Hans Landa, the cunning, genocidal antagonist of “Inglourious Basterds” will likely always be Quentin Tarantino’s most terrifying and piercing villain. Christoph Waltz rightfully ran away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his dazzling performance as the character, a manipulative, sadistic Nazi. But, Calvin Candie, the pre-Civil War plantation owner who makes slaves fight for entertainment in “Django Unchained,” certainly makes a run at the crown for the most despicable, cringe-worthy bad guy in the Tarantino universe. Candie, played by a possessed Leonardo DiCaprio, is bored, rich and entitled — to pass the time, he makes humans fight each other to the death.
Before we meet Candie though, first we learn the story of the film’s protagonists.
Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave searching for his wife, and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter with a hatred for racism, criss-cross the country together, shooting wanted men.
In the first portion of the film, Schultz frees Django for his help identifying a trio of criminal brothers. Then they strike a new deal: Django helps Schultz in the bounty business through the winter, then, when the snow melts, Schultz will help Django find his long-lost wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
They find out Broomhilda is enslaved by Candie, and the duo needs a cover to get access to the massive Mississippi plantation known as Candyland, so they use bloodsport as a key, offering a hefty sum for one of the fighters. A series of mind games follow along with an inevitable all-out conflict that the film builds toward the entire way.
Part stylish spaghetti western, part revenge thriller, “Django Unchained” uses brutal imagery and a gut-wrenching narrative to convey the savagery of an American atrocity. On an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, Tarantino talked about the two different types of violence he was trying to convey in the film.
“Now, I wasn’t trying to do a ‘Schindler’s List’ you-are-there-under-the-barbed-wire-of-Auschwitz,” he told host Terry Gross. “I wanted the film to be more entertaining than that. … But there’s two types of violence in this film: There’s the brutal reality that slaves lived under for … 245 years, and then there’s the violence of Django’s retribution. And that’s movie violence, and that’s fun, and that’s cool, and that’s really enjoyable and kind of what you’re waiting for.”
Both types of violence are in full effect at Candyland. An escaped slave who grew tired of fighting is ripped apart by dogs. Broomhilda is held naked in a hot box in the front yard. And there are allusions to an array of other sinister activity.
We also see Django get his revenge. And his hero arc is satisfying.
According to an interview with Tarantino in Grantland back in 2012, the final cut actually represents the scaled-down version:
“There’s a painful section in the movie: It’s almost like, Django and Schultz going to the gates of hell. When they enter Greenville and pretty much until they get to Candyland, those are the three rings of hell they have to pass through. Initially, the sequence with the mandingo fight was even stronger than it is now, and the scene with the dogs was even tougher. There’s a bunch of different emotions that I’m trying in this movie: comedy, action, suspense and ultimately a big triumph. And when I watched it with an audience, I realized that I had traumatized them too much to go where I needed them to go. It’s like I cut their heads off. They grew another head, but they were still a little too traumatized to cheer with the vigor and gusto that I wanted them to. I had to modulate the sequences back.”