Note: These are my personal observations and musings on certain themes and characters in Django Unchained. I have not read any other reviews or opinions that may mirror/conflict with my own. That being said, there’s a whole lotta spoilers ahead. So just don’t if you haven’t seen it.
Let me come right out with it. It’s my assertion that Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) was, in fact, a homosexual character who may (or may not) have been in a relationship with his male slave, Stephen (Sam Jackson). If I’m incorrect, or rather, too reaching in my reading, and there was no sexual relationship, then I have no problem amending that aspect of my of my statement (but not so much the part about Candie’s orientation). There were certainly “inappropriate” dealings between the two men.
Firstly, let me explain my Candie as a gay man thought process. While DiCaprio had occasion to deliver his dialogue in a cliche, almost lilting manner that could allude to more feminine leanings, and opted for a drink served in a coconut over something more inherently masculine, those are just surface qualities that could simply be attributed to his breeding. They’re still there, but they’re certainly not “proof.” More compelling is his hobby: Mandingo fighting. More compelling still is the statue of two rippling, entwined, male bodies situated behind his seat at the head of the table; always present just beyond him. The statue is actually lingered on as Candie departs for the library at Stephen’s behest.
Ah, the library. The location of many a manly conversation. It’s a warm, scholarly place home to brandy snifters and fireplaces. In Django, it’s no different. When Candie arrives, Stephen is already sipping a drink, his tone immediately changed. He’s no longer that over the top caricature. He’s an equal and, dare I say, the brains of the operation.
The clandestine library meeting obviously doesn’t prove a sexual relationship, but it certainly hammers home the unusual nature of the pairing. The unexpected turn the relationship takes adds to the enigma that is Candie/Stephen as a single entity. Up until this point, the only curious thing is how much Candie allows him to get away with.
Candie isn’t a smart man. He is easily duped. He is a Francophile that doesn’t speak a lick of French. Beyond that, he gets angry when others do. He is a vain man with little vision. He’s not clever. Stephen is clever (see also, manipulative).
At this point in the film I was content with the turn that had taken place. And maybe, I thought, these queer themes were just my wishful thinking. And then Candie got shot.
It’s a bloodbath of the highest order and Stephen’s reaction is amazing. He runs to his master’s side screaming “Calvin!” He cradles the dying man, and the embrace is, with out a doubt, intimate. One could argue that because of their obvious age difference, and Candie’s proclamation of having always been surrounded by “black faces,” that Stephen may have raised him; that his reaction was one of a bereaved parent. OK, I can buy that. But in the face of everything else we’re shown, my mind goes in other directions.
Whether they were in bed together literally, or just figuratively, Stephen was definitely playing a part. In the final moments of the film, when he casts his cane aside, he become another man entirely: confident, powerful, seemingly younger. This is the real Stephen; the Stephen Candie knew only too well.
The alliance between Schultz and Django was beautifully crafted and nurtured. But for my money, Stephen and Candie were the real centerpieces. Whatever you choose to believe, their interactions were loaded and layered. I can not rewatch this soon enough.