Dr King Schultz is a fine incarnation of acting, character and screenwriting and his story challenges our attitude towards the law, morality and compassion.
A commenter on another internet forum I frequent suggested that in dispatching Calvin Candie, Schultz somehow threw away his life. The poster was probably mostly disappointed that Christoph Waltz screen time came to an end. After all, the character is wonderfully incarnated by Christoph Waltz, who has the unique privilege of having Quentin Tarantino writing roles for him to win Oscars. It’s win-win for Tarantino, who has such a fine actor to work with. Schultz is an incredible character, and Waltz is a joy to watch. He’s a likeable character, he seems like a good guy, he’s Django’s friend, but why does he eventually break?
Initially, Schultz’ primary interest in Django is his knowledge of the Brittle Brothers. Schultz frees Django in exchange for the information, but on the other hand, leaves the other slaves to gain their own freedom; it’s not as if Schultz is going around freeing them like Zorro. Then we learn he’s a bounty hunter whose actions come with the full force of the law. His pre-occupation is not so much with freeing those slaves as it is about cashing in on the crooks and making money; bounty hunting, he says, is like slavery – “it’s a cash for flesh business.”
In some ways he’s like the slave trader, respecting the law, upholding the law, and to some extent he relies on the law for his income. The way in which Schultz and Django work together highlights two distinct approaches to the law and morality – Django is reluctant to shoot a man because his son is right there with him as he farms. Schultz questions Django’s hesitation because the man is condemned by the law – of course, killing him is the right thing to do! As characters, Schultz is meticulous, calm and professional but Django has a personal stake in finding the Brittle brothers, and so the way he goes about making things ‘right’ plays out quite differently.
In his work as a bounty hunter, Schultz disguises himself as a dentist to get him places to execute the law. Similarly, Schultz and Django create a facade to gain Candie’s confidence and into Candieland. The plan totally depends on playing a character in order to legally win Broomhilda’s freedom.
With the ‘cover’ blown, and with Candie’s final speech, Schultz self-revelation occurs. While he has respected the law and attempted to win Broomhilda’s freedom legally, it is all to no avail when dealing with Candie. Schultz finally sees Candie for what he is – his crimes against humanity, the exploitation of people for his own personal gain and indeed his entertainment, and then has the hubris to expect Schultz to shake hands like a gentleman!
Schultz can abide him no longer, and with the law indifferent to the moral bankruptcy of the situation, Schultz does what he does, in a complete departure from the well-mannered professional and articulate gentlemen we meet in the very beginning. Hence, I suspect he says sorry to Django for finally breaking his own character and not being able to complete their quest as promised, leaving Django to save himself; however, these circumstances ultimately leads to Django’s redemption as an autonomous man, free to live his own life.
To summarize, Schultz, whose primary interest in the slave is to catch the Brittle Brothers, eventually shifts towards the plight of those abused by the self-interest of the Brittle brothers, Calvin Candie (and Stephen). Schultz wanted to uphold the law and earn a living, but what he needed was to be outraged, to resist the law where it is unjust and to give his life for that cause.
Read the full Django Unchained analysis here.
An interview with Christoph Waltz:
A clip from Django Unchained:
Christoph Waltz accepting the Oscar: