The impact of “the dog attack scene” in Django Unchained
I grew up around Quentin Tarantino movies; my dad is a fan of Tarantino’s work and has a collection of the movies around the house. When I was young I would see him watching Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction and asked if I could watch too, but the response was always “not until you’re older.” I never understood why I couldn’t watch with him. After all, I believed that I was mature and smart… I should have been able to enjoy the movies as well. It was not until I was into my pre-teen years when I truly started to watch Tarantino’s movies for the first time. I was excited. I was growing up and I could finally enjoy the movies that were once forbidden. There was a problem though; I didn’t understand what my dad saw in the movies. What was the point of the excessive violence in Pulp Fiction? Why did Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill abandon Bill when she knew she was pregnant with his baby, sparking her murderous rampage? I couldn’t comprehend the violence or deeper aspects of Tarantino’s works at this age.
Because of my confusion or apathy towards their themes, I essentially abandoned Tarantino’s movies until Inglourious Besterds was released. I genuinely enjoyed the movie, perhaps because I was older, perhaps because it presents a more accessible theme to a teenager than most of Tarantino’s other movies. While Inglourious Basterds recaptured my attention for Tarantino’s movies, Django Unchained truly solidified my enjoyment of his works.
During the time between my viewings of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained I experienced much more in my life (both good and bad) and truly matured further. This maturity allowed me to view the film in a different light. Django Unchained is an exciting movie, not only because of the excellent acting, explosive action, or interesting soundtrack, but because of the deeper conflict that lies beneath it all. On the surface the movie is about the struggle of slavery, but we realize that slavery is only a backdrop for the true themes: love, friendship, and loyalty. Before the growth that I experienced in my later teenage years, I would have understood these subtleties, but not appreciated them.
The moment in Django Unchained that truly opened up Tarantino’s works to me is the scene in which we see an escaped Candie Land Mandingo fighter attacked by dogs. This scene is preceded by a tense interaction between Dr. Shultz, Django, and Monsieur Candie. Candie doesn’t find Django and Dr. Shultz to be honest about their desire to purchase a Mandingo fighter, and the men recognize this. Per his training from Dr. Shultz, Django takes matters into his own hands to uphold their disguises as Mandingo fighters and ensure their entrance into Candie Land. When the caravan comes across the escaped slave Candie asks Django if it is suitable for him to punish his slave for running off. Django, somewhat surprisingly, tells him to do so. The scene that follows is very gruesome. Vicious dogs are released on the decrepit slave and we see him ripped to death on the screen. All the while Django watches, outwardly unmoved at the scene that unfolds in front of him.
In my opinion, watching this scene in a movie theater is a greater experience than doing so in private; the shared experience heightens the impact of the scene. There is violence throughout the entire movie. At some moments the audience cheers for it, at others they boo, but during this moment the theater falls into a sickening silence. No one can really believe what we witness on screen. Django is stolid while Candie closely examines him, but we know he must be at least irked by the situation occurring next to him. Shultz is obviously upset, but Django cannot break character for fear of losing the chance to be reunited with his estranged wife, Broomhilda. Django’s body language contributes greatly to the intensity of this scene. The silent standoff between Django and Candie with the terrible screams of the escaped slave in the background cause us to realize that Django is able to withstand anything for his love.
When I realized that Django was able to maintain his character and uphold such intense body language despite this bloody, terrifying mess solely because of his love and commitment for Broomhilda, all of Tarantino’s movies became clearer. They are not senselessly violent or gruesome, but the violence enhances the themes in the subtext. My earlier questions were answered: Jules and Vincent must use violence in Pulp Fiction so that when “The Bonnie Situation” occurs their acquisition of the “language of humility” is more obvious (see the essay on “The Bonnie Situation”). Beatrix’s killing spree highlights her deep need to see her lover once again, and simultaneously teach him a lesson for the pain he inflicted upon her. This horrific scene from Django Unchained and the body language of its characters made me realize that Tarantino uses violence as a backdrop to highlight the more important aspects of his films, and in effect, caused me to appreciate his films much more.