Cowboys in Candyland: Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and the Southern Frontier

Laura Bieger

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


    With Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film, Django Unchained, the Western’s generic promise of ‘regenerative violence’ has been taken to a few frontier: the Southern frontier to the land of ‘human property.’ What happens, the film seems to ask when brought into a dialogue with this workshop’s theme, if the presumably civilized ‘other’ that borders the mythical space imagined by the Western is a society degenerated by chattel slavery?
    Drawing on the Italo-Western’s subversion of the genre’s traditional moral code (enlisting the frontier’s rugged individualism for the cause of democracy) and its excessive display of violence, the film brings together two highly unusual anti-heroes: black slave Django and the German bounty hunter Dr. King Schulz. Together, they venture into the rural plantation landscape of the South in a conjoint enterprise of greed and revenge. After redeeming the lucrative warrants for three men, former overseers at the plantation to which Django used to belong and for whose identification Dr. Schulz purchased the slave, his humanist side takes over. He frees Django, makes him his partner and, upon hearing about his plan to find his wife Brunhilde and rescue her from bondage, agrees to help him in what culminates in an spectacular excess of bloodshed that only Django and Brunhilde survive (suggesting that Django has been successfully transformed/Americanized by the frontier while Dr. Schulz remained corrupted by the degenerative evils of civilization).
    The film’s narrative and visual politics are striking in at least two intersecting ways: in enlisting of the Western’s promise of regenerative violence for the ‘immoral’ cause of revenge rather than the ‘moral’ cause of justice in ways that at once embrace and ridicule this promise; and by visualizing this narrative in the parodistic excess of violence that has become Tarantino’s aesthetic signature. The film exploits the imaginary space thus opened to display some of the ‘actual’ violence of slavery in unprecedented brutality.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationViolence and Open Spaces
    Subtitle of host publicationThe Subversion of Boundaries and the Transformation of the Western Genre
    EditorsChrista Buschendorf, Stefanie Müller, Katja Sarkowsky
    Place of PublicationHeidelberg
    PublisherUniversitätsverlag C. Winter
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)978-3825366742
    ISBN (Print)382536674X
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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