When Quentin Tarantino sent word that he wanted to speak to me personally about my review of his latest movie, "Django Unchained," I was pretty sure he intended to yell at me. When I asked his personal publicist if that was the case, her answer was less than reassuring: "I don't think so," she said.
In my review, I had described a major plot-point of the film as "harebrained." Tarantino, I was told, had read that line and wanted to "discuss it with me." So much so that my editor, who was originally supposed to conduct the interview with Tarantino, was informed that the only way Tarantino would talk to The Huffington Post is if I were the one in the room with him. Yeah, I was fairly convinced that he was going to yell at me.
This is where I should describe the "harebrained" plot-point in question. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) In "Django Unchained," the title character, a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx), teams up with a German-born bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), to find and rescue Django's wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Broomhilda, who speaks German (hold that thought), is owned -- and prostituted out -- by a ruthless plantation owner named Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candie's true passion is mandingo fighting, a horrific practice in which slaves fight each other to the death. Now, Django and Schultz have $12,000 in cash at their disposal, but instead of simply offering Candie the $12,000 for Broomhilda, Schultz devises an elaborate plan that involves feigning interest in a fighter of Candie's named Eskimo Joe and then later, while they are "scouting" other fighters at Candie's plantation, Candyland, "noticing" Broomhilda and making her part of the transaction as a throw-in of sorts. Schultz explains in the film that Candie would never be interested in a simple transaction for one of his prostitutes and that his curiosity must be piqued by a more enticing offer.
I contend that this plan, which takes up a good portion of the film, hinges on a lot of assumptions. And at the junket, I wound up going head-to-head against Tarantino himself to debate this "plan" -- or, if you will, his "harebrained scheme."
I do want to make a couple of points. First, suspicions and fears aside, Tarantino certainly wasn't there to yell at me. On the contrary, what I encountered in that Midtown Manhattan hotel room was a jovial fellow movie-lover ready to engage in an open and honest debate. In my experience, very few filmmakers would open themselves up to on-the-record scrutiny from a journalist, let alone seek that scrutiny out and invite a debate. And it's hard to imagine anybody else conceding a few points to such a journalist, as Tarantino did. (At least, I think he did.) Needless to say, this was one of the most interesting moments in my career covering popular culture.
Boy, I've been waiting to talk to you.
That's what I'm hearing. You've got me nervous ...
[Laughs] No, no -- I've just got something to talk to you about. Finally, I have an interview where I actually have something to say.
But you talk all of the time ...
But it's all the same-old, same-old. I want to talk about your Q&A.
My fake Q&A.
The fake Q&A with yourself. I've been wanting to talk about something about it.
Keep in mind, I was not prepared to talk to you today. I'm winging this ...
Well, I'm winging it, too.
Fair enough. Overall, I did like your movie ...
Oh, I know. Don't worry, I'm not some guy with thin skin. No, no, you brought up something in particular about the film -- and I've read it about three other times. So I thought it would be wonderful to actually deal with you about it. It's kind of what I want to talk about, rather than do some BS overall interview. So you brought up what you thought was -- that basically their plan...
Their scheme ... that it was "harebrained" and illogical. Now, here's the thing: I want to talk about that because that's actually something worth talking about.
You know this story obviously so much better than I do, so I feel this is a no-win situation for me. But I'm in.
Well, you know, you opened your mouth.
All right, you know, fair enough ... point-counterpoint. And by the way, I do the same thing when I write about films. I'm like, "What is this?" Anyway, so, it's funny, I've read about three people who brought that up.
I feel there are a lot of assumptions about how Candie will react. That he wouldn't be interested in a lot of money just for her.
No, I kind of get that. And it seemed like all three of you more or less said, "Look, I get where Schultz is coming from, but I don't buy it."
Schultz seemed overly worried that Candie would dismiss them if they didn't go in looking for a fighter. And I'm like, "How do you know that for sure?"
Well, here's the thing. When I read what you guys were saying ... and, full disclosure, I even knew there would be guys like you out there while I was doing the movie --
Nitpicking a plot point?
Well, a Geiger counter. "Wait a minute -- there's a flaw here. This plan. What's up with this plan?"
I think the plan sets up some interesting things that happen in the movie. But it seemed overly grandiose ...
