Cultural Critique / Pop Culture / The Color Line

A Character Case Study on “Django Unchained”: Dr. King Schultz

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Editor’s note:  This is the second of six installments of the characters of the Quentin Tarantino movie “Django Unchained.  Hopefully the subsequent four will arrive more quickly than the first two.  JLL

This character of Dr. King Schultz is one of utmost peculiarity.  Naturally so, the peculiarity of King Schultz has as much to do with the actor as it had to do with the character itself.  For the sake of how I viewed Schultz’s character, it was almost totally caught up in the actor himself, Christoph Waltz.  Waltz burst onto the acting scene in a wave of glory from Quentin Tarantino’s last blockbuster hit that retold history against the backdrop of a Nazi run Germany and the Holocaust.  The  eccentricity of Dr. Schultz, waltzing onto the scene with a large molar tooth bobbing on the top of his stage coach set the ground work for a rather interesting ride.

Schultz is immediately branded as an ardent anti-slavery individual.  In the first scene we have this image of slave catchers or slave bounty hunters participating in the transport of black male slaves across this varying terrain in the west.  However the opening scene shows Schultz as civilized compared to the two bounty hunters.  His speech pattern is grossly above that of his white counterparts and perhaps this correlates with him having the power to liberate Django and effectively unchain him.  Schultz, aside from Django himself, is the key player in the liberation and the unchaining of Django’s body and of his mind, and I’d go so far as to say Schultz undergoes a process of liberation as well until his own demise.

As this movie jumps in and out of historical fact and historical fiction, we see Schultz’s character playing a major role in that process.  Schultz, even without the accompaniment of a black former slave such as Django, would have raised the eyebrow of anyone if he just was passing through a town.  The bobbing tooth would be an immediate eye-catcher, his clothes and to how he spoke would certainly make anyone pay attention.  Now there’s nothing suggesting that Schultz has had to overcome a life of great difficulty that resulted in him being so confident in his peculiarity, however, he rode through random towns quite often and seemingly with no effort.

One of my colleagues, the same one referenced in the first installment, made mention of how Schultz, however, still succumbed to some of the idiosyncrasies of being a white male and interacting with a black man.  I didn’t notice it in the two times I’ve watched it, but my colleague noted that Schultz “ticked” at Django to take his hat off the table as they sit down for beer in much the same way Schultz would tick at his horse.

In cultures ancient and modern, and across the wide spectrum from Asia to the Pacific Islands, to the African continent and even in the western hemisphere, it is considered common cultural practice to offer the stranger water when you first meet them.  Even in many cultures here in the United States, when you first meet someone or invite them into your house, you offer them something to drink or even fix them something to eat.  Without fail, when I go see one of my aunts and can drop by unexpectedly, within the first 2 minutes of me entering the house, she asks can she make me something to eat.   I see that cultural practice occurring more in that scene than what my colleague saw: Schultz is inviting Django into a freed man’s culture and giving him the privileges thereunto.  Even more than that, to sit down and have a meal at a table with someone, or even a drink, the same drink is a signal that that person sees the other as an equal.

Now while Schultz was aiding in Django’s liberation, through the process of being with Django, in some sense liberated him as well.  The implications of a white man seen so frequently with a white man no doubt led to some cross-racial implications unheard of for 1858.  With the historical tenderbox ripened for explosion by the Dred Scott decision sparked by a very similar situation, a white slave owner traveling to free states with his black slave, it was no doubt that as they traveled they would have run into problems very similar to the opening scene in Daughtry, Texas in the saloon.

It must be noted that Schultz, just like Django, were characters created as an archetype and not based on an amalgamation of stereotypes.   There was no sustaining narrative that existed for a freed black slave that went through hell to get a romantic interest and live to tell about it, in much the same way there is no sustaining narrative of a white man who existed and abhorred slavery and befriended a former slave and participated in his freedom.  Out of thin air it seems this character was created as we the viewers are left to machinate a story for him ex nihilo.

Dr. Schultz character, however, I can’t help but wonder was it designed to be the character on which whites can lay their white guilt.  When the specter of slavery is raised the the horrors that accompany it, without fail whites tend to point to the history of white abolitionists that stood against the institution of slavery.  But it’s one of those things that gets pointed out so quickly in much the same way the historical fact that some African tribal nations on the west coast of the continent did sell captive people to European slave traders.  The problem is that whites can use a “King Schultz” character to feel better about themselves whereas blacks seem to tacitly be forced to feel worse about their history.

