Inglourious Basterds (spoiler alert)

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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23 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Virtues in one era can be vices in another.

    I haven’t seen the movie but wonder if the things that make some people say “they’re making the Germans virtuous!” wouldn’t have made audiences hiss somewhat in the 40’s… or the stuff that make people say “they’re making Americans venial!” would have made audiences cheer.

    I went out of my way to read as many spoilers as I possibly could before deciding not to see this one… because it strikes me as the perfect example of what Vonnegut would have been talking about when he said “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

      Eh. It’s a good movie, all told – if you like Tarantino of course.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        In my yute, I adored Tarantino. I thought that Jackie Brown was positively heavenly.

        The (spoiler warning!) ending to IB strikes me as vaguely… obscene.

        I mean, above and beyond the whole “but that’s not how it happened”, thing… there is a cynical corner of my brain that suspects that at least one kid will talk about how the US killed Hitler in a theater at the end of WWII in a history report before the end of the year.

        It’s probably a pathology on my part. A weird “but this particular topic deserves better” thing. I don’t know. I am made uncomfortable by the movie.

        (Note: The above ought not be read as me saying anything like “you ought to feel similarly”)Report

  2. William Brafford says:

    I’m still rather up in the air about Basterds. I think the important thing to realize is that’s not a movie about World War II; it’s a movie about World War II movies. Tarantino spends the whole movie playing with war cinema conventions. On one level, this makes me rather uneasy: are there any subjects for which this kind of pastiche just isn’t appropriate? Also: did the movie cross the line by making the Jewish-American soldiers too fierce, in such a way that certain reels of the movie could be spliced into anti-Semitic propaganda films? I didn’t think so, but a friend that watched the movie with me did.

    My favorite reading of the movie so far includes this:

    “The Basterds’ formally identical act of vengeance is carried out by Jewish ‘others’ who are at the same time American, authorized by the state and educated by American movies and pop culture (Donny kills his victims with a baseball bat). They are dupes themselves, purely reactive, and not ‘humanized’ by good acting the way Tarantino’s characters usually are.”

    And this:

    “Where the Nazis and the Jewish Basterds are ideological dupes, Landa and Raine are not, and their showdown is verbal, far away from spectacular set-piece violence. Landa, thematically and visually linked to Sherlock Holmes (with his absurd Calabash pipe), plays the film’s plot like a chess master. That he’s every critic’s favorite character is not surprising. Raine, on the other hand, is a savage, part Apache even, whose M.O. includes the taking of Nazi scalps. He beats Landa not through Landa’s game of being smarter than the ideological rules by which others (think they) live, but by embodying his country’s ideology in its very arbitrariness. This is the film’s last surviving ethical ‘argument’: the Nazis aren’t Nazis because they’re evil, they’re evil because they’re Nazis.”

    (From the American Stranger blog.)

    Oh, and I don’t think Aldo was supposed to be Jewish.Report

    • I thought all the Basterds were Jewish – Aldo included – but I could be wrong. Either way, Aldo was certainly not the only American.

      Thanks for the link – that is an interesting take on the film. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to film analysis. I like to think that directors/writers actually mean less than we interpret them to mean – for good or ill.Report

  3. Sonny Bunch says:

    Random, mostly serious question: Is the Occidental Quarterly a white supremacist outfit? I read lines like this from Lynch’s review, and I wonder: “I wish Inglourious Basterds were a better movie, since I think that many white people would benefit from seeing it.” Um, okay? The entire review is quite silly and based on an amazing misreading of the film (the stuff he writes about Shoshana is, simply, impressively stupid), but there’s this odd racial undercurrent that runs throughout the whole piece. Do you know anything about them, Erik?Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Sonny Bunch says:

      I was thinking the same thing reading that review. No, I don’t know anything about the site – and only stumbled there via Cowen’s link. (Cowen also links to Steve Sailer whose views on race are…controversial, to say the least.)Report

      • Sonny Bunch in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Another key quote:

        “In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has taken the one truly sacred myth in modern Jew-dominated America — especially in modern Hollywood — namely WW II and the holocaust, and he has desecrated it by inverting all of its core value judgments and reversing its stereotypes. In the process, he has exposed the true anti-white agenda of Hollywood. Why? Just because he can.”

