Sunday, August 21, 2011

Inglourious Basterds (2009): Two Years Later

So here I am, returning to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds exactly two years after its release. I have never written about the film before, but today I’m going to put my thoughts on Inglourious Basterds to rest with a definitive review, and then that will be that. To do this, I am going to have to be completely honest. And I will need to be clear on why I hated the film so much when it first opened on August 21, 2009.

Inglourious Basterds came out during a dark period in my life. My memories of the summer of 2009 are not fond. I had just graduated from high school, had found myself stuck in a demanding summer job and had watched all my friends venture off to faraway universities while I had to stay in town and attend the local community college. Our nation had elected a President I had faith in, but we were still facing the same political hardships every night: war in Iraq, torture at Guantanamo, a broken healthcare industry. I desperately wanted lasting peace—in my life and in my country—and it wasn’t happening. America was still wrapped in the blankets of political cynicism.

Now consider what happened when Inglourious Basterds came out. At the time, I was not yet sold on the concept of Quentin Tarantino being a great filmmaker, as I hadn’t yet responded strongly to any of his films. All I could see in his movies was the work of a filmmaker obsessed with violence, vengeance and buried right-wing fetishes. I was skeptical about the prospect of him directing a World War II epic. I had read an interview, conducted by Jeffrey Goldberg, in which Tarantino was asked his feelings about Holocaust films and had responded, “I hate that hand-wringing shit.” It sounded to me like he was quietly criticizing Schindler’s List (1993) with this comment. And I grew irritated after reading J. Hoberman’s early review of Inglourious Basterds in the Village Voice, in which he suggested that Tarantino was overturning the image of WWII as portrayed in Saving Private Ryan (1998). The more I read, the angrier I got.

So, you can imagine how angry I was when I finally saw Inglourious Basterds for myself on the night it opened. Oh, that was a bad night for me, indeed. I attended the film with a bloodthirsty audience that cheered at the onscreen images of Nazi soldiers being beaten to death with baseball bats and having swastikas carved into their foreheads. I could only interpret this as Tarantino’s apologia for torture and capital punishment; a crass attempt to appeal to the audience’s basest mob instincts. Was I supposed to feel guilty for not joining in the fun? I left the theater that night feeling miserable, furious and, above all, wounded. I saw Inglourious Basterds as a celebration of politics I despised and as an attack on movies I had loved. It was simply not a film I was ready for.

But then a funny thing happened. The movie wouldn't go away. People simply couldn't stop talking about it. How did I deal with this? Well, I began reading defenses of the film—one by Jim Emerson, another by Ryan Kelly—that helped me glance at Tarantino’s vision in a new light. I learned not only that Tarantino had, in fact, admired Schindler’s List, but that he had even cited Saving Private Ryan as an influence on his film. Fast-forward to Oscar season, and I was taking special notice of Tarantino’s unexpected appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show. He had suddenly acknowledged the credibility of the theory that his film was a partial response to Al-Quaeda terrorist attacks. And he reminded Maddow that his film was far from an infantile glorification of violence. “It would be easy,” he said, “to just set up a situation where we just go oh, kill the Nazis… rah, rah, rah in the audience. It would be like watching Rocky. But, you know, that‘s too easy for what I‘m trying to do.”

Now, it’s August 21, 2011. I’ve managed to see Inglourious Basterds two more times since then, and I like it much better now. It’s certainly a good film. But is it a great film? That, I don’t know. The movie is notorious for its violence; characters shoot each other, scalp each other and burn each other alive. How does Tarantino want us to respond to the material? One of the things I still find so maddening about Inglourious Basterds is how inconsistent the film’s tone is. In some scenes, Tarantino allows us to meditate thoroughly on the consequences of the violence depicted in the film. In other scenes, he seems to welcome our enjoyment of it—and our cheers. Is this simply because he felt like he had to adhere to the common rules of the WWII action movie genre? The film opens with a shot of a man burying an axe into a stump of dead wood, and ends with a shot of two men digging a knife into a living man’s forehead. It is, thus, a film in which matters of life and death are determined on the edge of a blade.

