We begin by watching our hero, Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave, chained to a bunch of other slaves and being marched to his new owner's estate in Texas by the Speck brothers. A German man in a dentist cart pulls up and hails the Speck brothers. He introduces himself as Dr. King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz, in an Oscar-worthy performance). King is clearly more intelligent and enlightened than the Specks. He says he is looking for a slave who can identify the Brittle brothers. Django announces that he knows the Brittle brothers and can identify them. King offers to buy Django, but his educated manner rubs the Specks the wrong way, and one of the Specks threatens to kill him. In response, King shoots and kills one brother, and cripples the other. Having been crippled, the remaining Speck brother agrees to sell Django, and King pays the man (for both Django, and the dead Speck's horse), gets an official title to Django, and prepares to ride off. Before King leaves, however, he frees the remaining slaves (clearly, King finds slavery abhorrent) and says that they may either carry the remaining Speck brother back to town, or shoot him and flee north. As Django and King ride off, we hear Speck pleading for his life, and then a gunshot.
We then see Django's back story. He was in love with, and married, a fellow slave-woman named Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington) who had been a servant of a German mistress before being sold into slavery in the U.S. Their owner was cruel and disapproved of their marriage, so the pair attempted to run away. They were caught by the Brittle brothers who tortured and branded them both with the mark of a runaway. Their owner then directed the Brittle brothers to sell the pair to separate owners, and to take the lowest price for Django (which is how he ended up in Texas).
They arrive in a small town near El Paso and walk into a bar despite the fact that Django is forbidden from doing so. The barkeep runs out to get the town sheriff while King pours a beer for himself and Django and leaves money on the bar. He explains that he is no longer a dentist, but a bounty hunter in search of the Brittle brothers who are wanted dead or alive. He admits that although he knows the general location of the brothers, they have adopted aliases, and he needs somebody to identify them. The pair are interrupted by the sheriff, who orders them out. Once outside, however, King shoots the sheriff dead with a spring-loaded pistol concealed up his sleeve. The barkeep runs off to find the federal marshall, while King continues talking to Django. King tells Django that if he helps him bring in the Brittle brothers, King will give him his freedom, pay him a $75 share of the reward, and let him keep his horse. Django immediately agrees as the Marshall arrives and has the building surrounded. King reveals to the Marshall and the townsfolk that the sheriff was actually an outlaw who had adopted a new alias when he arrived in town and the sheriff had a bounty on his head and a warrant for him signed by a federal judge. The Marshall has no choice but to let Django and King ride free with the sheriff's body to collect their reward.
Django and King develop a plan to infiltrate the estate where the Brittle brothers reside and for Django to point the three brothers out to King while there. Django plays a free man who has been hired as King's valet. They arrive at the plantation owned by Spencer "Big Daddy" Bennett (Don Johnson). King states he is looking to buy one of Bennett's slave girls for an exorbitant price. As he and Bennett talk business, Django is given free range to look around the estate. He eventually finds two of the Brittle brothers preparing to torture a girl in the same manner they had tortured Broomhilda. Rather than alerting King, he shoots one brother dead and whips another unconscious before also shooting him. Hearing the commotion, King and Bennett race to the scene to find the two dead Brittle brothers and the third fleeing on horseback. King uses his sniper rifle to shoot and kill the final Brittle brother, after Django confirms the man's true identity. Though Bennett is incensed, he is forced to let them go once King explains they are legally authorized to kill and collect these men.
That night, to get revenge, Bennett calls out all the fellow white men to kill Django and King, whose dentist cart is found located just outside of town. They all arrive wearing KKK style masks (including a cameo by Jonah Hill) and a funny scene ensues wherein they all admit they can't see anything through the poorly-made hoods. They eventually get their act together and ride over the hill to attack the cart, only to find the cart abandoned and filled with explosives. Django and King sit in a tree some distance away, and King shoots the cart, blowing it up and killing most of the Klansmen. Bennett managed to survive the detonation and begins riding away, but Django manages to shoot and kill him with the sniper rifle. King realizes that Django is quite a natural.
