Blogging “Django Unchained” (The End Chapters)
I mentioned this before, but I’ll repeat my SPOILER ALERT: All plot developments are given away in this post.
• In a drawing room at Candyland, a harpist (Ashley Toman) is playing a solo harp version of Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” Calvin, Moguy, and Stephen are at a writing desk, drawing up the proper documents for Hildy’s sale to Schultz and her freedom. Hildy is in Django’s arms, and they are watching this happen. She looks like she can scarcely believe what’s happening. With the shotgun perched on his shoulder, Butch takes a plate of white cake from a table and sits in a chair beside Schultz. The music is supposed to be soothing after the violence we saw in the preceding scene, but it seems to be having the opposite effect on Schultz. Part of this is because he’s having flashbacks to D’Artagnan being torn apart. The other part is that the harpist is playing this music way too fast. Eventually, he asks her to stop playing and then walks over and takes her hands off the harp. He then opens a set of sliding doors and walks into Calvin’s library. Stephen starts to tell him he can’t go in there, but Calvin steps in, saying that Schultz is a bit upset.
• The documents in hand, Calvin picks up two more plates of cake and walks through the room, past the harpist, and into the library. He offers Schultz a slice, but the dentist says, “I don’t go in for sweets, thank you.” Calvin lays down the documents and one plate on a side table before taking a seat and starting in on his cake. He thinks Schultz is upset because he’s coming out on the wrong end of the deal, but Schultz says, “I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D’Artagnan, and I was wondering what Dumas would make of this.” Calvin doesn’t understand the reference, so Schultz explains that Alexandre Dumas is the author of The Three Musketeers, which Calvin has heard of. Since Calvin named D’Artagnan after the hero of the novel, Schultz figures Calvin must be a fan of Dumas’. Calvin muses that Schultz doesn’t think Dumas would approve. Schultz says, “Yes, his approval would be a dubious proposition at best.” Calvin sneers, “Soft-hearted Frenchie.” Schultz then ripostes, “Alexandre Dumas is black.” As I mentioned in my blog post back in December, this is indeed true. Clearly Calvin is surprised. I wonder if he believes this. Unfortunately, Schultz cuts off the literary debate and asks if the documents on the side table are the ones he wants. Calvin elaborates that they are a bill of sale, Hildy’s ownership history, and freedom papers. After asking permission, Schultz takes out his glasses, goes over, and examines the documents. Everyone else (except the harpist, who is seated in a corner with her back to the scene) is watching this play out through the doorway, and the framing gives the events in the library a theatrical feel. Schultz asks for a pen and ink, goes to where Calvin points it out, and brings them along so Calvin can provide the last signatures, holding the papers on top of a book for a writing surface. Schultz then holds up the papers and says, “Broomhilda von Shaft, consider yourself a free woman.” Hildy beams, still not fully taking this in, while behind her, Moguy looks on and takes a huge bite of his cake. Django is standing in front of her now. Schultz rolls up the papers and places them behind his back in the waistband of his pants. “Mister Candie,” he says, not faking the French accent anymore because he no longer feels the need to be polite. “Normally, I would say, ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ but since what ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ actually means is ‘till I see you again,’ and since I never wish to see you again, to you, sir, I say goodbye.” Walking out of the library, he then tells Django and Hildy that they’re leaving now …
• … except that Calvin, without turning around from his chair, calls them back. Either Schultz’ revelation about Dumas or his lording his knowledge of German over him seems to have burned Calvin. Both Tarantino and DiCaprio drop hints that Calvin is insecure about his breeding, but I wish the filmmaker had given us a little more about this. Anyway, Calvin stands up and says with exaggerated politeness that it’s customary to shake hands at the end of a business deal in the South. Schultz tries to brush this off, but Calvin insists. Schultz insists on not doing so, but Calvin presses home that the deal means nothing if the parties don’t shake hands. Schultz then tries to call his bluff, saying he doesn’t think Calvin will throw away $12,000 over a failure to shake hands. Calvin’s not bluffing. He tells Butch to shoot Hildy if she tries to leave without Schultz shaking Calvin’s hand. Butch levels his firearm at her. Django slowly steps in between them, which probably wouldn’t do anything to shield her at this range, but it’s still a nice gesture. Stephen and Moguy back away from the line of fire. Ha ha! They’re revolting, but if I were in their place, I’d do the same. Schultz looks at where everybody is now standing and seems to decide at that point that Calvin’s just too loathsome. He asks, “You really want me to shake your hand?” Calvin insists, and they both play out their parts with so much exaggerated politeness that it’s practically camp. Schultz walks slowly toward Calvin, then he slides the single-shot pistol out of his sleeve and shoots Calvin right through the center of the carnation in his lapel. As his blood leaks out of the flower, Calvin looks down with the same expression of shock that Big John had earlier, mixed with a look of, “You can’t do this to me.” He staggers backward and places his right hand down on a horizontally-rotating globe, which spins him down onto the ground. He’s dead. Hooray! But also, oh, no.
