I watched Django Unchained for a second time today and actually like it even more. There is so much going on in the background and the art design of the film that is so easy to miss if you only look at the main cast. There are interesting details that create a rich world, such as the woman in a cast fleeing from Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in the town or who is sitting where in the quick cuts at Candieland. Yet the greatest bit of layering that writer/director Quentin Tarantino brings to Django Unchained is a choppy suspense motif. Basically, Tarantino sets a little bit of plot in motion and then resolves it quickly. Then the next part is spelled out and it goes according to plan. Just how long are we supposed to believe that two men can outsmart everyone else they encounter with some aggressive theatrics and a keen eye for detail?
The first person to notice something isn't on the level is Rodney (Sammi Rotibi), one of the new slaves walking into Candieland. He is not the slave that stares at Django during the walk. He is the slave that is shown, in close up, staring at the initial encounter between Django (Jamie Foxx) and Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Stephen does not trust Django because Django is not behaving in a typical manner. This is a repeated motif in the film, as people are shocked to see a freedman riding on a horse. The first scene at Candieland plays on all the disjointed moments of racism and aggression from the earlier part of the film to set the stage for the conflict that overwhelms the end.
You just might not notice when watching the film for the first time. At this point, there is a simple plan. Dr. Schultz will work with Django to trick slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) into freeing Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The film sets you up for the happy reunion from the first time Django talks about Broomhilda. Even when the story segments into varied and disjointed pieces, the driving thrust is the same. Django's wife is the prize and nothing will stop the new team from freeing her.
By the time Tarantino's masterful little sleight of hand trick pays off, the suspense is unbearable. A simple dinner that should go exactly as planned is complicated step by step as each player accidentally reveals their hand to everyone else. Who picks up on what determines the order of action that, again, defines the direction of the film in the last act.
The over the top violence and racism isn't a distraction from the real story of Django Unchained; it is the real story. This is all about the folly of revenge by any means necessary. The revenge film formula is masked by the spaghetti western but still spells out the core tent poles of the film. Tarantino prepares you for what is to come with very precise foreshadowing hidden in moments of ugly onscreen content. It's a pretty stellar trick to guide and misdirect the audience at the same time. You're not lied to once. You just might not want to look at the truth of the story dead on until it's already passed.
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