King asks what Django will do now that he is officially free, and Django says he will locate his wife (believed to be in Mississippi) and try to purchase her freedom. King, who has bonded with Django and is impressed by both his intelligence and marksmanship, proposes to help Django rescue his wife if Django will work with him over the winter in collecting bounties. King is also impressed with Broomhilda's name (and her ability to speak German), telling Django the German legend of Broomhilda. In the legend, the beautiful warrior Broomhilda is captured and imprisoned in a tower on a mountainside that is guarded by a dragon and surrounded by hellfire. Her lover, Siegfried, rescues her, facing the mountain and dragon simply because he is brave, but overcoming the hellfire out of his love for Broomhilda.
Django agrees to King's proposal, finding him to be a deeply honorable man despite his line of work. King trains Django to not only be an expert with a gun, but also how to read and present himself in public. On one mission, Django hesitates to kill a man who is now peacefully working on a farm and has a son. King explains that before the man owned this farm and started a family, he murdered several people while robbing stagecoaches, and that is why he has a $7,000 bounty on his head. King explains that it is this own man's actions in a dirty world that has brought the bounty hunters to his door. Hearing this, Django kills the man in front of his son. King tells him to keep the bounty notice, as a bounty hunter's first successful bounty notice is good luck. Throughout the winter, Django imagines he and Broomhilda free and happy.
Once winter passes, the two head back to the South in search of Broomhilda. King discovers that she was sold to a man named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the owner of a plantation known as Candie Land. Candie is famous for breeding "mandingos"--slaves who are bred to fight each other to the death for their owner's amusement (and for betting purposes). King says that he will pose as a wealthy European who seek to purchase one of Candie's mandingos to take to fight in Europe, and that Django is his business partner and talent evaluator.
They arrive at a city apartment Candie owns and meet Candie's lawyer, who explains that Candie is obsessed with French culture (although Candie, unlike the actually cultured King, does not speak French). The two are brought upstairs where they watch a mandingo fight, which is very brutal and fatal for the loser. It turns out that Candie is boorish and clearly ignorant despite his wealth and high upbringing. Django is incredibly offensive to Candie and his guests, talking back to all the white men. Candie finds Django's behavior amusing and King to be charming. King and Django state that they are willing to pay an exorbitant amount, $12,000, for one of Candie's third-best mandingos and they arrange to return with him to his estate.
On the way there, Django continues to act defiantly, insulting both slave and white man alike, and displays his intelligence. When King asks Django why he is so belligerent, Django says he is playing his role in this dirty world. Candie states that he believes one in 10,000 black men are exceptional, and believes Django to be one of those rare few. As they travel to Candie Land, they see one of Candie's slaves stuck in a tree, having been cornered by some white trash who works for Candie and who also own some vicious hounds. It turns out the slave, named D'Artagnan (named by Candie after the hero from The Three Musketeers, a book written by Frenchman Alexandre Dumas), is a mandingo who was caught running away. Candie convinces D'Artagnan to come down from the tree where D'Artagnan explains he can't handle any other fights despite having won three in a row. Candie states that his slaves can't retire from fighting until they have won at least five matches in order for him to recoup his $500 investment in them, and that D'Artagnan must be killed. King suddenly offers to pay Candie $500 to spare D'Artagnan's life, but Django, realizing such odd behavior would blow their cover, loudly declares that D'Artagnan isn't worth a single penny. King, coming to his senses, agrees not to pay for D'Artagnan, and Candie has the slave ripped to pieces by the hounds as they all watch on. Django glares at Candie, but imagines himself reunited with Broomhilda.
They arrive at Candie Land and meet Candie's widowed sister Lara (Laura Cayouette) and his loyal house-slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). It is clear that Stephen is appalled that Django is free and riding on a horse into the estate along with his master and other white men. Stephen informs Candie that, while he was gone, Broomhilda also attempted to escape and is now locked in a large metal box in Candie's field. King says he wishes to meet Broomhilda, saying he heard legend of her German-speaking abilities. Candie, wanting to please his guest, orders Broomhilda to be cleaned up and sent to King's room. Once there, King explains to Broomhilda (in German) that he and his "friend" are here to rescue her. He then signals Django to come into his room, and Broomhilda faints with happiness. King, who is impressed with Broomhilda's intelligence, begins the next phase of his plan.