• Stephen screams, “No!” and runs toward Calvin. Butch is slower to react, probably because the pistol shot made such a small pop. As he turns around and swings the shotgun toward Schultz, the German looks at Django and says, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” Butch fires, the impact blowing Schultz’ body off his feet and into the bookcase, while Stephen cradles the deceased Calvin. Django then reaches into Butch’s belt, pulls his pistol, and shoots him point-blank through the chest (first shot). Hildy screams as Moguy makes a run for the door, screaming, “Nigger’s gone crazy!” Django fires at Moguy (second shot) and misses. Moguy makes the door of the drawing room and screams for help before Django blows a hole in his back (third shot).
• A henchman is sitting outside the door in a chair. Before he can get up, Django flies backward out the drawing room’s double doors into the hallway, taking Moguy with him, and shoots Door Guy twice (fourth and fifth shots). Another Candie employee appears at the top of the staircase and fires down at Django, but he misses and hits Moguy instead. Django aims up and fires (sixth shot), killing Staircase Guy and sending him tumbling down the steps. Another man on the second floor takes aim from behind a railing with a rifle, but Django knows he’s out of bullets, so he rolls off Moguy’s body and goes for Door Guy’s gun. Railing Guy’s blast hits the now bullet-riddled Moguy, while Django picks up that gun and kills Railing Guy with it, sending him crashing backward through a glass door. The front door opens, with four more men with guns. They’re still taking in all the bloodshed while Django moves to his right while fanning the hammer, hitting three of them. He ducks behind a wall that’s facing the landing. The man who wasn’t hit is now firing profligately through the doorway and cursing. One of his friends has only been wounded in the leg and is screaming his head off. Django looks into the pistol and sees that he has emptied it. Unscathed Guy is such a bad shot that he shoots Wounded Leg Guy again in the same leg. Wounded Leg Guy curses him out and screams some more. Django is eyeballing the pistol on the hip of Staircase Guy, whose body is lying in the line of fire but just beyond the point where the wall is protecting him. He makes his move, grabs Staircase Guy’s pistol, and then pulls back behind the wall just before a shot lands on Staircase Guy’s body. Meanwhile, two more men have joined Unscathed Guy at the front door and are firing away. Bullets are flying everywhere, splattering the blood of the dead men and sending a piece of wood from somewhere (the staircase?) flying near Django’s body. Near the back door, a slave woman is cowering in tears, holding the hand of a male slave. Django moves out, using Staircase Guy’s body as shield to take up a firing position. His first shot hits Wounded Leg Guy in his unwounded leg. We don’t see his second shot hit anything. It probably misses. His third shot hits one of the front door guys in the head. His fourth shot hits the door frame, sending splinters of wood into the eyes of Unscathed Guy, who’s taking shelter behind it. Recently Scathed Guy now staggers back clawing at his eyes. Django takes Staircase Guy’s other gun before retreating to his position.
