The laws that shape the society of the pre-Civil War set film Django Unchained are shown to be ridiculous and immoral, at least from a 2013 audience perspective, and much of the humor in the film stems from the rather relaxed attitude of the characters towards these arbitrary rules and regulations of the period. In 1858, you can kill a man as long as you have a warrant signed by a federal judge. In 1858, you can own a black man as property. In 1858, a free black man is not to be treated as a slave, but also is not to be treated like a free white man. In 1858, a deal is not done until there is a handshake.
Quentin Tarantino spends much time in the film juxtaposing laws and morality. The scene that highlights this dynamic involves Calvin Candie and the skull of “good ole Ben” after Candie discovers Dr. King Schultz’s ruse to buy Broomhilda, Django’s wife. After a reasonable, and quite logical explanation of the inferiority of the black man because of the placement of three dimples inside their skull, Candie erupts in an emotional outburst that leads the audience to assume that his twisted logic is due to his own bigotry and racism. Thus it could be assumed that reasonable and rationally-thought out laws governing a society are built on nothing more than the prejudices of that society. Therefore, laws are not always moral, nor are they infallible.
For the climax, Dr. Schultz, who up to that point in the narrative had acted and even killed with the support of the law, ponders and eventually acts on the incompatibly of arbitrary laws and his own moral standards. He initially does not agree to shake Candie’s hand to finalize the purchase of Broomhilda, which would be the proper way to close a deal in Chickasaw County. Then after agreeing to a handshake, Schultz instead fires a bullet from his hidden gun straight in to the heart of Candie, quite an illegal act. Schultz obviously breaks the law, but he felt it was morally justified.
I’ve seen Tarantino’s Django Unchained twice now. The first time, I admit, I found it quite disturbing. Tarantino’s sick, twisted, adolescent mind was on full display. No, I wasn’t offended by any of the racial/historical stereotypes. Call me a prude, but what offended me was the over-the-top violence riddled with comic flourishes. My initial reaction was similar to that of Inglorious Basterds: historical, touchy subject matter awash with perverted, excessive violence that is morally objectionable.
After the second viewing, I found the movie quite thought-provoking, especially as I was prepared for the shock and awe of the dizzying violence. No, I didn’t think much about slavery or racism, but instead on the traditional Western theme of Law and Order. Although I do agree that laws are not always right, I disagree that a morally justified act is the correct thing to do when it breaks the law. That being said, the material does prove relevant to today. In 2013, two men or two women cannot get married in most of the country. In 2013, a rich man can have an effective tax rate lower than a not-so rich man. In 2013, a corporation can patent life. In 2013…
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