Sunday, March 16, 2014

Charley Brown Unchained: New Slaves

Man Cave 1.0

When we first meet Mr. Calvin Candie he is relaxing in his man cave enjoying a beverage and some sports, a recreation not unlike the kind enjoyed by millions of Americans on any given Sunday.  Our 72" HD TV's and 5.1 Surround Sound sure bring the action close, but nothing is as close to the action as the front row seats of Mr. Candie.  

It might seem wrong to compare Mr. Candie's choice of sport with that of the average American, but Quentin Tarantino doesn't seem to think so.  In fact, in Django Unchained, Tarantino is pretty explicit about his opinion of the similarities between the two, especially the industries surrounding them, and the dollars they earn through the violent and shameful exploitation of their fellow man.

"Clues," Zina said, "I kept giving you clues.  But it was up to you to recognize me."
     Emmanuel said, "I did not know who I was for a time, and I did not know who you were.  Two mysteries confronted me, and they had a single answer."
     "Let's go look at the wolves," Zina said.  "They are such beautiful animals.  And we can ride the little train.  We can visit all the animals."
     "And let them free," Emmanuel said.
     "Yes," she said.  "And let them, all of them, free."
     "Will Egypt always exist?" he said.  "Will slavery always exist?"
     "Yes," Zina said.  "And so will we."
Philip K. Dick

"Are you ready for some Django?"  

"Like slavery, it's a flesh for cash business."
Dr. King Schultz

Quentin Tarantino makes it clear that the widespread brutality and exploitation in the industries of slavery and sports entertainment are one in the same.   Whether on the cotton field or on the football field, people are simply bought and sold, beaten and brutalized, and thrown away the minute they begin to lose their value.  And the few that make it up to the house….

Tarantino is suggesting that the American Dream has been replaced by America's Game, a paradigm of big-business that masquerades as entertainment, the perfect blend of money, violence, and theater that acts as a digital soma for the sleeping masses, and has become the premier distraction from the boredom that threatens the status quo. 

"I must admit I'm at a bit of a quandary when it comes to you. On one hand I despise slavery, on the other hand I need your help. If you're not in a position to refuse, all the better. So for the time being I'm gonna make this slavery malarkey work to my benefit."
Dr. King Schultz

Be A Man

At the center of the film is Django Freeman, played by Jamie Foxx (played by Eric Marlon Bishop), who once played Willie Beamen, superstar quarterback of Any Given Sunday.  "Django" means "I awake" and seems to suggest the cognitive transformation at the center of this film.

When we first meet both Freeman and Beamen, they are in the same predicament:  they work on fields (cotton / football), have owners (slave master / franchise owner), and are in chains (shackles / "move the chains!").   Beamen seemingly is in a much better situation than poor Django.  Sitting on the bench is one step away from the spotlight, but Django, despite being moved across Texas to a slave auction (football draft), is one step away from salvation.  That first step towards salvation arrives in the form of an ex-Nazi named Dr. King.

Dr. King Schulz is his full name, and he is traveling cross country in a carriage with a big floppy tooth on top.*

Schultz is played by Christoph Walz, who once won an Oscar portraying a Nazi.  "Dr. King" invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who helped liberate African-Americans from the inequalities of segregation, and by association, Martin Luther, the German monk, who liberated Catholics from indulgences.  Schultz may refer to Charles Schultz, creator of Charlie Brown.  Tarantino's Schultz is a  portmanteau, an ex-Nazi bounty hunter sent to liberate Django by recreating him.

No longer asleep, Schultz has made peace with himself and his morality in this flesh for cash world.  He simply would "rather be a dick than a swallower."  This is made perfectly clear in the shot below, where Schultz' the bounty hunter explains the rules of the Game to Django from inside a glass cube, while the real Schultz sits comfortably outside of it.

Django's liberation begins with Schultz adopting the role of Director, putting Django into character, complete with costume.  In fact, Schultz will put Django into many characters along the way:  valet, Siegfried, a black slaver.


 "I Own You Bitch"

What Schultz understands, what he will teach Django, is that real human life, what is best called reality, is closer to the mountains and dragons of myth than the streets and marketplaces of the machine.  The Dream trumps the Game any day.  Because of a life of slavery, this truth has been obscured for Django.  The unlikely relationship between Schultz and Django provides a chance for both men to return to reality.

Django:  Why you care what happens to me? Why you care if I find my wife?
Schultz:  Frankly, I've never given anybody their freedom before, and now that I have I feel vaguely responsible for you. Plus when a German^ meets a real-life Sigfried that's kind of a big deal. As a German I'm obliged to help you on your quest to rescue your beloved Brunhilde.

For the final act of this quest, Schultz and Django travel to the Cleopatra Club, masquerading as owner and agent, neophytes to the big business of the Mandingo fight game.  The two are welcomed in to a bizarre situation that only gets more bizarre, as Tarantino builds a complex portmanteau involving football, Hollywood, and slavery.

Leonide Moguy, Candie's lawyer, shares his name with a Russian born director of French films.  "Just call me Leo" entangles them both with Leo Dicaprio, the American actor (outside the cube) who plays our slave owner Candie.  To solidify this entanglement, we learn that Candie has a love of French culture.  Lawyer, Slaver, Owner, Director, and Actor are all one, just as lawyers, football, Hollywood, and slavery are all one (I am aware that many will regard this giant leap as if it was written in a foreign language).

When Schulz, Django, and Leo make it upstairs, Candie's first question is why?  Why enter the Game?

Good enough.


Tarantino completes the portmanteau with a thinly veiled reference to Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.

Williamson played eight seasons in the NFL, and earned his nickname "The Hammer" because he used his forearm to deliver violent hits to the heads of opposing players.  Ouch. After finishing his NFL career, Williamson followed the lead of Jim Brown and took his talents to Hollywood.  One step forward, two steps back.

Two-Eyed Charley

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  When Charlie Brown plays football with Luci, it is an explicit portrayal of insanity.  The only way to move forward is to wake up and stop trying to kick the football.  Stop playing the Game.

Am I Awake?

*This tooth invokes the Hebrew letter "shin", which means "teeth".  The secret of the letter "shin" is that of "the flame bound to the coal", which refers to the hidden flame that arises when you blow air onto a hot coal.  This is a subtle clue to the commentary hiding just under the surface of the film.

^German" should be replaced here with "enlightened one"


  1. Great post.

    This is one of my favorite recent films and I too perceived the strong implications of an NFL entertainment complex subtext.

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback. I am always amazed at the depth one finds when watching Tarantino on multiple occasions. He clearly understands the power of violence to divert the viewers attention.

  3. Lucy as she who fell from heaven inhabits the mystery of taboo vesica pig's skin as the nature of partaking of the fruits of Hades

    Idina Menzel says to Let it Go--Persephone's heart is always Frozen, and yet I cannot