Schultz is like this German derivation of John Brown or something.  He despises slavery to the point of almost physical disgust watching the brutal execution of a mandingo fighter and even has the pointed pleasure of killing Calvin Candie himself–not Django.  If this character is the one on whom white guilt can be laid, this dichotomy metes itself interestingly.

What I did think was interesting was that there was no level of sexuality associated with Schultz’s character.  His interest in Broom Hilde, obviously, was a ploy and there was still no other romantic interest that existed for his character in any shape or form.  And by romantic interest, it should be noted that I mean his character was rendered asexual.  This while the other major male characters (aside from Stephen) are sexualized: Candie had his harem and even Big Daddy had these sexualized house slaves that were obviously kept around for his sexual pleasure.

As I said before, I purposely am reading a lot into these character analyses and these are subject to the whims of my own opinion.  Make sure to leave a comment below.

Keep it uppity and keep it radical, JLL

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8 thoughts on “A Character Case Study on “Django Unchained”: Dr. King Schultz

  1. Here’s something to think about concerning Shultz’s sexuality.

    Tarantino likes to use songs to say things about the characters in his movies. After leaving the first town. The song that plays while Shultz rides goes something like this “his name is Cain, he had a horse, he had a love ”

    You could dismiss this statement that Shultz had a love if not for the fact that the next time the song is played , we see django, and the lyrics are changed to say that when django shoots, he never misses.

    So, if the song is true for one verse, because we know django doesn’t miss when shooting, we can assume that Shultz had a love.

    Why did Shultz leave his dentistry business to become a drifter? Why does he hate slavery so much? Why does he so strongly want to help django get his love back? And saying because there is a German fable similar to djangos story doesnt cut it.

    If someone said, hey I have a friend named humpty, he’s caught on a wall, I would go help because it’s a nursery rhyme in my country.

    I think Shultz had a wife, that was killed in some capacity by slavers, and that’s why he had such a. chip on his shoulder concerning slavery.

  2. I am half German, my mother was born in Germany and I have been to that country at least a dozen times. I am pretty well aware on the attitudes of Deutsch people so maybe I can help you out with your analysis.

    1: With the whole hat thing and him being “ticked”, I have a different opinion on that all together. Some German people have always been pushy with proper etiquette. In fact people are a lot more blatant about it then he was (he was pretty subtle about the way he told him that). Also Dr. King already knows he was on the hot seat for giving a black person a horse, equality, and attempting to give him service at the bar, when the sheriff was going to arrive he didn’t want Django to look so casual since it would look like a challenge. it was a cultural sensitivity thing. Though I don’t disagree with Dr. King still not really giving him perfect equality. In fact all winter long Django killed as much people as King and King only offered him 1/3 of the money. Not saying it was a bad thing but he just wasn’t ENTIRELY selfless.

    2: Referring back to Ryan, Dr. King after the bar scene had a song about him. In my opinion I think that the song was a symbolisation of Django’s opinion on King. You see Dr. King just did the coolest thing and humiliated the whole racist town, and the marshals, and killed the racist sheriff in front of everyone because he turned out to be an outlaw with a bounty on his head. So here comes this nice guy who liberates Django, and then defends him during that scene. He was like a knight in shimmering armor to him at that point. So because the song isn’t so detailed about his past, except for the arrival of his character in the movie, I think the song is Django’s personal thoughts of him, and what he knew about him. “his name is king. he had a horse. along the countryside, I saw him ride” “Ohhh I heard him singing ‘I knew you loved someone'”.

    3: The beauty of this character is not what you know, but what you don’t know. It is painfully obvious that he has bad blood with slavery and/or a tragic loss of a loved one. Despite being a rather successful and gentlemenly man (even well groomed, which lets face it is rare back in that era), he travels, alone, across the west with no one but his horse. Maybe he HAD a wife who he will never stop loving. Hell she could even have been a black slave. Or for all we know he could be still husband/ family, maybe thats why he wanted to just team with Django for the winter only, ASWELL as own a dentistry business. Bounty hunting could be a part time job. Also why did he get so pissed off and kill Calvin just because he had to gloat his victory with a handshake guaranteeing the “business transaction”? The practical answer could be that the mandingo fighter getting mauled to death disturbed King. He even tried saving the man’s life. But it could be more to it then that. King was very smart in difficult situations, and he knew killing Calvin meant suicide and possibly the death of his companion. I think such impulsiveness was due to his past. But hell I could be over thinking things here Dr. King could’ve just have been to vein to accept loss, especially since he always outsmarted and outgunned all of his victims.