Take the film’s brilliant opening sequence, set in Nazi-occupied France, in which the dairy farm of LaPadite (Denis Menochet) is invaded by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his stormtroopers. Landa, nicknamed “the Jew Hunter,” has reason to believe LaPadite is sheltering a Jewish family under his kitchen floorboards. Watch how Tarantino builds suspense when LaPadite invites Landa into his home. They sit down. They smoke pipes. They switch off from French to English—an “acknowledgment of the blockbuster audience's limited patience for subtitles,” writes critic Ed Howard, “and, it turns out, also a component of Landa's forward-thinking plotting, since the family beneath the floorboards can't understand English.” A glass of milk gleams in the sunlight, illuminated by Robert Richardson’s eerie cinematography. Juxtaposed close-ups of Landa and LaPadite’s faces, edited by the late Sally Menke, indicate that the game is up. And Christoph Waltz, a Lambert Wilson lookalike, single-handedly steals the show from this point onwards; not since Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth had we ever seen such a memorably deranged portrait of a Nazi in an American film. “I’m aware of the tremendous feats human beings are capable of once they abandon human dignity,” Landa warns LaPadite. We know he is not kidding.

Another of the film’s stronger story threads involves the doomed relationship between Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) and Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). Shosanna owns a French movie theater; her family was massacred by Landa’s troops, and she was the only one who escaped. Zoller is a war hero—the “German Sergeant York”—now starring in a movie, entitled Nation’s Pride, based on his own exploits. He is bored with his newfound fame. His true passion lies in film appreciation, and he delightedly makes conversation with Shoshanna outside her theater one night: “It’s been a pleasure chatting with a fellow cinema lover.” Shoshanna despises Germans and wants nothing to do with him: “If you are so desperate for a French girlfriend, I suggest you try Vichy.” Although Zoller tries to impress her by arranging to have Nation’s Pride screened at her theater, he mistakenly believes he will win her love in the process. Shosanna sees it, instead, as an opportunity for sweet revenge, and hatches a plan to burn the theater down on the night of the screening—and trap all of the attending Nazis inside. The subplot involving Shosanna and Zoller provides us with a most thought-provoking contrast: a woman, consumed with hatred, killing in the name of liberty; and a man, seeking love, who inadvertently serves evil.

The film’s third most successful story thread is unique in that it transforms a film critic, Lieutenant Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), as well as an actress, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), into action heroes. As Hicox, Fassbender sports a memorable Errol Flynn accent and generally serves as a mouthpiece for Tarantino’s infatuation with G.W. Pabst; at one point, Hicox’ impressive knowledge of German cinema even saves him, when his familiarity with the work of Leni Riefenstahl allows him to pass himself off as a native of the Piz-Palu. Kruger, far more convincing here than she was in Troy (2004), portrays Hammersmark as skilled in the art of handling people but inexperienced in the craft of setting up a rendezvous. The scene that follows, in which Hicox and Hammersmark find themselves pinned down in a basement bar by the leering Major Hellstrom (August Diehl), has been criticized by some as being overly-talky. Actually, it mirrors the film’s opening sequence quite well, especially if returned to on repeated viewings. Of particular interest is how both Hicox and Hammersmark accidentally give themselves away. Hammersmark leaves some important evidence behind. And when Hicox holds up his fingers to order three glasses of whiskey, watch how Tarantino is quick to catch Hellstrom’s reaction. Only an English man would up his fingers that way.

Now we come to the most problematic story thread of the film: the Inglourious Basterds themselves. They are a Jewish-American commando ordered by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) to launch a campaign of terror against the Nazis—a campaign founded on scare tactics and threats of capital punishment. I have always held the opinion that the scenes with the Basterds are the most uninteresting and gratuitous scenes in the film. It’s a nice touch for Tarantino to name one of them, Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), after a B-movie actor, but did we really need that repugnant insert of Stiglitz shoving his fist down a Nazi’s throat? And why did Aldo Raine have to be reduced to such a ruthless, mean-spirited archetype? Pitt doesn’t have very many opportunities with the role, and the character is not likable.

Despite the Basterds’ similarities to Al-Quaeda, Tarantino doesn’t appear to show much disdain for anything they do in the film—in fact, he practically exonerates them. And he never establishes them as anything less than heroes we’re meant to root for. Take what I consider to be the weakest sequence in the film, in which Raine and the other Basterds play mind games with a German sergeant named Werner (Richard Sammel), threatening to have him executed if he doesn’t cooperate with them. “You can’t expect me to divulge information that would put German lives in danger?” Werner muses, respectfully declining to cooperate. This allows the Basterds the satisfaction of summoning the Bear Jew (Eli Roth) to beat Werner to death with a baseball bat, in what is perhaps the film’s most controversial moment of violence.

