Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

This is not a review of Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's latest film, so you can relax. No, this is my speculation about the movie before I see it. See, I'm of two minds about seeing a Tarantino movie.

On the one hand, I love watching his movies. I've seen Kill Bill dozens of times. I thought Jackie Brown was an inspired look at the criminal underworld, and the people who get caught up in it. Pulp Fiction had crackling dialog and the inter-relationship between the vignettes challenged the viewer to pay attention to details. I generally think Tarantino's storytelling is layered and complex; you can tell that there is much more to the story than what appears on the screen. These characters and their inter-relationships are complex; they have dense back-stories. And generally, you want to find out more -- how did Jackie Brown end up meeting Beaumont? How did Bill put the Deadly Vipers together?

On the other hand, Tarantino is excessively violent. He makes you squirm in your chair. Some critics call his work "torture porn" and I'm not sure they're wrong. Tarantino seems to be saying something about violence, and our propensity towards it. Sometimes he seems to be saying "these people deserved it". Didn't Vivica Fox deserve to be killed for what she did to Uma Thurman? Was it not the sins of her past coming to visit? Other times he seems to simply revel in making his audience uncomfortable; as though he wants you to feel bad for enjoying people's suffering. Reservior Dogs, anyone? Still other times, the violence is completely senseless; perhaps fate and life are fickle. I'm thinking here of when Travolta accidentally shoots that guy in the face in Pulp Fiction.

I want to see Inglorious Basterds. I'm totally down for some Nazi killing. Who doesn't like to see Nazi's suffer? They're like zombies -- you can kill dozens of them and not feel a thing. It's like you're not even killing humans. You are, for all intents and purposes, killing monsters. But, I wonder, will Tarantino's movie add nuance to this? The Basterds are all Jews; is this to be a revenge fantasy? Will I feel that some sort of divine retribution is being meted out to the Nazis? Or, will Tarantino try to make us feel sympathy for the Nazis with his over-the-top violence?

Let me put this another way. There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan where captured Nazis are marching down a road, and a Jewish soldier holds up his Star of David and announces to each of them that he's a Jew. That's perfect. I get a sense, as the viewer, that justice is being meted out. It's understated, but gets it's point across. In another movie, whose title escapes me now, a bunch of Nazis are trapped in a castle while a monster slowly kills them all. My friend Kenneth Hite points out that you feel sympathy for the horrible ways the Nazis are dying, then catch yourself feeling... unclean... about feeling bad for the Nazis. It's a complex emotion -- your revulsion for what the Nazis did and stood for, warring with your basic human compassion.

How will I feel during the Nazi scalping? Or the beating to death of Nazis with baseball bats? Which of those two emotions will I feel: satisfaction or revulsion/sympathy? Even the reviews have suggested that the violence is value neutral, which if true, is a disappointment.

I shall have to go see the movie in the next week and report back.


  1. Laura and I went to the advanced screening with Moishe, as I believe I mentioned, and I didn't think the violence was excessive at all. It was less than what I expected, in fact!

    And yes, it totally is a revenge fantasy.

    There are some plot holes, but all in all I enjoyed it. And the guy who plays Hans Landa, Christoph Waltz, was incredible...definitely Oscar-nom worthy. The music (very interesting choices) and the actors were what stood out most...many of the actors have to speak in two, three, and sometimes even four languages! It doesn't get more impressive than that, unless maybe they were doing a tap dancing routine at the same time. Perhaps in the sequel.


  2. Did you know you can shorten your links with BCVC and make money for every visit to your shortened links.