DJANGO UNCHAINED written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, with Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio. An Alliance Films release. 165 minutes. Opens Tuesday (December 25). For venues and times, see Movies.
Quentin Tarantino set a new challenge for himself in his latest film, Django Unchained - though he didn't know he was doing it at the time. A revenge western set in the 1860s, it's his first picture to take place before movies existed - depriving the writer/director of the cultural reference points he so loves.
At a Toronto press stop earlier this month, I ask if there was ever a moment when he understood how he was limiting his options. He thinks for a second and shrugs: naaah.
The absence of cinema in Django Unchained "kinda goes without saying - doing a western and everything," he says, laughing. "And frankly, I think it highlights how - while it's easy to focus in on those tangents that happen in the other movies - how ultimately they actually are kind of unimportant to the overall story. I don't have the luxury of making a three-page monologue talking about Superman's origin as a metaphor for something else [as in Kill Bill, Part II]. None of the characters can be like that."
Tarantino did notice, though, that he was giving all the cultural speeches to Christoph Waltz's character, the German bounty hunter Schultz.
"He's not talking about movies, but he's completely erudite and references literature and legend constantly throughout the piece," Tarantino says. "He has that [tic], except it's not about cinema. But he's a very learned man; he's constantly referencing his knowledge on all kinds of subjects. It definitely was something I couldn't fall back on [for the other characters], but I don't know if I ever fell back on it before, I always thought it added something."
He was more interested in recreating the American South not long before the Civil War, he says, and using it as the backdrop for a mythical adventure.
"I wanted to tell an exciting story that dealt with a man who on page 1 starts off as a slave and goes all the way to the other end by page 170 as a cowboy, a bounty hunter and a hero," he says. "A man who goes on a romantic quest and saves his princess in exile from the castle of the evil king."
As Schultz points out in the film, the story of Jamie Foxx's Django is a Germanic legend playing out amidst the plantations. And Tarantino was more interested in showing us a world where that could take place than he was in commenting on the nature of that world.
"Some people have asked me, ‘Well, is there a message that you were trying to get across about slavery?'" he says. "And I go, ‘Well, I wasn't so much trying to get a message across [as] paint a very realistic picture of what America was like at that time. Create a world where slavery is the norm to the slaves, the slave owners and the slave handlers, that that is how it's going to be for the next few hundred years. This is the way it is. Create that version of America that existed then, and put you right in the middle of it.
"Rather than make some soapbox speeches about slavery or make points against America, I wanted to just take you back to that time, 100 per cent, and stick you in the middle of it."