Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, superior to the average audience-goer. I can't say my intelligence is any higher than the people who take the time to read this, either. On the contrary, I admit to being a bit of a horror enthusiast myself, and have seen my share of disgusting 'torture porn' films, and have been long desensitized to watching extreme gore onscreen; a result of my brother and I watching Stephen King films and 'slasher' movies when we were nine. I have always admired Quentin Tarantino, and although I admittedly bought my ticket to Inglourious Basterds knowing that it was some kind of Jewish/Nazi revenge film, I wasn't expecting to be as disturbed and revolted by the film as I was.

The following rant contains SPOILERS, though I don't think any of them would come to a shock if you know what the film is about.

Here's my problem. The premise of this film is pretty simple. It's 1940s German-invaded France. The Germans hate the Jews, and vice versa. The 'Bastards' hate Germans, and want to deform/humiliate/kill/destroy them all. And so they do, and by the end of the film they've blown a cinema full of Germans (including Adolf Hitler) to high hell. Disturbing, yes, of course. Do most people have an aversion to silently cheer for the 'Basterds' to avenge all that were horrifically murdered in The Holocaust? Of course. We've been ingrained to despise any people that would attempt a mass genocide, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, et cetera.

So why is it that during the scene when about three hundred Germans are locked in a movie theater that is on fire, the audience is laughing and cheering? How come at the very last scene, when Brad Pitt's character brands a swastika into the forehead of a German soldier, everyone whoops and hollers? It's one thing to be amused by outrageous, absurd violence (take Tarantino's Deathproof, which is paired with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, for instance. Both are extremely gory and violent, but neither are rooted in American History, so unless you're a zombie, it's hard to really take offense to them). Anyone with an education above middle school (or anyone that reads, or watches television, for that matter), knows the extent of the atrocities committed against the Jews. No one would dare make The Holocaust into a comedy. Does that make it okay to fight fire with fire? If we are responding to violence with violence and torture with torture, who are we really 'avenging'? It's not so much as revenge, as a drainage of dignity. In one of the final scenes of the movie, the Germans are laughing at the film that depicts a German soldier shooting hundreds of soldiers. It is piggish and revolting, to see an image of Adolf Hitler laughing at his own genocide. But what does it say about any generic audience that hysterically laughs and applauds in the next scene where all of the Germans are slaughter/ burned alive in a theater? It only makes us hypocrites. The Jews were incinerated in gas chambers. No one is laughing about that. How are we any different than the 'evil' German characters portrayed onscreen if we are doing exactly what they are doing-taking pleasure in the slaughter of a people? Have we become so desensitized that even a film that actually takes root in no doubt one of the most horrific events in human history cannot shock us? It's disturbing to me, to be surrounded by audience members that are in hysterics and clapping when a German soldier gets his head obliterated by a baseball bat.

All of this being said, it doesn't take away from the fact that Tarantino is a brilliant director, and in my opinion the film was wonderfully shot, the casting was perfect, and the soundtrack was outstanding. However, I can't imagine how at one point someone proposed a film about Jews killing Nazis, and someone else thought it was marketable. The film is simply two and a half hours of hypocritical, nonsensical violence and humiliation whacked back and forth between two equally enraged and vengeful groups of people.

Let's jump a head from World War Two for a second and take a look at the current war in Iraq. Does anyone remember when these photos were posted in The New York Times?

Was anyone laughing when these photos were published? On the contrary, these pictures were met with revolt and disgust, and the soldiers responsible for the rape, sodomy, and humiliation of these Iraqi prisoners were tried for them. I don't know about all of you, but I think that it's pretty darn similar to the intent of this:
It's one thing to laugh at the past. It's quite another to insult it. But then again, I'm just a twenty something college student who loves cinema. You make draw your own conclusions...but I dare anyone to tell me that I'm simply overreacting and shouldn't be disturbed by an audience's reaction to this film.

1 comment:

  1. hmmm, i didn't read the film that way at all. I think tarantino uncovers something very human about the violent grudge that the victors of world war II continue to hold against the germans. i personally have no qualms with this hyper-violent re-imagining of the war against the germans. tarantino always expertly manipulates violence to uncover the emotional undertones of his source materials. in this case, the celebration of violence is not only condoned but encouraged. tarantino did not establish this shared culture of absolute hatred towards the nazis, but he exposes it and something violent about human nature in the process.

    you are right to be worried about the vendetta these cultural investments fuel. the pain the nazis caused allowed and continue to allow particularly atrocious Israeli military actions (see Waltz with Bashir and the current situation in gaza), but tarantino is forcing an audience to reexperience this extreme hatred and reevaluate their personal relationship with revenge.