I was offended by this scene when I first saw it, and I still feel the same way today. On one hand, Tarantino instills some audience identification into Werner by having him stare up at the Bear Jew without blinking an eye, proudly insisting that he won his iron cross for bravery—not for murdering Jews. On the other hand, when the Basterds continue to harass Werner, he launches into a pathetic, anti-Semitic tirade, which exists for no other purpose except to relieve any lingering guilt the audience may have over their enjoyment of his death. The logic presented here is that he is an anti-Semite and, therefore, deserves to die. It’s like Tarantino is trying to have it both ways: to satisfy liberals who believe he is satirizing gung-ho American “justice” in war, and to satisfy conservatives who would cheer at the scene, happy to see a Nazi getting his brains bashed in.

The Basterds’ storyline doesn’t fit in very comfortably with the other three narratives, which begs the question: what kind of WWII action movie was Tarantino trying to make, exactly? Further research shows that Tarantino is particularly enamored with two films: The Guns of Navarone (1961) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Certainly the Basterds have a lot in common with the superficial American criminals Robert Aldrich gave us in the latter. Like the Basterds, the Dozen enjoyed killing, had no regrets about their actions and appealed to the basest mob instincts of audiences. But in The Guns of Navarone, J. Lee Thompson and Carl Foreman gave us a band of heroes who were sick of the war and tired of fighting; at one point, they even despaired when faced with the task of having to kill a prisoner of war. Characters like Shosanna, Zoller, Hicox and Hammersmark certainly fit that description in Tarantino’s film. But this, then, is perhaps the biggest problem with Inglourious Basterds: Tarantino has tried to merge a pro-war perspective with a more complex, apolitical perspective, and the result is a film that doesn’t know what kind of WWII action movie it wants to be. It’s because of this defect that I’m still not sure if Inglourious Basterds is a great film.

And yet, the movie has so many pleasures to offer—for cinephiles and for common moviegoers alike—that one need not ponder for an eternity over such a question. Tarantino has always had a knack for wacky humor, and Inglourious Basterds offers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments: Colonel Landa’s insistence that Shosanna “wait for the cream!” before digging into her breakfast strudel; the outrage of Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) at the mention of “Lillian HARVEY!”; the Bear Jew’s endless pronunciation of “Margheriti!” at Landa’s request; or Landa’s boyish squeal of “Ooooh, that’s a bingo!” when he makes an offer Aldo Raine could never refuse. An appearance by Mike Meyers, as General Fenech, is more impressive than I had initially feared; and Rod Taylor, fondly remembered from Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), has a wonderful cameo as Churchill. As expected, Tarantino packs the film with references to films engineered for the Third Reich, but he doesn’t stop there: his range extends from Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933) to Paul Schrader’s Cat People (1982), the latter allowing for an amusing (if arbitrary) excuse to smuggle David Bowie onto the soundtrack.

I should mention, too, that despite the cruel images layered throughout the film here and there, Tarantino does not allow Inglourious Basterds to revert into a one-dimensional, anti-German horrorshow. “Tarantino's Nazis,” writes critic Jason Bellamy, “are something that Nazis are almost never allowed to be in American movies: intelligent.” And true to his word on Maddow’s show, Tarantino tries not to go for easy Nazi villain cliches. He goes to great pains to point out that Wilhelm (Gedeon Burkhard), a drunken corporal unfortunate enough to get stuck in the middle of the confrontation between Hicox and Hellstrom in the basement bar, is just a man providing for his wife and his newborn son. When he holds Hammersmark hostage and Raine comes down to negotiate, we hope that—as Raine claims—“you’ll go your way, we’ll go ours, and little Max gets to grow up playing catch with his daddy,” but it is no use. We know he is going to get shot. But Tarantino also finds other, subtler ways to humanize the film’s Nazis. Watch how moved Goebbels is, for example, when Hitler himself (Martin Wuttke) tells him that Nation’s Pride is his best work yet. We know that they’re both going to get sprayed with bullets in the film’s finale. But when that moment comes, we’re fully aware that we’re seeing humans, not cartoons, being slaughtered.