You don't have to be defensive about it; I just want to talk about that issue. And where I'm coming from is, actually, I see where you guys are coming from -- but, ultimately, I think you're wrong. And here's the thing about that: it's kind of a two-pronged thing. One thing is, Schultz can't afford to be wrong. He just can't afford to be wrong. They have to get Broomhilda. Now, frankly, if he was straight-up with him, how exactly would they get to Candyland and get invited to Candyland? To do everything they do would be kind of dubious.
Schultz is German. He heard on the street that there's a German-speaking woman being prostituted and now he's interested. Something like that?
No, no, no ... that, you know, I mean ... that ... could work. That could work. Here's the thing: you've got to think of who Schultz is. I see where you're coming from. But it does sound like you're thinking what you would do. You have to think about how Schultz would respond. And it is actually kind of interesting that we've been getting a lot of different reviews coming out of England and France and no one has questioned Schultz's methods when it comes to that. But they have been questioned in America. Now, I think there is a little more common sense laid in the American mindset when it comes to these kinds of things.
There's your controversial statement.
That's my headline: "Fuck you, world."
[Laughs] But think about it now: if Schultz was a straightforward guy, when he went into Daughtry, Texas, he would have actually gone to the marshal and said, "Look, your sheriff is not who he thinks he is, and I'm going to take him in."
That's a good point. What we see in the movie is a very elaborate way to get the sheriff.
Yeah, exactly. He probably would have gone to the marshal, and then they could have had the marshal get the sheriff to give up and taken him in alive. Now, Schultz would never take anybody alive, because that's how you get killed. But he could have at least gotten him out of town that way and then shot him.
So Schultz likes the theatrics?
He likes the theatrics. He likes setting up these convoluted plans -- creating mayhem. And, inside of the mayhem, orchestrate ...
So does he believe his plan at Candyland is the best way and it will create mayhem?
Well, no. That's the case in Daughtry, but, in this case with Candie, it's actually quite mayhem-less. He's actually being courted like a big-pocket buyer that he is. I mean, Candie couldn't be laying it all out for him in a better way. He's treated wonderful because he's got big pockets and he's coming in to spend some money. But, the way Schultz is and the way he works, it is not his way at any time -- it just doesn't compute to him -- to be in even a remotely submissive situation. In any encounter he has with anybody. Especially somebody as cretinous as Calvin Candie. Especially somebody who fights men to the death.
So you're saying he goes in with that plan because he feels he is in a position of power?
He has to be in the driver's seat. He cannot let Candie be in the driver's seat. If he goes to Moguy [Candie's lawyer]: "I've heard you have a German young gal slave." Now, by the way, let me preface one other thing. If Candie were Don Johnson's character, Spencer Bennett, Schultz would be actually able to be upfront and offer to buy her -- because that's what Bennett does. He sells pretty women. That's not what Candie does. It's a little weird to go and buy this random girl from the plantation.
Except that the two have the German-speaking connection.
They have the German connection -- it's just weird. It's just a little weird.
It's weird, but that could be an "in."
It could be an "in" ...
"I know this is weird, but I don't know anyone who speaks German and I'd like to buy her."
Yeah, absolutely. That could work. In real life, that could work. And even in the case of this movie, in real life, it could work. It could not work and there is no Plan B if it doesn't work. They're screwed if it doesn't work.
So you're saying that this plan creates a Plan B?
Yes. But, also, it's the fact that the minute that Candie realizes that they need Broomhilda is the minute he has the upper hand. In no iota of any way, shape or form can Schultz ever allow Candie to have the upper hand. It's just not his way to ever allow anybody -- especially somebody he finds so cretinous. Even before he knows him! Just from the facts -- that much of a power-mad baron to have the upper hand. Even enough to come up and say, "I speak German. I've heard you have this German-speaking slave. I'd like to pay $5,000 for her." Well, he's afraid that Candie will say, "No, how about $10,000? If you want it that much."
But didn't they wind up paying $12,000?
Well, that's because that ended up happening. They had no choice later.
So, in my mind, I'm thinking that they went through this whole thing, when they could have just said, "Here's all of our money." I get the upper-hand aspect, but in the end it doesn't work anyway and that's what they wind up paying. Did you ever think that once Candie figures out their true motives, to just have them kicked out without Broomhilda?
No, because Candie doesn't care enough about Broomhilda.
So he still wants the money.
