Why 'Inglourious Basterds' Changes Things

Everyone's up in arms about Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' - our pal Glenn Kenny loves it, and details the wish-fulfilment of its director as a key to interpreting it; Christianity Today published a review that has elicited comments ranging from acclaim to disdain for the fact that the magazine sent someone to see it; The New Yorker is non-plussed, damning Tarantino as an 'idiot de la cinematheque'. I've only seen it once, and so there's a lot of room for my response to change.  But for what it's worth, I was shaken out of my own apathy/disdain for Tarantino, whose cheer the 18 year old version of me was more than excited to lead when 'Reservoir Dogs' presented more realistic violence on screen than I had ever seen before, thereby confronting the audience with our own complicity in violence outside the confines of the theatre.  Post-Dogs, his appetite for kitsch seemed to overwhelm what I began to feel was a misreading of the moral sensibility of the first film; I'm still not sure what to think of 'Pulp Fiction', 'Kill Bill' et al.

But 'Inglourious Basterds', which takes his obsession with movies, and with movie violence, to its furthest extreme, changes everything, and made me reconsider everything I thought about its director before.  I think I may have seen a film that represents the most well-fed aesthetic cinematic sense (where else could you find the footprints of both Petra von Kant and Indiana Jones, and pretty much everything in between?), as well as a political genius: In its homage and pastiche, 'Inglourious Basterds' is applauding and indicting cinema for its successes, failures, and pretensions; in its portrayal of Nazis as human and their actions as absurd makes the evil of the Third Reich seem more cruel than in any previous 'serious' film; in its offering of a novel way to kill movie villains, it is exposing the audience: us, for what we are, or at least for what we may be - people who enjoy the representation of the killing of other human beings, and who don't care enough when it happens in the real world.

My genial co-host and I talk at some length about these matters over at The Film Talk. Do join us.