Let me explain what I mean by that. I must admit that despite my ugly experience with Inglourious Basterds the first time I saw it, I vividly remember how greedily I anticipated the film’s infamous final sequence, which attempts to revise history as we know it. I don’t know what it was, but I remember wanting to see what would result from barbecuing the Nazi high command in one giant auditorium. If I respond differently to this sequence than I do to Werner’s execution earlier in the film, it’s because I think the two scenes are dealing with two different issues. Werner’s execution is the result of pointless, vitriolic capital punishment—it’s unnecessary, it accomplishes nothing, and it saves no lives. On the contrary, the burning of the theater in the film’s finale arguably does save lives. No doubt humanity is capable of better, and wars are certainly never, ever won in such a crude fashion. But what if they were? Some of the most memorable movies show us things we may only get to witness once every millennium—or things we may never expect to see at all. “But,” as Colonel Landa explains, convincingly, “in the pages of history, every once in a while, fate reaches out and extends its hand.”

Of course, there’s a catch. In Tarantino’s alternate universe, villains usually don’t get off scot-free, and sometimes the heroes don’t, either. Hicox and Hammersmark both die because of their own carelessness. Both the Bear Jew and Ulmer (Omar Doom) die willingly, with dynamite attached to their legs. Marcel (Jacky Ido), Shosanna’s black projectionist, presumably dies in the explosion right along with them, but dies knowing that Shosanna has a place in her heart for him. Shosanna herself dies because she overreaches herself in her obsessive attempts to secure vengeance. Zoller dies because he cannot decide if he wants to embrace his own celebrity or disown it. “My exploits consisted of killing many men,” he confesses to Shosanna at the screening. “Consequently, the part of the film that’s playing right now… I don’t like watching this part.” In one of the purest moments in the film, Shoshanna and Zoller wind up shooting each other dead—but their faces are still up there on the screen, in Nation’s Pride. They will no longer be able to deliver “a message for Germany” in real life. But in cinema, they still can.

I have one more detail to gripe about. It concerns the film’s final scene, in which Colonel Landa strikes a deal with Aldo Raine to help accomplish “Operation Kino” and end the war. Landa is recognized by the U.S. government as a double agent and is rewarded with a Congressional Medal of Honor, American citizenship and a lush property on Nantucket Island. Then, Raine and the “Little Man” (B.J. Novak) have Landa’s driver, Hermann (Michael Kranz), shot and scalped—deliberately going against the terms in the deal Landa and the U.S. government made with them. One wonders: why does Raine have to murder Hermann at the end of the movie? What point is he trying to prove? Is it to show off to Landa? Is it so that he can get one last scalp to add to his collection? Or is it for a reason I suspect: that Tarantino is offering Hermann’s death as collateral for sparing Landa, so that the audience can have the pleasure of seeing just one more Nazi getting shot and scalped, for one last bit of catharsis to top off a film that already has more violence than it needs?

I could go on and on complaining, but it wouldn’t do any good. To be fair, it is undeniably brave of Tarantino not to kill off Landa, of all people, at the end of the film, despite all the atrocities we’ve seem him commit and condone. Part of the reason why I intensely disliked Tarantino’s previous feature, Death Proof (2007), was because he intended for the film’s highpoint to be a scene in which a suffering, screaming villain was kicked to death. Surprisingly—and thankfully—he doesn’t do that again in this film. While we do get a rather disturbing shot of Raine and the Little Man carving a swastika into Landa’s forehead while he screams in pain, we understand why they’re doing it; it is not, as I once believed, an apologia for torture. “He’s a Nazi,” Tarantino explained, in the interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. “They’re giving him a scar. I don’t know if I would even go so far as to call that torture. He’s scarring him. He’s not torturing him.” Interestingly—with the exception of the Little Man, of course—Landa and Raine are the only two major players to emerge all in one piece at the end. And they’re the two most ruthless people in the movie.

The night I left that initial screening of Inglourious Basterds, I wondered how the movie would age. And I wondered if I would ever start liking the film a little better than I did. Two years later, to my relief, I have. I still hesitate to proclaim the film a masterpiece—as several of my colleagues have already done—but that’s not what’s important. This is a good movie. It has ambitions—some of them dubious—but most of them exercised in an attempt to encompass all that has been said about World War II in cinema’s history. And all that has been said about the Allied efforts. And, yes, the Nazis, too. "I sure as hell didn’t come down from the goddamned Smokey Mountains, across 5,000-mile water, fight my way through half of Sicily and jump out of a fucking aeroplane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity," barks Aldo Raine, in an early scene. "Nazi ain’t got no humanity." But Quentin Tarantino has made a film that believes otherwise, and Aldo Raine is wrong.


