You must read Daniel Mendelsohn – ‘Inglourious Basterds’: When Jews Attack

I’ve read a lot of writing about Quentin Tarantino’s new film. Some folks seem to be having a lot of fun at the movie. I wish I’d had fun. Mendelsohn sounds like he saw the same movie I saw – the film that made me feel sad and a little sick – and not the joyride that so many other people seem to have enjoyed.

I’d encourage you to read it… read all of it… before you go any farther in this post.


I’m troubled by how many people are applauding and defending the film because it is so “cinematic.” Sure, it’s a showcase of a lot of talent, with a lot of references to other movies. But beyond the talent and the cleverness, what’s the real vision here? Beyond making people squirm, and showing off, I mean? The film is “cinematic” sure, but in service of what exactly? Ego? Appetite for violence? What I saw this weekend was a work of superior craftsmanship that invites us to revel in a revenge-fantasy orgy.

Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough a cinephile to appreciate what Tarantino’s doing here. But I don’t think that’s it. I’ve heard his interviews, and I’ve seen his previous films. I’m still a fan of Pulp Fiction, and I admire certain aspects of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. But I won’t be seduced into cheering while human beings are carved up, just because a film is slick and stylish.

War is one thing. Reveling in revenge is something else. And taking pleasure in extravagant disfigurement is even worse.

I know it’s a drag for me to bring up Jesus, but since several of my Christian friends are telling me that the inclusion of violent revenge stories in scripture justify such revelry, I should remind them that Christ showed mercy to his murders even as they slaughtered him. He urges me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. That inspires me to hope for something better than the “justice” of revenge. I strive to live with Christ as my guide, not any tale of Old Testament wrath.

I should be concerned if I get some thrill of pleasure from watching a building full of human beings burned down. I need help if I take pleasure in watching a man’s head bashed in with a baseball bat, or watching another man get a swastika carved into his forehead with a bowie knife. Justice is worth desiring. But we should be careful. If there were real justice, all of us would suffer a great deal. We’ve been shown mercy and grace, and it seems inappropriate to celebrate, then, when others are shown no mercy.

This film, for all of its impressive filmmaking (and it *is* impressive) plays to appetites that I do not think should be encouraged.

And no, I don’t buy the argument that Tarantino is asking us to question our “enjoyment” of such violence. The film-within-a-film scene, in which the Nazis cheer as they watch violence against the Jews, may raise an interesting question. But the power of that scene is severely undercut by what comes after it. The last scene is a wink-wink “Isn’t this fun?” punchline. And by honoring Eli Roth with a major role, he persuades me that he’s down with Roth, the king of “torture porn” cinema. (Remember that Tarantino “presented” Roth’s film Hostel, one of the films responsible for the rise of the “torture porn” genre to box office success.)

It’s a shame. Few filmmakers are more talented than Tarantino. But just as the Roman coliseum was an impressive feat of architecture, we must not forget what went on inside.

Also worth reading on this subject: Jonathan Rosenbaum.

And Chris Willman catches Tarantino exploring just how thoughtfully he is (as some critics argue) “critiquing big-screen violence.”

It’s a cliché by now to say someone from outside the world of music is a “rock star.” But Quentin Tarantino? Hate to say it, but… complete and total rock star. Tarantino did an autograph signing Thursday night at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records for the first 300 fans who’d signed up for an Inglourious Basterds soundtrack-and-midnight-screening package. And if you wracked your brain, you might be able to think of two or three other filmmakers who’d have been greeted with the same kind of Staples Center-like ovation QT got upon strutting onto the Amoeba stage. But certainly Spielberg, Scorsese, or Lucas wouldn’t have actually worked the crowd like the frontman of a hair-metal band.

“You guys are true blue!” he shouted over the strains of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” (as made re-famous by the Pulp Fiction soundtrack), to the hundreds of seekers threading through the gigantic record store’s aisles. The director stroked the atttendees for their dedication, in very NSFCR (Not Safe for Charlie Rose) language. “You guys are the believers! You guys are the Thursday mother-[expletive]s! [Expletive] those Friday [gay epithet]s! Let’s get this STARTED!”

A few hours later, introducing the first midnight show next door at the Cinerama Dome, Tarantino was in similarly amped-up form. “I hope you have a hell of a good time, and you’re seeing it at the theater I always meant for you to see it at, man. So, without any further ado, you guys wanna kill some Nazis?” The sold-out house wasn’t roaring quite loud enough. “YOU GUYS WANNA [EXPLETIVE] UP SOME NAZIS?” That was more like it. “LET’S BRING IT!”

How thoughtful.

UPDATE: Mark Shea!

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