Once Upon a Time in Violence Occupied Cinema...: An Analysis of Inglourious Basterds

· sunrise

The following analysis landed in my inbox this morning. Sunrise Tippeconnie, who recently shared his thoughts on Funny People with the candler blog, is a filmmaker and writer in Oklahoma City.

For me to respond to Basterds, I must first note my reaction of Death Proof, which over time feels more and more like it provides the most revelation about Tarantino and his relationship with the “cinema.” Death Proof describes a world where those that don’t fully comprehend the rules of “cinema” are eliminated (the women in the first half talk about high school movies, are surrounded by cinema clichés, but cannot make it to see the end of the film, while those with knowledge of film’s history and making survive through to “the end.” While Quentin the bartender, perhaps a more “true” image of Tarantino, is balanced out with a stumbling cinematic fake of a doppelganger in Stunt Man Mike, a character that perhaps doesn’t know the trade of filmmaking quite so well as his stunt women targets (and perhaps also fakes his film credits list in hopes of trapping his next victims, a deadly misstep of cinematic naivety in a rule-enforced genre). So, as Death Proof provides cinematic knowledge as survival, Basterds shows another side of the coin, the results of survival through cinema’s naivety: the “Propaganda Film”.

What is most interesting about this setup, is that Tarantino not only addresses that knowledge over cinema is limited, but that such knowledge does not eliminate the realities of the world, despite it’s perversely real effect. Each sequence of _Basterds _recalls quite familiar situations (some of which are, of course, of War and Spaghetti heritage, but also…) from his previous line of features, which I’m positive are the actual six “Basterds” of the title and are the real characters standing at the attention of Aldo Raine. And while we run through scenes we’ve seen before in any of the Tarantino’s oeuvre, our point of view has changed: instead of viewing the “Mexican standoff” from the point of view of the future parent (Beatrix Kiddo) as hero we look at it from the point of view of future parent as “enemy,” a Nazi.

When placed in this new vantage point, suddenly the Allies are not heroes when the father is shot –they have now made his young German son an orphan. Even if this orphan’s father was part of a violent political party, and Beatrix Kiddo was part of an assassination squad, their children were not willing participants in either world. This complicates the protagonist and their place in the “sides” in war, as well as the audience’s relationship with “sides” of narrative: Protagonist vs. Antagonist. What happens if both Protagonist and Antagonist ruthlessly engage in violence for their own cause, harming even those of a future generation that have no stakes in the games at hand.

This implies the actions of the all characters are wrong, no matter what “side” of the Propaganda they find themselves aligned. What happens if there is no one that is right? “The Shoe is on the other foot,” are the words of Nazi Colonel Landa, while sitting at the table of a captured Ally Aldo Raine, yet the approach towards violence is not different –both sides in this picture are out to harm when their needs are not met, and thus perhaps the shoe still fits the other foot. Violence is no good business for anyone in a tragedy, only those for whom business is “booming”, ie.: “cinema.” While we, as audience, initially wish for these characters to enact their rage and vengeance, the film elegantly reminds us such violence is not funny, but horrendous and comes from the real and scary realm of reality (perhaps Tarantino’s strongest directorial talent).

In the end, the final sequence is not just the narrative presentation of a violent Propaganda premiere, it absurdly (and satirically) glorifies what the “winning” characters parade as intolerant: violence through mass elimination. It is the violence that finds survival, and yet simultaneously also suggests a critical analysis (and perhaps a guilty apology) of Tarantino’s violent past. Not bad for a rehash.