  1. Adam: This is a great honest take, and while I don't see this film quite the way you do, I do think you expose (1) the rowdy blood-lust that it inspires in many viewers (whether or not that was QT's intention) and perhaps most importantly (2) the way QT tries to have it both ways.

    In my conversations piece with Ed that you quoted (thanks!), Ed noted that the German dies a hero for his country, refusing to divulge any information. But you make a great point that QT excuses his gruesome execution due to his anti-Semitic remarks.

    In the conversations piece, I wrote about Laughing Guy, or whatever I called him, who found no horror where I found it (Werner's execution, for one), and seemed to think the violence was all jolly good entertainment. I fear that Tarantino mostly intended it that way, and yet I still find myself able to watch this film with the sense that QT is being honest (in his own stylized way) about the gruesomeness of war -- both in the blood lust it creates and the blood itself. Put another way, it's worth asking: Is war as noble as it always seems in Saving Private Ryan? (I'm not trying to shift the conversation there. Simply suggesting that maybe both films intend to make the audience feel good about the violence, albeit from different ends.)

    For me, the way the theater execution sequence unfolds tells me that QT, at least, understands the all killing in war is cruel, even if he allows us (and encourages us) to feel good about it, when it suits us.

  2. I do feel the tone of the violence in the film truly reveals that Tarantino did not have any sort of intention to make a statement on war and violence many felt he did. I'm not even convinced he was trying to have it both ways, as merely as he was conveniently accepting credit for ideas that mostly critics attributed to the film that were not intended on his part. Death in this film is often presented as punchlines to scenes, some of which, the tavern scene particularly, do not make any logical sense. (Still wondering why they built a half-hour scene on the premise that exchanging secret info from a double agent had to be done in such a public place where Fassebender & Co. would easily be discovered.)

    I revisited "Saving Private Ryan" last year and still don't quite understand how that film ennobles war, while "Basterds" is an antidote to that sentiment. The feeling I got from "Ryan" was that war was ugly and brutal, not to mention the central group of characters still thought their mission was bullshit to the very end. Meanwhile, "Basterds" seems to be more about Tarantino getting off on head-bashing and Nazi killing, filtered through homages to other movies, that distance any of these acts from having any sort of consequences.

    This was the movie that sort of sized up Tarantino for me as a very talented director, who instead of reinventing genre, pays homage to other directors' reinventions of genre and whose attempts at telling an emotionally honest story are undone by a juvenile sensibility.

  3. I revisited "Saving Private Ryan" last year and still don't quite understand how that film ennobles war, while "Basterds" is an antidote to that sentiment. I'd respond to Steven's question, but Adam and I like each other and I know we want to keep it that way, so let me focus entirely on "Basterds" instead. I wrote in my original review that I don't think Tarantino has anything profound to say about war itself (indeed, is anything left to be said?); I do think, however, he has some interesting things to say about war movies, namely the hypocrisy of trying to make an "anti-war statement" while simultaneously getting your audience's rocks off.

    I would suggest, again, that it is sound policy to ignore at least half of what a filmmaker says about his own work (in Tarantino's case, maybe 90 percent) and turn instead to savvy observers like Ed Howard, whom you quoted, and whom I think has one of the best handles on Tarantino's body of work around. Ed noted that what he liked so much about "Basterds" was Tarantino "really embracing his contradictions" (which is decidedly different than pure hypocrisy or double standard or simply not understanding your own movie). He's out to get his rocks off, absolutely; at the same time, he has a perceptive understanding of horror and evil and what Fernando Croce (another great critic and QT advocate) called "thorny moral quandaries." Some of my audience, like Adam's and Jason's, also laughed at the "Bear Jew" sequence; yet following the climax, as I think Jason or Ed also noted in their "Conversation," nobody was laughing. I don't think either reaction was unintentional; in both cases, I think Tarantino knew precisely what he was doing. There's only one scene where I think he loses control of the tone (the one where Pitt sticks his finger in Kruger's wound, the director's sadistic/misogynistic side at its ugliest).

