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

Django-Unchained-Character-Poster-Copy

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

16 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.

    1. 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.

  7. I agree that Schultz is a romantic and sexy character. He is moved by django’s love for his wife – which shows that he is a romantic. And although his interest in Broome Hilde is an act, he is kind and gentle to her when they are alone – he even calls her beautiful, while still trying not to freak her out. All of this shows he is a good man (=sexy) AND one with experiences – sexual and otherwise. I think it’s a testament to the actor that he can convey so much history even though it’s not part of the plot.

    On the other hand, I do understand the frustration of this character being a white guilt outlet. It’s similar to the “not all men” retort people often give when women talk about their experience with sexism in society. It doesn’t matter if you personally did these things – as a white person in America (and I am one of them), this is the history you’ve inherited. The effects still reverberate today in current racial issues and to think otherwise is small minded.

    1. But don’t forget that Schultz wasn’t born in America–he was from Germany. There is an interview with Jamie Foxx on YouTube where he says that Christoph Waltz told him he didn’t know much of anything about the history of slavery in America, and was amazed when Jamie told him as well as sharing some of his own personal stories of growing up with racism. He told Waltz not to lose his reaction and bring it to his character, which he said he did quite effectively. So I don’t really see this particular character as inheriting America’s history.

  8. As a white person raised lower middle class,I have two perspectives to offer.
    First, slavery is an abhoration, and would be revolting to anyone who sees all humans as human, if viewed objectively. (Candie’s sermon on phrenology is the actual salve for white guilt you are looking for.”God made the world this way, I am Godly in my behaviors/beliefs.) Keep in mind the SCRIPT is not from the 1840’s but from the mind of a man from our time and perspective. I realize that it is convenient to say this, and kind of tired at that, but not all white people supported slavery, and not all those that did would have been in a position to own any. I wonder if it is really so hard to imagine a white person NOT cruel and wicked to the core (, and then I think of the disgusting 5one of the media since the election of Barrack Obama, and the endless murder of “threatening” black males and wonder how you couldn’t.) Schultz’s journey (from my perspective) is this: He detested the institution of slavery, but was content to navigate the wicked world without interrupting it. He was making a living in this wicked world, but not contesting it. Django offered him the chance of a quest, of something meaningful. The killing of Candie is the rejection of a certain type of white privelege, that is the freedom to walk by and say, “that’s a real shame” and do nothing. Killing Candie is Schultz’s quest, rescuing Broomhilda is Django’s.
    Secondly, am I the only person (besides my wife) who didn’t take the handshake at face value? Here’s where my lower middle class roots come in. “Shake my hand”is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You grab that hand and swing left. I don’t think Schultz was ever meant to leave Candieland. That is where he met his destiny.

  9. Eon: I’ve actually heard a lot of people bring up that it was potentially a “trick” handshake. But I disagree – he’s clearly just in it for the psychological victory. He’s already “won” the money, dignity is perhaps the only thing high society values more. When Shultz finally challenges his dignity, and embarrasses him with superior French knowledge and eloquent rejection, Candie needs to get that dignity back. The handshake is his ultimate when. The look on his face of complete surprise when he then gets shot shows that he wasn’t planning his own violence.

    Lars, from way earlier: That is an extremely interesting and well-devised point about the evolution of Shultz and Candie’s relationship. I think you’re spot on.

  10. Eon: I’ve actually heard a lot of people bring up that it was potentially a “trick” handshake. But I disagree – he’s clearly just in it for the psychological victory. He’s already “won” the money, dignity is perhaps the only thing high society values more. When Shultz finally challenges his dignity, and embarrasses him with superior French knowledge and eloquent rejection, Candie needs to get that dignity back. The handshake is his ultimate when. The look on his face of complete surprise when he then gets shot shows that he wasn’t planning his own violence.

    Lars, from way earlier: That is an extremely interesting and well-devised point about the evolution of Shultz and Candie’s relationship. I think you’re spot on.

  11. I found Dr. King Schultz the most interesting character of the movie. Since I am german myself and I am studying history, I developed a theory on who Dr. King Schultz is, where he comes from, why he behaves like he does and why he is in America that does fit nicely in that period of time. It is however just my theory and should I have forgotten something or if I got something wrong feel free to correct me.

    Let’s gather what we know of Dr. Schulz first:

    -He is german. He disguises himself as a buisseness-man from Düsseldorf, so he probably comes from there or at least from somewhere near the Rhine in the southern half of Germany near France (this becomes important later on).
    -He appears to be in his 50ies putting his birthdate presumably somewhere between 1800 and 1810.
    – He is quite proficient with firearms.
    – He is a good tactical thinker and able to defeat a whole mob of proto-klu-klux-klan racists via leading them into an ambush
    – He is very eloquent and skilled at rethoric and bargaining.
    – He probably is a doctor.
    – He is very well educated (back at that time the Niebelungenlied which is about Siegfried and Brunhilde (among other things) would not be very well known outside the circle of well educated people).
    – He is fluent in German, French and English. And his English is flamboyant and sophisticated, indicating that he knows english literature and probably philosophy.
    – He is well dressed, well groomed and well mannered. That together with his other skills and abilities indicates he comes from a wealthy background. Opening the question of why he works as a bounty hunter in rural America.
    – Last but not least he opposes slavery (in and of itself not very suprising for an educated European of that time) and seems not to be racist against black people, even regarding them as equal but in the need of education in order to be free (hinting towards him being of a liberal, enlightened school of thought).

