Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why I Absolutely Despise Inglorious Basterds

I am a grudging fan of Quentin Tarantino.

His films are over-gory and glorify violence. They take the most dispicable characters and make you think about their motivations, which may not be the best kind of meditation. As a follower of Jesus, they made me uncomfortable, at best.

But after watching Pulp Fiction, I had to admit, he's amazing. The script is sparkling, brilliant, like a philosophy of religion class dressed as a 70s B movie. The characters revel in their hypocrisy, and allows us to look at our own, and as they explain their philosophy of life, they cause us to reflect on our own.

Kill Bill, especially Part 2, is the same. It was a Hollywood version of a Hong Kong violence fest, and then it becomes a reflection of life and motherhood and relationships and... wow. So much there to think about. And the possible connection to Buddhism is fantastic, even if Tarantino never meant to put that in.

Reservoir Dogs is intense, and the characters are perfect. And Deathproof? Well, it's a salute to 70's B movies and while revenge isn't my thing, it was cool to see women take charge in an action flick.

But after Inglorious Basterds I need to keep my distance away from Tarantino again.

Again, the script is brilliant, the dialog witty and sometimes deep and the film impossible to not look at in wonder. It begins with a teen fantasy premise, as Tarantino films often do-- a group of Jewish Americans in a created WWII scenario dropped in the middle of occupied France to do one thing-- kill as many Nazis as possible. And they do this task with glee.

However, compared to other Tarantino films, there is much less violence and gore. Most of the action takes place off the screen, which will disappoint some, I'm sure. But I was pleased, and was just waiting for the twist he often puts in his films, the moral glimpse at these violent purposes.

It never happened. (Here's the part where if you want to see the film, you stop reading, because I'm going to ruin it for you, if you continue) Sure, there was a twist. Unlike most WWII films, even the fantasy ones, they give a nod to reality, trying to fit their script to fit history as we know it. Not Tarantino. He shrugs off reality and gives us the end of the war as most Americans wished it would be like: A bloody, savage destruction of all the leaders of the Nazi party, including Hitler, with them all knowing that they are being killed by a Jew.

In the most amazing scene in the film, the climax, the beautiful face of Shoshanna is displayed on a screen of smoke, coming up from the fire that will burn down the theatre that all of the leaders of the Nazi party are locked in, and she is gleefully, almost Satanically, mocking them, "This is the face of Jewish vengeance!"

In this film, Tarantino goes back to an older form of the war epic-- there are good guys and there are bad guys. And the good guys, no matter how bloody they are or how many people they kill, they remain on the side of justice. And the bad guys are always bad and they always deserve to die. This fits a certain modern concept of war. Sure, the Nazis have been replaced with terrorists (read: Muslims) and the bad guys don't wear uniforms any more, but war is to create justice, and eventually to create peace because once you get rid of the bad guys then the world is free to do right again.

However, I've always been put off by that kind of movie, and Tarantino's is the most obvious example of it. This is because war doesn't just kill the bad guys-- some of them-- but a lot of misguided good people too. And both the "good" side and the "bad" side kill innocents-- on purpose at times. And what war really does is take the people interested in justice and peace and makes them the bad guys. People interested in doing evil to the other side, no matter what the cost, no matter what the personal moral sacrifice. They turn themselves into the very people they think they are destroying.

The best films on war recognize this. Both Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now delve into the self-destruction of the one who participates in war, morally, spiritually and mentally. Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker, while more subtle and realistic, clearly speak of a cost of war, of the personal sacrifice, and of a situation that any sane person would find impossible to live with.

Inglorious Basterds, however, is a full-on glorification of the worst of war. Although it is the company of Jews that are named the title, it is truly the Nazis themselves Tarantino sees as the inglorious bastards and they deserve to be killed in the most gruesome, bloody, horrific manner-- and Tarantino is going to give them violent justice in a way reality never did.

And he expects us to glory in it. To joyfully revel in shooting Hitler up to such a degree that his face couldn't even be pieced back together. I don't know how many people realize, however, that in sitting before this movie, reveling in all their deaths, that makes us just the same as those Nazis, reveling and chortling and shouting in glee over the hundreds of deaths of Americans.

Maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe Tarantino is more subtle than I realized. Maybe he truly is making that point. "If you enjoy this scene-- you are a Nazi too". It is true, really true. If we leave this movie happy to see this vengeance taken, then we are a Nazi, glorifying in the horrific destruction of our enemies. If, however, we are horrified, disgusted by the blood bath, then maybe there is some hope for us. Maybe it is simply a litmus test of our morality.

But somehow, I doubt it.

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