        I mean, wow. I respect Tyler a lot (and I do mean that; I think he’s the smartest econ blogger going), but what in the holy hell is he doing treating this review seriously?Report

        • Will in reply to Sonny Bunch says:

          I think Bunch is right – The Occidental Quarterly sounds absolutely nutty:

          “Holocaust narratives are filled with tales of thousands of Jews herded to their doom by relative handfuls of Germans and their collaborators. Although this sheep-like behavior seems rather unlike the hyper-aggressive and unruly Jews of my acquaintance, most people accept it at face value and then wonder: What was wrong with these people? Why didn’t they fight back?”

          Are we sure Cowen is linking to this review approvingly, though? Or is he just remarking on the movie’s fascistic overtones?Report

          • E.D. Kain in reply to Will says:

            I don’t know, Will. That is the thrust of the article, though. Either way, it certainly isn’t clear.Report

          • E.D. Kain in reply to Will says:

            Hmmmm. So I probably should have investigated that site more. I guess my reading of Lynch’s post seemed to play directly into what Cowen was saying as well – that the Germans were portrayed as great and clean and wonderful, and the Jews as bad and stereotyped, etc. I think it’s an odd sort of piece to publish in a white supremacist journal – almost counter-intuitive? But it’s made even more odd by the link from Cowen – who has a similar thesis, even though his is not laced with such strange white-centric language.Report

          • Max in reply to Will says:

            “the hyper-aggressive and unruly Jews of my acquaintance”


  4. Jim says:

    “That much of the movie is in German does not indicate that Tarantino somehow “loves hearing” the “fascist chattering” of his “eloquent” Nazi characters either. ”

    This doesn’t comport with this at all:

    ” Second, they are dignified, charming, and polite with strangers; warm, playful, and fun-loving among friends.

    Maybe it’s just the era I grew up in, or having lived in Germany for more than 8 years, but for me you can’t have characters speaking German and have them sound civilized – or dignified, charming, or any of the rest. It just doesn’t work. Nice and decent fellow human beings, but civilized, dignified – no. He might as well have said the same thing about characters speaking Klingon.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Freddie says:

      I hadn’t – but now I have.

      Well – Goldberg, among others, did say this is the film that no Jew would ever make, but that every (probably a big, big stretch) Jew would take some dark pleasure in seeing. Not being Jewish myself, I suppose it’s hard to say for sure – but I do have Jewish friends who both agree and disagree with that sentiment.

      Are there are other films that probe this motif more deeply, more reverently, with more taste and finesse? Surely. Does that diminish Tarantino’s effort? Possibly.

      Then again, it’s important to take each piece of film we see for what it is. Tarantino is not out to make something terribly profound. He’s out to write scenes of dialogue that erupt into violence. Anyone expecting to be moved or struck dumb by the profundity of a Tarantino film is expecting too much. Even Pulp Fiction, arguably his best film, was far from deep. It was a clever film. And I’d say, if you spend too much time plumbing the depths of Tarantino’s work, you’ll find that it’s all clever, but not much else. Not much depth.

      Basterds is a revenge movie, plain and simple. I disagree with Cowen’s assessment, and I think the piece you linked to tries too hard as well, and critiques the film because it wants the film to be something it was never meant to be.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I read an article (sadly, I can’t remember where) that talked about the various conversations everybody was having on the set. The quotation that jumped out at me was something to the effect of “isn’t it great that we’re finally doing this?”Report

  5. James says:

    From their front page:

    “When a white person awakens to our race’s peril, the first impulse—and the first duty—is to try to awaken others. But where to begin? Becoming a white nationalist often takes years of experience, reflection, and reading.”

    I don’t see the veil there.Report

  6. I just saw this movie on Saturday so I’ll jump in late…

    Overall I loved the film, but I’m also a big Tarantino fan so I’m a bit biased. As for the comments about dialogue, yes, the German speaking was major part of the movie, but quite honestly wasn’t all of the speaking? Dialogue is huge part of Tarantino’s movie-making. He’s always devoted long scenes to dialogue with zero action. Why should this be any different? Yes, he does have the Germans speak a bit more eloquently than other characters or maybe more than they really did at the time, but is this in-line with what we see in any other WWII movie made in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s?

    Tarantino calls this movie a spagetti western. So it should be viewed through the lens of movies like Fist Full of Dollars and the Magnificent Seven. When you do that, I think it mostly fits the mold.Report