#98: Inglourious Basterds [2009]

For me, Inglourious Basterds is unmistakeably Tarantino’s show. While there are some stellar performances in this film (Christoph Waltz’s Oscar needs mentioning here), the director feels as present as any of the actors. His cinematic touches are unmistakable, and I’m not just talking about the gratuitous violence we’ve come to know and love. It’s the rapid-fire asides which catch us off-guard, the way text stamps itself across the screen so dramatically, the way we catch ourselves laughing at atrocious things we wouldn’t dare smile at usually, and countless other familiar characteristics. They all remind us how we simultaneously trust Tarantino’s cinematic genius and suspect his uncanny ability to manipulate his audiences.
You know the feeling. The scene’s been running for twenty minutes now and you’re still as overwhelmed by the tension as you were in the first thirty seconds. In fact, it’s grown significantly more unbearable. If you’ve watched a film with me, a half-decent one that is, you’ll remember my complete submission to its devices. I’m all drama during Disney; while watching Tarantino I’m a quivering mess. That opening scene at Lapadite’s dairy farm? So stressful! The music, the camera angles, the multi-lingual dialogue! Not to mention the disturbing plot itself. Then, just as Tarantino’s built the tension up to its highest point, he cuts it so quickly and completely that we’ve lost all sense of where we are. It’s almost as if he’s showing off.
Now, I’m aware that this might become a running theme in my blog, but you can’t talk about Inglourious Basterds without mentioning the significant amount of Nazi deaths. At first glance, this film is outright anti-Nazi. Firstly, a lot of them die, horribly. Secondly, all the main characters, including the German ones, set out to kill Nazis. Thirdly, Tarantino flagrantly defies all historical fact to ensure that we see lots of Nazis die in rather horrific circumstances. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that this is an American film about the Second World War, written and directed by a man notorious for the violence in his movies; Nazis are easy pickings in Hollywood.
A more considered answer is that Tarantino is looking at something a little deeper into the human individuality behind the Nazi visage, and what better way to draw our attention to this then killing scores of them? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Tarantino is redefining the Nazi image, far from it in fact. Clearly, the film is anti-Nazi, as it should be really. But, it’s worth paying attention to the incredibly human characters such as the new father, Staff Sergeant Wilhelm, or the multifaceted Frederick Zoller. But then, making the Nazi characters more human than usual simply makes for more horrific violence. Could that be Tarantino’s sole aim? It’s something to ponder about, but not to discuss exhaustively here.

*Spoiler Alert*

As you might have guessed, I love this film. Tarantino is, for me, the undisputed master of tension. The first time I saw this movie I couldn’t imagine how it was going to end – ‘surely the Basterds must fail?’. Wikipedia tells me that Tarantino struggled with the ending too. I for one am glad he chose to stick with what he knew best: a blood bath. Glorious.

Tom's Summary: "It's so Tarantino."