Words like bullets in the Wild West

django-unchained-poster

Dr. King Schultz: I wish to parlez with you.

Dicky Speck: Speak English.

Dr. King Schultz: Oh, I’m sorry, please forgive me. It is a second language.

You don’t need to speak perfect English to be cool. You just need a good eye for shooting, a carriage with a giant tooth on top and of course, Tarantino must write your dialogues. Do you know who I’m talking about?

Dr Schultz is my favourite character in the 2012 Tarantino film Django Unchained. One of the main reasons for this is the astonishing performance of his actor, Cristoph Waltz, who played the SS colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds – did you watch it? I will make an article about it soon. I think Tarantino fell –understandably – in love with this actor, because he always gives him the best lines in his films – I suspect he made the German character of Dr Schultz just because he wanted to film Waltz again.

Dr Schultz comes from the land of Beethoven, beer – he introduces Django to it – and The Song of Nibelungs – that partially inspired The Lord of the Rings and also resembles Django’s real life. Somehow Dr Schultz ended up in the Wild West where he makes a living as a bounty hunter. What define this character is his love for killing people – although he focus only on the bad guys – and for language. Apart from German he can he can also speak French and English –the latter better than most of the characters in the film, who are mainly slave traders. You can tell from the beginning he likes playing with words as much as with guns. For example, when Dr Schultz and Django are trapped in Daughtrey –right after Dr Schultz killed the sheriff every single living soul in this little town is pointing their guns at them – Dr Schultz’s smart speech not only saves their lives but also makes them rich.

Language is not only Dr Schultz’s way of getting what he wants. Tarantino also uses it to introduce some comedy.

Dr. King Schultz: [aiming .45-70 rifle at fleeing Ellis Brittle] You sure that’s him?

Django: Yeah.

Dr. King Schultz: Positive?

Django: I don’t know.

Dr. King Schultz: You don’t know if you’re positive?

Django: I don’t know what ‘positive’ means.

Dr. King Schultz: It means you’re sure.

Django: Yes.

Dr. King Schultz: Yes, what?

Django: Yes, I’m sure that’s Ellis Brittle.

[Schultz shoots Brittle off his horse]

Django: I’m positive he dead.

Opposite to Dr Schutlz – who kills people but has a moral we can identify with, as he is against slavery – there is Calvin Candie. He is not just bad, but completely crazy. He enjoys violence – he uses his slaves to fight as if they were dogs and if they don’t satisfy him he feeds them to the dogs themselves. In order to appear sophisticated he pretends to speak French – and makes people call him ‘Monsieur Candie’. But this is a mere facade as Candie knows as much about French as about human empathy.

Dr. King Schultz: Anything else about Mr. Candie I should know about before I meet him?

Leonide Moguy: Yes, he is a bit of a francophile. Well, what civilized people aren’t? And he prefers ‘Monsieur Candie’ to ‘Mr Candie’.

Dr. King Schultz: Si c’est cela qu’il préfère.

[Whatever he prefers]

Leonide Moguy: He doesn’t speak French. Don’t speak French to him, it’ll embarrass him.

I will add that this is one of Leonardo Di Caprio’s best roles. From the very first minute he appeared on screen I wanted to take one of Dr Schutltz’s guns and put a bullet in his head – I am normally a very pacific person who would never kill a spider, even if it is very disgusting.

Language also saves Broomhilda, Django’s lover.

Dr. King Schultz: [in disbelief] Let me get this straight: Your slave wife speaks German and her name is Broomhilda von Schaft?

Django: Yep.

Raised by a German mistress, her knowledge of this language makes her a ‘home slave’ so she doesn’t have to work in the plantation. She is kept as a rarity by her owners. In the end, this unique characteristic is what allows Dr Schultz and Django to find her. It also gives Broomhilda a perfect opportunity to speak with Dr Schultz to plan her escape without anyone else understanding. Do you see? The more languages you know in this film the more chances you have of not turning into a blood bomb – seriously, have you noticed how people seem to explode in blood every time they get shot?

Maybe when you don’t learn a language as a native you become more aware of its complexity. It happens to me in English that I usually have to think about every word I write. In the end, the editing of my texts is more exhaustive and I feel they are closer to what I initially intended to express with them. On the other hand, in Spanish I’m usually way more relaxed – speaking my mother tongue is like wearing my old trainers, it’s so comfortable that I don’t bother about how they look anymore.

So next time you’re struggling with your second language, don’t focus on the accent or the – unavoidable – grammatical mistakes. Think about Dr Schultz and how he uses words as if they were bullets. Communicating in a different language in a different country can be challenging and a bit like going around the Wild West. So you don’t want your words to be necessarly perfect but quick. That’s important to survive.

Want to learn a bit of German today? Here you get one last scene from
Django where you can learn about the meaning of Auf Wiedersehen.

Auf Wiedersehen and see you next Tuesday!

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