Well before Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained hit theaters it generated a lot of controversy. Even though actors, agents and studio execs are supposed to keep high level scripts under wraps, Tarantino’s screenplay had all of Hollywood buzzing about the degree of violence and the frequent use of the “N” word. How did it all turn out? Is it just a shockfest? A corny homage to spaghetti westerns? Actually, it is easily Tarantino’s finest film since Pulp Fiction and perhaps the best movie of the year.
The story is set in the south two years before the Civil War. Dr. King Schultz (played brilliantly with an ironic innocent glee by Christoph Waltz) is a German dentist turned bounty hunter who needs a recently sold slave, Django (portrayed by Jamie Foxx in an Oscar worthy performance), to identify three outlaws–the Brittle Brothers. After freeing Django, locating the Brittles on a Tennessee farm and battling a band of masked white supremacists, Schultz asks the recently freed slave to be his partner. Django agrees, with the proviso that they free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a plantation owner who delights in “mandingo fighting” where slaves battle to the death. Schultz concocts a plan to infiltrate the plantation to find and free Broomhilda by posing as a wealthy degenerate who wants to purchase a champion fighter. All goes well until Candie’s trusted house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), begins to suspect that Schultz and Django are up to something. I couldn’t reveal anymore without dropping serious spoilers but let’s just say it gets bloody.
The movie is nothing short of a masterpiece: The acting rivals Lincoln for the best ensemble performance of the year and although it is close to three hours in length, the pace is crisp. My only criticisms are that Tarantino’s cameo is distracting as are some of the songs chosen for the soundtrack (Jim Croce?) but these are minor flaws in an otherwise near perfect film.
But what is a Christian to make of the graphic violence, brief nudity and strong language? Given the setting and message of the film, I believe they are warranted. Now, before you yank my evangelical card, please hear me out.
First of all, the free use of the “N” word, the brief nudity (related to the torture and humiliation of slaves) and some of the violence highlights the brutality of the pre-Civil War South in the same way the graphic depictions of the holocaust by Spielberg in Schinder’s List underscored the barbarity of the Nazis. The inspired authors of Scripture also use graphic depictions of depravity to make their point–read about the rape, murder and mutilation of the concubine in Judges 19.
Second, the violence is part of the theme of justice that pervades the story.
I am preparing to teach a class at a local church on apologetics and the Christian worldview. One of the arguments for the existence of God is the inherent human desire for justice even for complete strangers. In the end, Django Unchained is about justice. In fact, the overall trajectory of the film is injustice, death, resurrection and justice. Sound familiar?
When justice comes it is brutal but have you read the Book of Revelation? When ultimate justice comes to our world it will not be pretty!
With those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Django Unchained is actually a powerful movie about depravity, resurrection and justice that echoes Scripture.
I give it an A+ and highly recommend it for those who have the stomach for it.
Tune back every week for fresh movie reviews and recommended theological or philosophical discussion topics. Movies are rated as follows: A+ (a classic and must see even if it involves throwing down the $10 to see it in a theater). A or A- (recommended though with some minor flaws. You may want to wait for Netflix). B+ or B (a good film worth saving to your Netflix queue). B- or C+ (decent movie worth seeing on Netflix or cable if the trailer intrigues you or you are a fan of the particular genre). C or C- (so-so and worth seeing only if you are a die-hard fan of the genre). D+ or D (Avoid unless you absolutely have to see it i.e., a relative is in it or you are a pastor and Kirk Cameron is in it). D- or F (avoid even if Kirk Cameron is in it).
Tune back next week for more. Until then, grace and peace.