He still wants the money. But here's the interesting thing, though: It's not Schultz's way. Ever. To let anybody he's dealings with have the upper hand.
So just going straight to Candie is giving him the upper hand?
It gives Candie the power position. Candie can say, "yes" or "no." Candie can dictate the price from that point on. Aside from the fact that Schultz doesn't even want to pay $5,000 for her. He'll pay $12,000 to keep her from being beaten to death, but he doesn't want to. He wants to buy her for $350. He wants to pretend he's going to spend $12,000 on Eskimo Joe and get her for nothing. And then they never see him again. He doesn't want to give them any money.
If the plan had worked, would they have not left with both Eskimo Joe and Broomhilda?
He was never going to buy him. They would get Broomhilda, they would leave and five days later, him and his lawyer were supposed to show back up -- and they'd never see him again. That's part of the ruse: that they're spending so much money on Candie's bill of fare -- it's like a toaster you get for depositing $500 in a bank.
So when Candie finds out that their main interest is Broomhilda, why does he care? I mean, as long as he thinks he's still getting his full money.
Ultimately, Candie doesn't care once he gets the $12,000. Once he sells her, it's like, "OK, have cake! Drink! I'm a great horse trader."
But he did take Eskimo Joe off the table.
He doesn't even have to lose Eskimo Joe. This is a triumph for Candie. Candie and Moguy are celebrating as they sign over Broomhilda's papers. They sold a slave that cost $300 for $12,000 -- that is horse trading at the highest level. If you want to entice a horse trader, you have to trade horses. Now ... what's interesting about this whole conversation is ... Schultz was wrong. It would have worked. If they had come and offered to buy Broomhilda for $5,000, Candie would have done it.
I like you.
They don't know that.
You just made my day.
They don't know that.
I know what you're saying, but, honestly, a lot of directors would never say something along those lines. But you're saying that, in this story, Schultz is a character who makes wrong decisions.
He's working from the wrong assumptions. Schultz is so egotistical and is such a control freak, he cannot allow himself to be put in the non-power position of every situation. It's why he ends up getting killed in the first place! They've had it; they got her.
They won! But he cannot make himself subservient -- you know, to shake Candie's hand. I think it's one of the cool subtexts of the film that ultimately, yes, they were wrong. If they had approached Candie, he would have sold Broomhilda for $5,000.
For me, though ... my perception of Christoph Waltz in this movie -- and in "Inglourious Basterds" -- is that he seems like a reasonable man. Even as a Nazi saying these horrible things, he gives off an air of reason. When he speaks, he sounds reasonable.
But that's one of the biggest differences between Schultz and Landa. Schultz is almost this high-flying lunatic when it comes to these harebrained schemes that he does. One of the really exciting parts of the film is when he goes into Daughtry, Texas, and just shoots the sheriff. He shoots the sheriff and you're like, "Oh my God, what the hell did he just do!" And, so, is Django owned by a lunatic now? Are they both going to get lynched? And I think the audience crosses their arms, "OK, how the hell are you going to get out of this one?" And then he comes out there and says, "No, this man is not who you thought he was. He's this man." And, OK, actually I buy that. I get that. Well, that's his whole modus operandi. It's actually one of the tragedies of the movie -- if they had actually just been more straightforward and hadn't tried to be so tricky. But it's Schultz's way to be tricky and clever. It's Schultz's way to never reveal himself -- to hide under guises and to pretend to be something he's not. To trick people.
I think they're going to kick me out of here ...
Well, thanks for rallying and coming down and talking to me. I understood where you guys were coming from -- I just wanted to deal with it. And, it's funny -- let me finish up one little thing about it. I know where you guys were coming from. And I thought, I could actually have a scene in here where I make it a little more explicit of why they have to do this whole thing. Like, for instance, in a book, I don't think anyone would be thinking about it because I could have taken you into Schultz's thought process more -- so it would be more set-up. But, frankly, it's like right in the middle of the movie I didn't want to have a whole giant scene -- where I'm actually trying to get some momentum going. That, "OK, now I have to explain everything that we're going to do right now." I took a leap that most people would go with me -- would go with the plan.
It sounds like most people do.
It sounds like most people do.
But then there are idiots like me ...
Not "idiots," but, I mean ... I did think, I think you're coming from your point of view and not Schultz's.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.