Inglourious Basterds

Dani and I saw it last weekend.

I think the phrase “Tarentino movie” has two meanings – it’s a movie by Tarentino, but the man has been so successful that it’s also a genre in itself.

As a Tarentino movie (the genre), I thought it was masterclass; quite possibly the best I’ve ever seen (and I’ve — like most Tarentino enthusiasts — seen damn-near all of them).

But I do think part of the value of a Tarentino film is in the surprise of not having seen one before.  I was certainly surprised during the film when stuff happened, but I didn’t walk out with any enduring sense of shock in the way that I did with Reservoir Dogs.  Suppose we took a group of people who had never seen any Tarentino films before and we showed them all of his films with each person seeing them in a random order, and then asked them each to rank them.  I think that people would generally most like whichever one they saw first, but perhaps Inglourious Basterds might just come out on top.

Dani was weirded out by the alternate history – she’d never come across the concept in film or literature before, which blew me away.  She felt like it was wrong, somehow, to rewrite history in general and WW2 in particular; that something in the story of the Nazi Germany meant that it should never be presented as anything but the truth.  But, of course, the shocking-to-the-politically-correct-crowd aspect was always part of Tarentino’s style and the holding up of the Nazi’s as the ultimate evil in human history has always rankled me.

I’ve heard it described as a Jewish revenge fantasy, and it’s clearly that.  I’ve read people worrying that it’ll inspire angry Jewish kids to take up violence, and inducing that sort of reaction was certainly one of Tarentino’s goals.

But it is never schlock gore.  We don’t see people spurting blood all over a room or people taking near-sexual pleasure from inflicting the violence.  There’s casual satisfaction in it by the characters, even pride in a job well done, but it’s all motivated by a sense of morals or grim necessity.  To my mind, part of the brilliance of this film is in finding a way to show Tarentino-style violence as part of — I can’t believe I’m about to type this — the normal human condition.  I came away thinking that even though they were caricatures, I could imagine every one of the Basterds in the US army when they went to Iraq to “kill me some sand niggers.”

The writing, as ever, is sharp and fun to listen to.  Dani noticed that the Americans, Germans and British characters were all caricatures, but the French were normal people.  I’m sure that was deliberate, but I’m not sure why.  I guess since it’s set in France it needs a semi-normal background?

Even having seen all the Tarentino films before, the climax was still a climax, although afterwards it all seems so obvious in how the plot developed.

My one complaint contains the only real spoiler of this post:

When Marcel — Shoshanna’s projectionist — goes down to lock the auditorium, there were no guards anywhere.  With all the high-command of the third reich inside, that was an obvious and absurd plot hole.

Okay, one last spoiler:  Hans Lander (“The Jew Hunter”) is a fantastic character.

3 Responses to “Inglourious Basterds”

  • Yeah Hans Lander is great. The French characters seemed like caricatures as well, at least the dairy farmer at the beginning. I suppose Shoshanna wasn’t a French caricature, but she was a Tarantino cliche…

    I think the best part of that film is that it was far less gory than I had expected and that most of the violence was through verbal jousting. Brad Pitt was pretty funny too, especially his italian.

    As for the adding a little levity to the holocaust, I’m all for it. There have been so many awful movies about the holocaust that have come out over the past twenty years that the entire event has long since been turned into a maudlin cliche. I’m trying really hard right now to think of a single good movie about the holocaust… Certainly not the boy in the striped pajamas. Schindler’s List was pretty fucking awful: this ring could save 3 people; this car could save 7! Life is Beautiful seemed like a formulaic father-son film with the holocaust thrown in so that it could win an academy award. I hear that Shoah is good, but am I really ever going to sit through 7 hours of non-stop gloom… Probably not.

    Which isn’t to say that I haven’t encountered good depictions of the holocaust, just not in cinematic form. I like Maus, and of course Survival at Auschwitz is incredibly depressing.

    I do understand why the holocaust occupies a special place among genocides and I think it has something to do with the degree of meticulous planning involved. There’s just something especially ghastly about what the Nazi’s did. It was so clinically executed: the separation of families, the gas chambers, the incinerators, the camps themselves that deliberately starved their occupants to death very slowly.

    The mass starvation and executions of Mao and Stalin just aren’t as good stories. If they’d thought of better ways to kill people, maybe we’d be seeing a lot more movies on them. That’s why nobody remembers the Armenian genocide. The Turks were smart and just gunned them all down. How boring is that? It happens in wars all the time. As for the native Americans… they just gave them all smallpox. How do you make a movie about a bunch of people dying of smallpox. They need to become zombies for it to be the least bit interesting.

  • We decided to go see a movie last weekend and watched the trailers for several including this. I thought it looked too violent. Since Sin City I have gone of hollywood violence I think it is too arbitrary and a replacement for story based entertainment. We went and saw cold souls instead. I doubt I will see this one.

    • This is no Sin City. There is violence, but it’s nothing like as arbitrary as in Sin City. As I say, I think the big achievement of this film is to make Tarention-style violence normal, or at least an understandable response. To achieve that, he had to tone the violence down a little.

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