Thursday, March 22, 2012
Dastardly art about the forces that spur vioence (Film: Inglourious Basterds (2009) by Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino's use of violence in films like Pulp Fiction is supposed to be commentary on violence in film and television, but I have found them merely exploitative. This is not because media does not glorify violence, but because Tarantino's use of self-referential gestures and cute trademarks while using slaughter patently as entertainment is too cavalier. We already live surrounded by bloodshed - take the last 48 hours: with the murder of seven victims by a militant in Southwestern France and the outrageous shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old in Florida by a man claiming he was feeling threatened - I find the irony too disrespectful of lost lives. What the hell is so funny? So my own positive assessment of his film Inglourious Basterds (2009) surprised me.
I still didn't find it funny, but this film set in occupied France about a band of American Jewish marauders brutally attacking Nazis succeeded for me in three ways. In the context of World War II the violence seemed historically suited to the circumstances. Its extremity wasn't just decorous but functioned as a comprehensible revenge fantasy. Finally, it used history both accurately and inaccurately, and this is what I admired about the film most. The history of World War II has been explored endlessly and is, hopefully, familiar to most of the film's viewers. At least we know who wins, right? So in seeing a film about a plan to bomb the premiere of a film by Goebbels at which all the key Nazis will be in attendance in Paris, we know how the plot will come out - don't we? That's just what is so clever about this Quentin Tarantino film - we don't. He both uses and ignores history in this film as it suits him and I found the results surprising. The action of this film in light of the body of Tarantino's work acts upon the viewer as a provocation. If his previous films were both glorifying violence and simultaneously daring us not to be attracted to his stark designs and cinematography, his choreographed bloodshed, and his ultra-cool performances, Inglourious Basterds double-dares us. It says, so you claim to be outraged - how about World War II? How about the most supposedly "just" war in history with the world most supposedly unforgiveable enemies ever - how does the violence make you feel then? I wasn't laughing, but I cannot deny that it provoked rage as well as outrage and satisfaction as well as disgust. Those are not comfortable feelings in the context of eight unforgiveable murders so freshly in our consciousness, but they speak to the motivations that drive violent behavior. These are motivations available at times to us all, says Tarantino's film, and it is the use of a work of art like this that it makes us reflect on our feelings even when we don't like what we see.