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The Antagonists of DJANGO UNCHAINED: An Analysis

No matter the genre, most films, especially in the Action or Western genre, hinge on the presence of a compelling antagonist. These characters inject drama and tension by throwing obstacles in the protagonist's path, hindering their progress toward their objectives. In this regard, Django Unchained (2012) is an outstanding film with intricately crafted antagonists, earning its status as one of Tarantino’s best.


What sets Django Unchained apart is its depth and complexity, which showcase how to develop riveting antagonists that intrigue us. Nevertheless, let’s dive into these characters, how you can learn from them as a writer, and what to remember about antagonists.


Still from 'Django Unchained (2012)'. Photo credit: Screen Rant


Calvin Candie


Calvin Candie takes center stage as the primary antagonist in Django Unchained. As the proprietor of the Candyland plantation in Mississippi, Candie is depicted as a Francophile with a penchant for luxury and power. Leonardo DiCaprio brought Calvin Candie to life, which always enhances a story whenever a great actor like DiCaprio is assigned to the role.


Character-wise, Calvin Candie is a ruthless owner of a vast plantation in Mississippi. Broomhilda, Django Freeman's (the main protagonist) wife, finds herself under Candie's ownership after being sold to him by their former enslaver, who seeks to punish them for their marriage by separating them.


Candie's despicable nature is evident in his harsh treatment of enslaved people, whom he sees merely as property. He indulges in the brutal spectacle of Mandingo fighting, where enslaved men are forced into deadly combat for profit. Despite his cruelty, Candie maintains a close relationship with his trusted head slave, Stephen, entrusting him with many responsibilities.


From a writing perspective, many can learn from this character as an example of how to develop an antagonist all audiences will despise. The character has an outright defiance of decency, evident in his disturbingly close relationship with his widowed sister and his casual act of feeding people to dogs. No one admires Calvin Candie as some do with other antagonists such as the Joker.


Personality and Traits


Candie lacks intelligence, as evidenced by his ignorance of Alexandre Dumas' ethnicity and his inability to speak French despite insisting on being addressed as Monsieur. He is also suggested to be illiterate. Candie holds a lofty opinion of himself, considering himself worldly and sophisticated.


Candie has a volatile temper despite his outward charm, as demonstrated when he explodes in rage during his encounter with Django and Dr. Schultz. He is shown to be unaffected by his injuries sustained in fits of anger.


The character, like many antagonists, is depicted as exceedingly cold-hearted, finding pleasure in cruel acts such as orchestrating violent fights between enslaved people and ordering executions without remorse.


It’s a reminder that there's no need to force every character in your story to have layers upon layers of interpretation to be deemed valid. Your antagonist could simply be a force of nature, embodying pure evil, a twisted individual without justification. Labeling it as such is acceptable; it's effective, especially in today's storytelling landscape, where we've grown accustomed to intricate, tragic antagonists.


Stephen


The secondary antagonist of Django Unchained is Stephen. A secondary antagonist is usually a partner or accomplice of the primary antagonist or an entirely separate threat altogether, albeit of lesser magnitude. Similar to the main antagonist, they may not always be villains per se, but they serve as obstacles to the protagonist's goals.


Still from 'Django Unchained (2012)'. Photo credit: Screen Rant


Stephen holds the position of head slave on the plantation and maintains a close and loyal relationship with his master, Calvin Candie. Despite being black himself, he exhibits disdain towards other enslaved people and expresses disapproval of Django’s freedom.


Stephen possesses greater cunning and intelligence than the others at Candieland, including Calvin. He views himself as superior to the other enslaved people and is implied to have played a significant role in shaping Calvin into the sadist depicted in the film.


Despite his cruel nature, Stephen harbors genuine affection for Candie and appears to have Calvin's best interests at heart. He often ingratiates himself with Candie, agreeing with him and laughing at his jokes. Despite appearing limp, he fakes it, possibly to maintain his position of influence and avoid laboring in the cotton fields.


Spinning Antagonists


The basic understanding is that an antagonist opposes the protagonist. However, there's depth beyond this definition. Antagonists serve as the driving force of conflict within a narrative, and as any writer will attest, conflict is an essential element of compelling narratives. That said, sometimes it’s better to spin a traditional story element to enhance your script.


For example, part of this story’s appeal relates to how Tarantino spun it: as a Western set in the South. You should always aim for this spin when writing your speculative screenplay because movie studios are most interested in it. They want to see solid and familiar ideas repackaged in new, exciting ways.


Furthermore, Tarantino crafted a dark story that still managed to find humor. It’s a reminder that no matter how chilling you plan to make your antagonists, it’s okay to have humor in it.


Many argue that Django Unchained is Tarantino's most hilariously bold film. Given its backdrop, this might come as a surprise. Nevertheless, the director skillfully extracts humor from subjects and scenarios that may initially appear inappropriate.


Memorable Names


It’s easy to remember a villain like Calvin Candie not just because of the performance or film itself but because of the antagonist’s name. Would the film be as impactful if Calvin Candie had a more traditional name or something less memorable? It’s hard to say, but you can assume yes.


Each script and narrative possesses its distinct array of characters, with names serving as the primary means individuals remember them. For instance, iconic names like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger are universally recognized, underscoring the profound impact a character's name can have on their enduring legacy.


When someone is engrossed in a script, it becomes challenging to fully immerse oneself in the narrative if the characters fail to command credibility. Yet, crafting a memorable character can be achieved adeptly through their name. Indeed, a well-chosen name can shape a character's persona, lending depth and intrigue to their portrayal.

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