• The two slaves have decided to make a run for it out the back, but they’re met by at least five more men with guns, who blow them away. As the men round the landing of the staircase, Django fires with the other gun in his left hand, hitting the lead guy in the shoulder. His fifth shot from the pistol in his right hand goes through a second man’s head and hits the chest of the man behind him. His second shot from the pistol in his right hits another guy, who spins around from the impact and winds up shooting the man behind him. He fires again with the right, only to find it empty because of the first shot that Staircase Guy fired. He discards that firearm. A third shot from the gun in his left goes through a sixth guy and ricochets off metal objects down the hallway. Three more guys, including Billy Crash, have joined New Unscathed Guy at the front door. Django’s last shot kills the last man who came in through the back door, and he quickly grabs the man and uses him as a shield against the guys at the front. He grabs the gun out of Last Back Door Guy’s hand and fires at the front door guys, killing one of them. Billy runs at him while Django moves backward into a walk-in closet opposite the drawing room. They both fire at each other, but they don’t hit each other. Billy dives/trips over Door Guy’s body into the drawing room, while Django falls backward, with Last Back Door Guy’s body on top of him. He scrambles out from under the corpse, spots an armoire in the closet, and tips it over onto a bench that keeps it from lying flat on the floor. He takes refuge in the space between the armoire and the floor. One of the things I love about Tarantino is the care he takes over these action sequences. I’ve been able to write the last two paragraphs so lucidly because the director keeps such careful track of where everybody is, where they are in relation to each other and the interior space, and how many bullets everybody has. I geek out over this stuff, and so does Tarantino.
• The trackers have now arrived at the big house and have positioned ladders outside the house to get to the second floor. Underneath the armoire, Django aims with his gun before realizing that he’s out of ammo. The trackers come boiling out of an upstairs room, take up positions on the second floor, and start firing away at the armoire with their rifles, pinning Django in position. In the library, Stephen shouts, “Hold your fire!” The trackers continue shooting even after Stephen repeats this, so he finally shouts, “Stop shootin’, goddammit!” They finally stop. Getting up from the floor, Stephen calls to Django, saying, “We got your woman! Billy Crash got his pistol upside her head!” Sure enough, Billy comes into view at the drawing room door, holding his gun to Hildy’s head. Stephen threatens Django with Hildy’s death if he doesn’t give up, but promises that she won’t be killed if Django gives up. A terrified Hildy shakes her head. Django says, “Horseshit!” Stephen repeats his promise, saying “Honest Injun,” which is a notably racist choice of words. Django says, “And I’m supposed to believe your black ass?” Stephen says, “I don’t give a good goddamn what you believe or don’t believe! I believe if you don’t give up in the next 10 seconds, we gonna blow this bitch’s brains out. Believe that!” Crying, Hildy tells Django not to give up and to let her go. Stephen starts counting at six seconds, even though six seconds haven’t passed. Django has come too far to see it end this way, though. When Stephen reaches nine, Django calls out that he’s surrendering. Hatefully, Stephen says, “I can’t hear you, nigger.” Django repeats that he gives up. He stands up slowly, and the late Richie Havens’ properly mournful “Freedom” plays on the soundtrack. Hildy weeps. Django takes off his coat. As he steps out into the hallway, with the trackers and Candie’s three surviving employees training their guns on our hero, the camera does this superb crane to an overhead position, showing all the dead men lying in the halls of Candyland. Tarantino did a similar thing in Kill Bill Vol. 1, after The Bride has vanquished the Crazy 88, but in that movie it was a joke, a shot that martial arts movies never show. Here it’s a sobering visual. The screen goes black.