    Had he wanted exclusively to make a bloodlust action flick (which, undoubtedly, Miramax was pushing for) he easily could have done so by making an entire movie about Brad Pitt and his motley band of basterds scalping Nazis along the French countryside. That he made them barely players in supposedly their own movie is, in a sense, willfully perverse, but I also think it shows he has other things on his mind. I love how Tarantino, all through this film, expands on his love of cinephilia and movie history. He may always be lost in Movieland, yet he really shows in "Basterds" just how vast a continent it can be.

  4. Adam: This is what I originally declared at my own site after seeing INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS:

    "Sophomoric. Sadistic. Racist. Long-winded. Repugnant. Repetitive. Lacking in depth. Quentin Tarantino’s two-and-a-half hour epic about a squad of Jewish-American commandos and a French Jew out to avenge the murder of her family at the hands of the Nazis is a serious-minded treatise that gives fleeting concern to black comedy, and showcases some of the director’s most tedious passages of his career. Inglourious Basterds, which won’t have Tarantino winning any spelling bees, turns potentially furtive material into an endurance test, while simultaneously showcasing some of the most repellent imagery seen in the auteur’s canon, at least since the police officer had his ear carved off in Reservoir Dogs. With the exception of a hair-raising burning theatre climax that attempts (but fails) to bring together scattered plot elements from four previous “chapters” Tarantino opts to bypass the rich possibilities in Third Reich satire, instead focusing on scalpings, gougings, chokings and mass slaughter, which in large measure are given Kill Bill- styled operatic treatment."

    After being challenged by more than a few readers (who though the film a masterpiece of sorts) I responded with this:

    "As I have stated before the film went on…and on…and on in certain spots. I can’t rightfully call for the cutting of entire segments, this is true, but it’s clear to me this film needed some serious editing. I wasn’t comfortable with the method that Tarantino used narratively to build (and overlap) the layers, as I was never engrossed enough to observe that in the first place.

    The ‘racist’ contention stands as Tarantino’s script lumped all Germans together as Jew haters, and the goon squad aimed their own vitrol at all inhabitants of Deutschland. This is historically inaccurate and in bad taste.

    The film is not narratively repetitive, but thematically redundant. I think we got the message earlier on.
    The sadiscm evident in Tarantino’s work was evident since his first film, in he dastardly torture scene of the police where he lulled over and caressed it’s unfolding. You are right when you say that the tortures, scalpings, and excessive violence added up to just a fraction of the running time, but I never meant to assert that it was otherwise, just that these moments were exceedingly gruesome and repellent, and were even accentuated by that suggestive sound design.
    Where I disagree with you most perhaps is your contention that this is the ‘most mature film since JACKIE BROWN.” First of all, I saw JACKIE BROWN played it safe in comparison to the other films, so perhaps this is why it is seen as mature. But this newest film for me is nonsensical and disposable, with no serious thematic relevance or resonance. In this sense, Tarantino lapsed.
    None of the MAJOR characters are likable, even if a few (the ones you mention) are fair enough.
    Your contention that Tarantino is not ‘glorifying’ violence, and rather is ‘romanticizing’ it is not one I agree with at all. His personal obsession with exploitation leads me to believe otherwise.

    Adam, I found your personal anecdote about the reasons of your initial hostility as fascinating and refreshingly candid. I remain firmly in the position I was in after the first viewing, though I've always conceded the opening farm house scene was magnificently orchestrated. I have seen the film a few more times since the first watch, most recently on blu-ray.

    This is a wholly enthralling post. Bravo.

  5. Adam this is a challenging post. I do really like the film, but completely see where you're coming from. I'm not totally on the Tarantino bandwagon, as some are. But I found this to be a masterpiece of a certain kind, but it is a film I don't take too seriously. I've never put much stock in Tarantino beyond his exploitive tendencies to relay tongue-in-cheek dialogue with repulsive violence and wrap it all up in absurdly talented filmmaking, replete with film references. This is the level to which I enjoy him, but any sort of socio-political commentary is never something I've engaged with in his films. I don't watch Tarantino expecting anything other than highbrow corn.

  6. So many great comments!

    @Jason, you raise a good point there about how QT seems to be commenting on how audiences tend to enjoy war violence even when it's at its most horrific. I do think he handles this well in the theater burning sequence. When I think back to seeing the movie on opening night, I remember loathing much of the rest of the movie but finding myself perversely enjoying the theater burning at the end: I don't know if I liked watching all the Nazis dying as much as I liked the sensation of being freaked out by watching all the Nazis dying. I suppose I liked the thrill of being scared by it. I should probably concede that the sequence, as disturbing as it is, does also lift a weight off my shoulders in that it helps end the war (in the universe of the movie, mind you) much quicker, sort of like the burning of Atlanta or the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings. It's awful, and yet at the same time necessary to some extent.

