Monday, August 24, 2009

How Aware is Tarantino?

I saw Inglourious Basterds the other week (spoiler alert). It was a good movie, but the big gripe that people have is that it uncritically supports barbaric violence against Nazis.

Of course, morally unambiguous, unreflective violence is nothing new, especially not in Tarantino films. But in this movie, Tarantino actually provides a little reflection.

In one of the final scenes of the movie, we see a crowd of Nazis cheering at a war film celebrating the exploits of a Nazi soldier. Then, the Basterds burst into the scene and start machine-gunning the movie goers (many of them women), as the theater is set on fire. In explicit Holocaust imagery, the doors out are locked shut. Naturally, the entire theater I was in goes wild cheering.

This might be the first time I've seen any reflection or commentary on violence from a Tarantino film. While he doesn't go so far as to equate Nazis with the suffering in the Holocaust, it's very unsettling as a viewer. You're essentially asked to play a role--that of the cheering spectator--that just a second ago you denounced Nazis for playing. It's something like being in a being in a Stanley Milgram experiment, and actually makes a pretty powerful point against hyper-nationalism.

Of course, the entire rest of the movie is a commentary against moralizing; because Nazis are, well, Nazis, wanton cruelty is outright encouraged. So it's not a terribly coherent critique, but surprising nonetheless to see in a Tarantino flick. Of I could be making this all up and assigning greater awareness to Tarantino than he deserves; certainly he's shown little of that in the interviews for the movie I've seen (though I've always assumed that much of his public persona was for showmanship purposes).

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