired ends? If so, where?

3. How do the conflicts between Django/Stephen and Schultz/Candie complicate the film's depiction of race and keep it from becoming simply a tale of white-on-black oppression?

The Family Corner

Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. It is a brutal film that will make many viewers uncomfortable—typical of many Tarantino films. The sexual exploitation of female slaves is often referred to. A female slave, naked, is removed from a "hot box" as punishment and another is whipped while partially undressed. A male slave is torn apart by dogs and one character is hung from his ankles while nude. The use of racial slurs is pervasive and persistent. Several characters are shot at close range, with detailed blood spray, and others are shot at long range. Two slaves are forced to participate in a prolonged and brutal fight. Viewers are strongly cautioned.

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Django Unchained