Near the end of Django Unchained, a freed slave named Django rides across a Mississippi plain, planning to wreak vengeance on the plantation owners holding his wife captive. All the visual symbols of a western finale are present: a lone hero set in a barren landscape, a horse worked to a lather, a gun in a holster and a cowboy hat cocked back. Salvific undertones are made explicit in the pulsating rhythms and lyrics of the accompanying song by John Legend: “I’m not afraid to do the Lord’s work / You say vengeance is his, but I’m gonna do it first.”
Perhaps Quentin Tarantino’s most controversial film yet, Django Unchained is a mashup of western, comedic, blaxploitation and rogue hero tropes. The result is an irreverent, profound and problematic exploration of America’s original sin and the power of a revenge fantasy.