• And then we get another overhead shot, only it’s of Django naked, hanging upside down by his ankles in Candyland’s stables. His arms are bound, and he’s muzzled. As the camera pans down his back and then swivels around his head, we hear a door open and Billy Crash’s spurs clinking on the ground. Billy lightly taps Django’s muzzle with the toe of his boot, waking our hero. He says, “Cock-a-doodle-doo, nigger,” which is even more menacing if you know what he’s there to do. Walking away and discreetly plunging his knife into some hot coals, he explains that he and his comrades figured out Django and Schultz’ real professions by their personal effects. “Black boy paid to kill white men? How’d you like that line of work?” He takes the knife out of the coals, and the blade is now glowing with the heat. As he walks toward Django with it, Django lets out a muffled scream. Billy grabs Django’s penis with his left hand and says, “Time to say goodbye to them nuts, blackie.” He counts to three, but just as he reaches three, Stephen steps into the stable. He tells Billy that Lara Lee wants him, and that instead of castrating Django, they’re just going to give him to LeQuint Dickey’s people. Billy is pissed. “How disappointing,” he says. I love what Walton Goggins does here, leaving his index finger on the penis for a second before he walks away, dipping the hot knife in a barrel of water before he goes.
• Stephen closes the door, and when I first saw the movie, I thought he might do something noble for once and let Django escape, now that the master was gone and he didn’t have to be afraid any more. How wrong that was. Instead, Stephen explains that while all the white people were thinking up tortures for Django, Stephen just wanted them to give him to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company, and eventually he persuaded everyone to do so. Here’s the nub of this extraordinarily evil speech: “And as a slave of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company, henceforth, until the day you die, all day, every day, you will be swingin’ a sledgehammer, turnin’ big rocks into little rocks. Now, when you get there, they gonna take away your name, give you a number and a sledgehammer, and say, ‘Get to work!’ One word of sass, they cuts out your tongue. They good at it, too. You won’t bleed out. Oh, they does that real good. They gonna work ya. All day, every day, till your back give out. Then, they’re gonna hit you in the head with a hammer, throw your ass down the nigger hole. And that will be the story of you, Django.” Somebody hold me. In the original script, Stephen is supposed to burn Django’s nipples off with a hot poker, but it’s far more powerful this way, with Stephen torturing him just by painting a picture of a hellish loss of hope. Some critics called Stephen an Uncle Tom, but this is wrong. Moguy fits the subservient Uncle Tom stereotype much better. Stephen is a character we haven’t seen before, a guy who has figured out how to work the system and has attained a limited but very real power at Candyland, and if every other black person in the world has to burn so that Stephen can keep that power, he’ll light the match himself. Tarantino places the camera directly in front of Samuel L. Jackson’s face, so that we can’t look away from this portrait of black self-hatred turned outward, in all its ugliness. What an amazing scene, and what an amazing performance.
• We are en route to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company, for that is what the title card says. Django’s wrists are tied to the back of a horse, while three other slaves (including Rodney) are in a caged wagon. This scene has deservedly gotten a lot of flack for Tarantino’s onscreen appearance and his atrocious Australian accent. Here’s how bad it is: When I first saw the movie, I couldn’t tell what kind of accent he was attempting. I had to be told it was Australian. Tarantino had to step in after honest-to-goodness Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia dropped out in disgust (and really, given how chaotic the shoot appears to have been, I’m astonished that the movie came out as coherently as it did). You can appreciate a filmmaker resorting to desperate measures in a pinch, but he really should have cast a real actor, Australian or not, in this role. It’s also too bad that they lost the part of the scene where Django finds out that the Aussies are indentured servants and establishes trust by comparing his own lot to theirs. The scene still deserves to be here, because it illustrates how far Django has come, thanks to Schultz’ tutelage. From a barely literate slave who didn’t know what the word “positive” meant, he’s now capable of talking his way out of trouble. He catches the attention of one slavedriver named Franky (Tarantino) and asks if he wants to make $11,500. He tells the guy that Smitty Bacall and his three accomplices are hiding out at Candyland, and he pulls out the handbill to prove it.
• There’s a cut to the first slaver and his two fellow slavers (Michael Parks and John Jarratt) as they read the handbill. Someone pipes up that Django’s a slave, but he says, “Do I sound like a fuckin’ slave to you?” He explains that he and Schultz tracked the Bacall gang to Candyland. “We went in there to get ‘em, things went south, my partner got killed, Calvin Candie got shot, and everybody decided to blame me.” Large parts of that sentence are true. Django offers to point out the Bacall men in exchange for just $500 of the reward.