    • With regard to your comment about giving Django only 1/3 of his bounties, I think that was about a master taking on an apprentice, and had nothing to do with race. He is teaching Django how to exist in a white world, and how to do it with a gun. Splitting the bounties down the middle would have implied that they were PROFESSIONAL equals, which they were most definitely not. It wasn’t just about being good with a gun…Django still was learning about how to conduct himself and to act, as it were, and Schultz was teaching him. So as Schultz was still responsible for the majority of the work (collecting the bounties and training his apprentice), it’s perfectly and professionally reasonable that he would have taken a larger cut than Django.

      Schultz very clearly believes that Django is his equal in every other way, and any “ticking” is in line with what could be expected between a teacher and his student.

  3. I think you analyse the person wrong, in fact he’s a quite realistic person for such a unrealistic movie. The point about Dr. Schultz is that he’s a foreigner. For him slavery is just another pecular custom of the natives of this foreign land. In his own eyes he’s a civilised man among the savages, so while he see slavery as distasteful, he don’t feel strongly about. That change when he see the mandigo battles and the brutality of Sugarland. At last he’s hit by a revelation when he met Candie. Candie is in many way like Schultz himself, it’s no accident that Schultz call himself for doctor, title are important among Germans and profesional titles the most important among them, at the same time he do his best to show his superiority to the Americans in language, and manners. In short Schultz are everybit as pretencious as Candie is. So when dealing with Candie he suddenly see him as a equal rather than a savage, and slavery transform from being a pecular custom to be monsterous, and Candie transform from a uncivilised savage who don’t know better to a pure monster.

  4. I would like to comment on your hypothesis about Dr. Schultz being, more or less, an appeasement for “white guilt”. Here’s the thing: I’m a white woman. I have no such “white guilt”.

    Make no mistake: slavery is, to me, a disgusting and shameful chapter in American History. What I mean to say when I say I have no “white guilt” is simply this: all that came before my time on this earth. The only thing I have in common with the slavers, abusers, and racists of America’s past is the color of my skin.. and that means very little to me. I think it’s flawed thinking to assume that white people, in general, need a character like Schultz to appease their “guilt”.

    Rather, MY interpretation of Schultz’s character is not that he exists to appease guilt, but rather that he exists because audience members can RELATE to him — because most Americans today, white or black (at least those with any sense) have similar sensibilities to Dr. Schultz when it comes to slavery.

  5. Hank, with regard to your comment about giving Django only 1/3 of his bounties, I think that was about a master taking on an apprentice, and had nothing to do with race. He is teaching Django how to exist in a white world, and how to do it with a gun. Splitting the bounties down the middle would have implied that they were PROFESSIONAL equals, which they were most definitely not. It wasn’t just about being good with a gun…Django still was learning about how to conduct himself and to act, as it were, and Schultz was teaching him. So as Schultz was still responsible for the majority of the work (collecting the bounties and training his apprentice), it’s perfectly and professionally reasonable that he would have taken a larger cut than Django.

    Schultz very clearly believes that Django is his equal in every other way, and any “ticking” is in line with what could be expected between a teacher and his student.

    And Ana, I’m with you in terms of “white guilt.” I have none except that which was forced upon me by an expectant public trying to wrangle in as many people as they could to help shoulder the blame. My family is Canadian, and Scottish before that, and slavery has never been a part of my genetic history. In fact, my people, the Scots, were systematically driven out of their lands and oppressed by the English, albeit hundreds of years ago, and that resentment still resides today. So for me, to see these films involving slavery, it’s painful, but more because it’s difficult to see ANYONE treated like that, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. I feel a detachment from it all because, yes, I live here, but my roots are elsewhere.

    Anyway, Schultz was my favourite character in the film.

  6. By far my favorite Tarantino character. I think we may be assuming too much that just because we didn’t see him taking a romantic interest in a female in the film we should label him asexual. Schultz obviously has a backstory (which I would love to see if Tarantino writes/produces it.) He tells Django that it has been five years since he practiced dentistry. How do we know he didn’t have a wife or girlfriend before meeting Django? What happened that made him abandon dentistry in favor of collecting bounties on people? I actually find him to be a very romantic, and very sexy character.

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