Home > Culture, Film, Media, Movie Project, Movie Reviews > Inglourious Basterds: or How I’m Not Sure If I Like Killing Nazis Anymore

Inglourious Basterds: or How I’m Not Sure If I Like Killing Nazis Anymore

Let me give you some back story on my formal education.  I graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts and Political Science.  I took classes in Television Production and Film Criticism.  The film classes were split into two categories: director classes and genre classes.  These classes were taught by the amazing Dr. Jurkiewicz, a man who can give an engrossing four hour lecture on Kurbick’s 2001: A Space Oddyssey, why his lectures aren’t on iTunes U is beyond me.  A few of my BCA classes I took with my good friend, Bryan Carr.  My post-senior year I was a regular castmember on Bryan’s podcast “GeekSpeak”, and occasionally pop in every now again.  (If you’re thinking, that sentence doesn’t seem to fit and it’s just a shameless plug for GeekSpeak, you’re right.)  Bryan’s smarter than me on all things film (this is where he feigns humility, disregards the complement, complements me, and I feign humility back.  We love that game).  To give you an example: for our Science Fiction Films term paper I wrote 10-page feminist critique on Serenity, and Bryan wrote 22-pages on V for Vendetta.  Granted, your first thought is “those two men need lives,” our first thought was “I can’t believe we get to do this.”  So, when I was able to haggle some time off work to head up to Mount Pleasant to see Inglourious Basterds with Bryan and his girlfriend Pang (and Brother Sean and his girlfriend Leah) I couldn’t pass that up.  At the end of Inglorious Basterds everyone in the theater walked out with the same reaction: we liked it, we just didn’t know what to make of it.

Then, what I’m pretty sure in what has become a universal event for film aficionados everywhere, Bryan and I met the next day and, in the universal declaration of film aficionados everywhere, proclaimed: “Tarantino is a slick bastard.”

Inglourious Basterds premise is quintessential Tarantino: a WWII revenge fantasy.  Lt. Aldo Raines and his men, all American Jews, are dropped behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France to kill Nazi’s.  Lt. Raines wants his 100 scalps from each man, and make sure no Nazi collaborator escapes unmarked.  But Tarantino takes the premise, and makes the film about something else entirely.  Tarantino spends two hours giving us his highly choreographed and stylized violence only to chide us for it at the end.  In a Tarantino film, violence is a dance.  Each blood squirt, severed limb, and accidental shooting has a point in the larger violent exposition.  As the audience, we’ve gone along for years.  Finally, Tarantino calls us on our bullshit.

The film presents WWII in a view we usually preserve for any post-Vietnam conflict: morally ambiguous heroes and villains.  To kill the Nazi’s, the genocidal maniacs, the Allies send the Basterds, a group of sociopaths.  The Basterds and Nazi’s are on the same plane of horrific violence in this film.  They shoot up families and bash in skulls.  The most sympathetic character, the guy who can’t stand the violence or the glorification any longer, is a Nazi war hero.  Tarantino takes the most well defined war in history – decades of knowing whom the good guys and bad guys are – and give us no clear delineation, and makes the traditional bad guys relatable.  Tarantino relies on us to hold fast to our tried and true categories of World War II and then gives a group of sociopaths who get excited when the Jew Bear can beat a Nazi’s skull in with a bat because “it’s the closest we ever get to going to the movies.”

The climatic scene of the film takes place in a cinema (a beautiful one at that) for a premiere of the fictional Nazi-propaganda film “Nation’s Pride” (directed by Eli Roth, who also starred as “The Bear Jew”).  The film shows the exploits of German sniper Frederick Zoller holding off 200+ Allied troops after his entire platoon is killed.  The Nazi’s cheer at the sight of a successfully sniped American, and applaud as they run in fear.  The cheering of the American slaughter fuels the Basterds’, and the Jewish theater owner’s, determination as they set their death trap.  It’s disgusting to watch and you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the Nazi’s to get their just punishment.

Then it hits you.  What were you – and the rest of theater – just 10 minutes before?  Laughing at the brutal death of Nazi’s?  We laughed, cheered, and enjoyed Tarantino’s choreography. We even brushed off the totally odd feeling that the Basterds were sick fucks – they did bash guys heads in, scalp them, and carve swastikas on their few survivors – and cheered them on.  The Basterds get excited because watching a head bashing is their movies, but we wouldn’t stoop to that level.  Except, when Transformers 2, Star Trek, Wolverine, and Terminator 4 are some the highest grossing films of the summer, and Basterds took the weekend, that’s why we go to the movies.  We love our violence.  Even though we’re a culture that abhors the thought of violence – and no argument from me that the real violence differs from screen violence – we do know how to enjoy it.  Tarantino doesn’t call us Nazi’s for liking violent films, but we’re definitely basterds.  He just calls us on our bullshit for our blind worship of violence, and he wants us to think about what we’re watching and why.  The blind praise of “holy shit! He accidentally shot the guys head off!” doesn’t float.

Bryan and I sat in Freddie’s – the one Mount Pleasant bar that students haven’t found yet – impressed and in awe of what Tarantino pulled off.  This wasn’t just a Spaghetti Western in the guise of a World War II revenge fantasy.  Inglourious Basterds was a morality tale disguised in a World War II revenge fantasy, disguised as a Spaghetti Western.  There’s a lot more to Basterds then on first glance, but when a film about killing Nazi’s can make you question why we watch violence, the entire mastery of the film sticks out, and you’re guaranteed to at least take one idea home.

Tarantino’s a slick bastard.

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