Tarantino has spent the last decade exploring the difference between revenge and vengeance: Revenge is nasty / Vengeance is philosophical. Revenge is personal / Vengeance is political. Revenge is an individual burden / Vengeance is cultural retribution. Kill Bill was a revenge movie. Django Unchained is a movie about vengeance.
The story follows Dr. Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a German bounty hunter, and Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave, as they journey across southern America in search of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – along with assassinating white people. They eventually find out that she is being kept as a house slave for a ruthless plantation owner called Calvin Candie (Leo Dicaprio). Schultz tries to strike a deal to purchase some ‘Mandingo’ fighters off of Candie in order to covertly smuggle Broomhilda out to freedom – Lots of people get shot and tortured along the way.
Without getting too psychoanalytical, it seems that Tarantino has managed to become the revenge/vengeance, mainstream auteur he always wanted to be. He manipulates his audience to project their own western guilt onto the onscreen villains, which are given a narrative path of ultimate cruelty and dominance before the final explosion of violence and reckoning is rained upon them. The ecstatic punishment inflicted upon the villain is so satisfying to watch that a sense of catharsis and release washes over you and it feels like you have spent 3 hour with a therapist – cleansing you of your nihilistic, modern angst. (There are other directors that are capable of this, like Chan-wook Park or Michael Haneke, but QT is the most mainstream)
Most of the discussion in response to this movie has obviously been about hyper-violence and racism, but I think that this film is far more insightful about the terror of slavery than Lincoln could ever have been and I welcome a little ugliness and artistic license with regard to history if the film itself is aware of its b-movie aesthetic. The comic-book style of Tarantino’s is far more suited to this film than it was in Inglorious Basterds (although, as pretty much everyone agrees, Quentin needs to stay out of his own movies…and not do stupid accents).
Tarantino is one of the great modern scriptwriters and the honesty in which he has delivered his pastiche trilogy of the last decade is commendable. I hope that Tarantino’s next film will be a violent, postmodern Sci-Fi with lots of swearing and anachronistic music followed by a violent, postmodern Rom-Com with lots of swearing and anachronistic music. And then a musical.