• Off to the side, the other two Aussies discuss are debating whether Django’s story is true. They open up the caged wagon and ask the slaves inside who Django is. Receiving no response, they threaten the slaves with a gun. The slaves don’t know the whole story, but they verify the key parts of Django’s story, that he’s a bounty hunter and a freeman. The Aussies are convinced.
• The Australians agree to Django’s terms, and further agree to let him help kill the Bacall gang. Django imitates their accent, saying, “You got yourself a deal, mate!”, which the Australians find charming. They cut the rope binding his hands and give him a pack horse to ride. When Django finds out that the horse’s saddlebags have dynamite, he refuses. One slaver tells Franky to take the saddlebags off and stick them in the cage. Franky throws one bag in there, laughing when the slaves jump. He goes and gets the other bag. Floyd is going to use the rifles on the wagon, so he takes off his gunbelt and gives it to Django, warning him the sights have been fixed. “Good to know,” says Django as he shoots Floyd and the other slaver. When Franky turns to face them, Django shoots the dynamite bag. Boom! The horses run off. Nothing’s left of Franky except a cloud of smoke, which dissipates to reveal Django standing there. The other slaves see this.
• Django washes his face in the slavers’ water, then unhitches one of the horses from the wagon. He picks up Floyd’s rifle, gets on the horse, and rides by the wagon, asking for the dynamite. Rodney gives him the bag ih the wagon. Django rides off, and Rodney sees him off, thinking he was all right in the end.
• Billy Crash puts Hildy in a room somewhere and locks the door. Well, at least it isn’t the hot box.
• In the trackers’ cabin, the female tracker with a bandanna over her face looks at an old photo. Three more of them play cards, while another fixes a birdhouse. One of the dogs barks outside. Stonesipher bathes in a large bucket, and one more tracker sits in a rocking chair. As the dogs’ barking grows louder, Stonesipher tells Jake (the guy at the birdhouse) to see what’s wrong. Django bursts in shouting, “D’Artagnan, motherfuckers!” Great line. Firing away with two pistols, he shoots Jake, then the guys at the card table, then the guy in the rocking chair, then another tracker who appears in a loft, then Stonesipher (in the penis), then the female tracker last.
• Django rides across the countryside bareback on the wagon horse, holding on to the horse’s mane. Pallbearers carry Calvin’s coffin to the cemetery. Django rides past something burning. Is it the trackers’ cabin?
• Django opens the door to the stable and sees Schultz’ corpse lying off to one side. He gathers up his clothes and goes over to it, retrieving the documents establishing Hildy’s freedom from Schultz’ waistband. There are holes in the back of Schultz’ coat, which would undoubtedly grieve the German. Django touches his mentor’s hair and whispers, “Auf Wiedersehen.” Nice little moment.
• In the bed where Hildy is being kept, she rolls over, hearing the sound of an approaching horse. She doesn’t see who it is that opens the door, she just shuts her eyes, expecting God knows what. But it’s Django, who says, “It’s me, baby.” She turns around, sees him, and runs into his arms.
• That night, seven people walk to Candyland abreast of the road. From left to right, they are an overseer, Sheba, another overseer, Billy, Lara Lee, Cora, and Stephen.