    If I don't feel the same way about Werner's execution, it's because I've never understood how audience members could possibly enjoy that scene. A lot of that has to do with the death penalty issues that I think are poisoning that scene in the first place, but I realize others wouldn't be as turned off by it as I am. This takes me back to our True Grit discussions ;)

    @Steven, I read your old review of the film from '09 after I published this yesterday. Your review is very similar to what I what have written at the time. Although I've grown to like the movie a little more than you do, I can totally see where you're coming from with your take on it. I will say that I agree with you when you say
    in your own review of the movie that "the Basterds are largely inconsequential to the storyline (when you think about it for awhile), despite being the title characters of the film." This is why I wish QT had cut the Basterds out of the movie entirely and had stuck to a more neutral, Guns of Navarone-type WWII action movie.

    Without starting one big thread devoted to Saving Private Ryan (since Craig and I like each other and aren't about to go *there* again), I should also mention that I agree with you that Spielberg's movie sees war as ugly and brutal, even when necessary. But I should also hasten to mention that I can see the influence of SPR in Inglourious Basterds, too. Tarantino has commented on how he likes SPR because the opening D-Day sequence makes you ask yourself if freedom is worth such atrocious carnage; and he has also talked about his admiration for how that knife-fight between Mellish and the Waffen-SS soldier (during the final battle at Ramelle) goes on and on, giving you a realistic idea of how difficult it is to actually kill a person. I think you can see the influence of that sequence in a couple of the scenes in Basterds: Raine's negotiations with Willhelm in the basement bar and Zoller's confrontation with Shosanna in the projection booth, for example.

  7. @Craig, although I like some of the stuff QT says in interviews (his appearance on Maddow; his admiration for Schindler's List/Saving Private Ryan; his comments about what films influence his work), like you, I've learned that a lot of what he says in interviews should be ignored. When I first read that Jeffrey Goldberg interview, I was astonished at QT's indifference when asked if maybe he was "too brutal to the Nazis?" without thinking twice about the can of worms he was opening right at that moment. But I've learned not to hold such minor slip-ups against him. That's why I'm interested in how QT will respond to questions about Basterds once it's aged a bit. No doubt he was unprepared for the controversy (much of it political) that was aroused when the movie opened.

    It's strange how everybody has different reactions to each moment of violence in the movie. The part where Raine digs his finger into Hammersmark's wound is, yeah, pretty superfluous, and I won't deny there might even be something misogynistic about it (although knowing how much QT lampooned misogyny in Death Proof -- a movie I don't like -- I wouldn't be prepared to take QT to task for any misogynistic feelings he may or may not have). It might even be argued that Raine is torturing Hammersmark in that scene, which would contradict the Goldberg interview. If the scene doesn't bother me as much as Werner's execution does, however, I think it's because Hammersmark is Raine's ally -- and I've always interpreted torture to be elliciting information from an enemy. Still, the scene, as you've said, isn't exactly necessary.

    @Sam, like I told Steven, I can totally see where you're coming from. I encourage you to give the movie another shot, even though I have my own reservations with it. Some of the violent scenes rub me the wrong way, while others do not. Tarantino's always been like that for me. About the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs, I actually think it serves a good purpose. Remember in that movie that the cop pleads to Mr. Blonde not to burn him alive because he's got "a little kid at home." The scene with Willhelm in Basterds is a direct reference to that and -- I feel -- reflects QT's own feelings about whether torture is okay.

    @Johnny, that's certainly an observation I've held regarding QT in the past: that he's above all an entertainer, and not much of an intellectual. But I do see some clear signs of wisdom in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown (which I think has gotten slightly overpraised lately, but is nevertheless considerable), Basterds and, especially Kill Bill Vol. 2, which might even be my favorite Tarantino's movie. Sepecifically, I love how KB:V2 burrows deep into the problem of vengeance even more than Basterds does.

  8. Another extremely dedicated review with insightful length. I can see your aren't big on the film. Inglorious is a great film, but I don't consider it as great as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

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