    Now let’s try to find an explenation for why a german man with these traits might be collecting bounties at that time in America.

    First let’s find a fitting “origin-story” (for the lack of a better term) to explain his traits and behaviour. As i mentioned I suppose he comes from near the french border that means his hometown probably was under french rule early on in the napoleonic wars and french law and school of thought was prevelant there during his childhood. That would explain him being fluent in French and his apperantly egalitarian views.

    After the defeat of Napoleon former political structures were reformed but french law and the liberal school of thought was still popular among certain circles in these areas, maybe his parents were sympathisants with the french revolution and raised him to share the more egalitarian viewpoints of the french revolution and the radical enlightment as well. I think that would explain his viewpoints rather nicely.

    Further on I suspect he comes from a wealthy family that could pay for the higher education he seems to have had. That family probably had a lot of love for philosophy and art and also educated him in the english language, literature and philosophy as well as the german and french ones, explaining his sophisticated English. That social background would also explain his well mannered behaviour and his well made clothes.

    As a lot of wealthy young man of that period he probably served in the military as an officer since that promised a lot of social prestige and contacts that would be useful in most careers a young man of wealthy offspring of that time might want to take up later on. Back then it was common for non-nobles that wanted to become an officer to learn the necessary skills in the field rather than in some sort of early military acadamy (we’re talking about the early eighteenhundreds in in Germany here), that would explain both his tactical skills and his skills with firearms.

    After spending some years in the military and getting and officers patent (social prestige) he probably became a doctor since that would be a good career-choice back then and starting a career like this was rather common among wealthy non-noble offspring of that time.

    Now we come to why he ended up in America even though he is the offspring of a wealthy family, well educated and has a promising career ahead.

    I assume he got into politics. To be more precise in the broadly democratic movement that took of in germany in the 1830ies and 1840ies ending with a failed revolution in 1848. As i already explained he was probably raised to the ideals of the radical enlightment and egalitarianism and thus he probably joined that democratic movement. Since he is well educated and a skilled, proficient speaker he probably became a member of the Paulskirchen-Parlament (the first democratic parliament in Germany) that constituted itself in the revolution of 1848. That revolution failed though and the participants were persecuted by the monarchic governments of Germany (back then Germany wasn’t a unified country). A lot of these liberal german intellectuals ended up fleeing to America and that is how Dr. Schultz (if that is even his real name he probably changed it when he was fleeing) ended up in America roughly 10 years before the events of Django Unchained.

    He probably couldn’t take much of his families wealth with him and had to turn to his old occupation as a doctor. Cast out of his home for his egalitarian democratic ambitions and driven into a strange country without any assets he got bitter and finally started to fall back on his martial ability and started bounty hunting. That way he could at least make his living killing bad people since he failed at making his homecountry a better place. That is until a slave named Django came along and gave him the opportunity to at least free one man from tyranny and lead him into a better life. And so Dr. Schulz gave his live to accomplish that and leave this world as a hero not as a bitter, failed and cast out revolutionary.

    That about wraps it up I think. I think that would be an origin story that explains why that sophisticated intellectual german is out there collecting bounties on criminals and what his motivation to help Django is other than an old german tale.

    1. Wow, that was a very good in-depth analysis of the background of this character.

      This would be my only correction (since you asked)…he is indeed a dentist; that was established early on the film when he tells Django that it has been five years since he’s practiced dentistry. He still has his dental wagon with the bobbing tooth on top. I like to think he became a dentist in Germany because he was a kind man who was moved to help people and ease their pain. A lot of Germans immigrated to America in the early and mid 1800s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there technically no Germany at this point in history because of wars and land shifts? My ethnic background is Polish and I know Poland was wiped off the map at one point for that reason.

      What I would like to know is why Schultz abandoned dentistry for bounty hunting…as one movie critic said of this move, he went from helping people in pain to putting them in pain. Also there is a clue in another Tarantino film (Kill Bill II) that Schultz may have had a wife…Uma Thurman escapes from a grave and a tombstone nearby that is just barely visible is that of Paula Schultz, with the year of death being five years before Django Unchained takes place. So, perhaps he had a wife that was killed and his vengeance for her death was to trade dentistry for bounty hunting, so that he could rid the world of bad guys.

      I feel like I’ve rambled here, but the character fascinates me, and it would be interesting if Tarantino ever made a movie or even a TV series about the character’s backstory (unlikely as I thought I heard The Hateful Eight is his last film.)

      1. Yes at that time Germany consisted of several little kingdoms and princedoms that were all part of the German Confederation which wasn’t a state but more like the European Union structurally and legally. It wasn’t until 1871 that there was a unified German state again.

        I didn’t know about the tombstone in Kill Bill, that would of course be a very fitting explenation for why Schultz took up bounty hunting and it would fit in Tarantinos tendency to write characters that are motivated by revenge.

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