At dinner, Broomhilda serves Candie and his many guests - including King and Django. Lara notes that Broomhilda seems to be attracted to Django. This piques Stephen's curiosity (Stephen is clearly invested in Candie's success, and also forces the other slaves call him "Sir," as though he were their master) and he begins to interrogate Broomhilda in a back room. Meanwhile, King, despite Django's "objections," offers to buy Candie's third-best mandingo for $12,000. They agree that King will return to the estate in five days with a lawyer to complete the transaction. Candie, clearly thrilled at this windfall, is then asked by King whether he can also purchase Broomhilda and take immediate possession of her (King claims he is interested in her ability to speak German, though Candie is convinced King is simply sexually attracted to her).
Before Candie can accept the deal, Stephen interrupts and asks to speak to his master in another room. Once there, he says he is sure that Django and Broomhilda know each other and that King and Django intend to buy her, leave the property, and never return for the mandingo. Candie is incensed and has his white friends surround the pair and disarm them. He then explains that he collects the skulls of his dead slaves and has realized that the reason they don't rise up and kill their masters, despite easily outnumbering the whites, is that their brains are predisposed to subservience whereas white brains are built for dominance and ingenuity. Candie then reveals he knows that they want Broomhilda, and unless they immediately pay him $12,000 for her, he will kill her and examine her skull in front of them. King immediately agrees to these terms, and Candie tells Django that he is not exceptional after all.
King pays the $12,000 and Candie has his lawyer begin drawing up the papers transferring ownership of Broomhilda to King. Candie gloats about his victory and intelligence, and King flashes back to D'Artagnan's brutal death. The papers are signed, but before they leave, King insults Candie's intelligence, noting how especially stupid Candie is, since he names his slaves after characters in novels written by Dumas even though Dumas was a black man. Candie, seeking to humiliate King and recognizing that King finds him to be a disgusting human being, says he will not allow the travelers to leave with Broomhilda unless King shakes his hand. This is more than King can take, and he uses his hidden spring-loaded pistol to shoot and kill Candie. King apologizes to Django just before he himself is fatally shot with a shotgun by one of Candie's friends. Django goes on a rampage, killing many dozens of white men as they try to overwhelm him. The gun-battle is finally ended when Stephen and a white guy capture Broomhilda and Django surrenders and is beaten.
When Django awakens, he is tied upside down with a man about to castrate him with a hot knife. Stephen enters and tells the man that the plans have changed, and Django is no longer slated for castration. After the man leaves, Stephen explains that Django would have died too quickly if he had been castrated. Stephen, wanting Django to suffer, has convinced the white men instead to sell him to a mining company as a slave, where Django will spend the rest of his days.
En route to the mining company, Django is able to get the attention of one of the transporters (a group of Australians, including a cameo by director Quentin Tarantino). He tells them that he is a bounty hunter, not a slave, and that he was tracking a man worth $7,000 before he was captured. He promises that if they free and arm him, he will give them the lion's share of the reward. They find the bounty notice (from Django's first kill) on his person and also question the other slaves, who admit that Django is a bounty hunter and rode in to Candie Land with white men on a horse. The transporters free Django and he immediately kills them all and frees the other slaves bound for the mine. He takes a horse, guns, and dynamite that was also being taken to the mine and heads back to Candie Land.
Django first stops and kills the men who had hunted down the escaped D'Artagnan with their hounds, killing them all in D'Artagnan's name. He then swears that his next act of vengeance will be in honor of King.
Django sneaks back onto the estate and finds and frees Broomhilda. He has her wait outside Candie Land while he engages in further preparations. When Candie's family and friends return from Candie's funeral, Django is there waiting and shoots them all, even Lara. He then shoots Stephen in the kneecaps, stating that, in the 9,999 slaves Stephen has likely betrayed while working for Candie, he has never met one like Django. Stephen cries out that Django will be hunted down and killed by bounty hunters for his crimes, and that the South will never die. Stephen is finally silenced, however, when he is killed in a dynamite blast that utterly destroys Candie's mansion.
Django meets his wife, who waits for him with two horses outside the estates. The two are finally reunited, and ride off into the night to face whatever destiny awaits them. Django is destined to become a legend, just as Siegfried before him.
After the credits, we cut to the slaves Django freed from the mining company transporters. They remain seated where Django left them, still in awe of what they witnessed. Then, one asks what the name of that black man was (suggesting Django may not yet become a legend).
Director Tarantino has stated that he intended Django and Broomhilda to be the great great great grandparents of one John Shaft - a famous blaxploitation hero who was, ironically, last played on film by Samuel L. Jackson.
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