• As the door opens, Stephen sings “In the Sweet By and By,” while the party filters in. The halls of Candyland are still spattered with blood. You’d have thought Lara Lee would have somebody clean that, but that’s about to be moot. She asks Cora to gets some coffee. Stephen orders Sheba to help her. The two slave women mount the stairs, but somebody on the second floor announces his presence by lighting a lamp. Stephen stops singing the song. Django tells them, “Y’all gonna be together with Calvin in the by and by, all right. Just a bit sooner than y’all was expectin’.” He steps to the railing, holding a candle in his gun hand and wearing Calvin’s burgundy smoking jacket. Billy and the other two overseers reach for their weapons, but Django is so quick that he drops the candle and shoots all of them before any of them can even fire off a shot. Billy is only wounded in the shoulder, so Django reminds him that the last time they were talking, Billy had his hands on him. Then he shoots Billy in the penis. (Seems to be a thing with Tarantino, and not just in this movie.) Lara Lee screams and Stephen cowers behind a column. Billy screams some more, and for some reason he pronounces the “D” in Django’s name, shouting, “DeJango, you black son of a bitch!” Django says, “The ‘D’ is silent, hillbilly,” which is funny because he’s addressing a guy named Billy. He administers the coup de grâce from upstairs. He suggests “all you black folks get away from these white folks,” but then adds, “Not you, Stephen,” to the old man, who has made a move for the door. Django asks Cora to tell Miss Lara goodbye. A discombobulated Cora needs the instructions a second time before she says goodbye. Django shoots Lara Lee, and the impact blows her clean into the next room, out of our sight. The staging of this is blatantly cartoonish. He tells them to run along, and they do so, right out the front door, past Hildy, who’s mounted on Fritz. This always gets a laugh, because those crinolines are not made for running in.
• It’s just Django and Stephen left in Candyland. Django asks him how he likes the master’s clothes on him. “I didn’t know burgundy was my color.” Stephen just drops his walking stick and stands up straight; the old-and-feeble routine he was pulling was just an act the whole time. Stephen says, “I count six shots, nigger.” He is correct. Django pulls another gun with his left hand and says, “I count two guns, nigger.” He is also correct. He holsters the empty gun and then switches the loaded one from his left to his right and says, “You said in 76 years on this plantation, you seen all manner of shit done to niggers, but I notice you didn’t mention kneecappin’.” He shoots Stephen in the right kneecap. While Stephen curses in pain, Django continues, “76 years, Stephen. How many niggers you think you see come and go, huh? 7,000? 8,000? 9,000? 9,999? Every single word that came out of Calvin Candie’s mouth was nothin’ but horseshit, but he was right about one thing. I am that one nigger in 10,000.” He’s advancing down the steps as he says this, and Tarantino places the camera directly in front of him so that he’s addressing the camera. It’s a nice visual rhyme with Stephen’s earlier speech. Django shoots Stephen in the other knee, and the old man goes down, saying, “Sweet Jesus, let me kill this nigger!” That always gets a laugh, but people have asked Jesus for worse things. Stephen screams imprecations at Django about how he won’t get away with this, but Django just uses the lit cigarette in Calvin’s cigarette holder to light a fuse by the front door. Stephen threatens, “There’s always gonna be a Candyland!” as Django exits through the front door, while the flame follows the cord, strung over the door and leading to a huge bundle of dynamite.
• I’m not the biggest fan of this ending. I want Candyland to explode, but the tone of this thing is too jaunty, with the music and the actors’ expressions. I’d have appreciated an ending that said that life would be hard now, but Django and Hildy are free. Then again, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the endings of Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds, either. It’s strange, I didn’t have that problem with Tarantino’s films in the 1990s. I do appreciate that Hildy is now dressed as a frontierwoman instead of as a decorative object like she was earlier. Stephen continues screaming that Django can’t kill all the white people in the world, but then, who says he has to? Hildy sticks her fingers in her ears while Django turns and faces the explosion. Stephen’s last words are calling Django “uppity,” which is an appropriate way for him to go out. Candyland explodes in a brilliant shower of wood and fire. Django turns and says, “Hey, Little Troublemaker,” to which we now hear the rejoinder, as Hildy says, “Hey, Big Troublemaker.” (A sweet term of endearment, and also a reference to the studio owned by Tarantino’s buddy Robert Rodriguez, probably.) Jamie Foxx then has Cheetah spin around in place and prance around by way of doing a victory dance.
• In a brief flashback, Django takes target practice in the snow while Schultz says, “You know what they’re gonna call you? The Fastest Gun in the South.”
• Our heroes then ride off to live happily ever after. After the closing credits, there’s a brief bit with one of the slaves in the cage wagon with Rodney asking, “Who was that nigger?” So ends this marvelously entertaining and thought-provoking film.