I got this idea during the last fifteen minutes of Inglourious Basterds (2009) and I just couldn’t shake it. You all know what the movie is about, I suspect, even if you haven’t seen it, so I’ll be specific. It’s the premiere of Nation’s Pride and the highest Nazi leaders are in attendance, including Hitler. Nation’s Pride is a story about a single German sniper that kills almost three hundred American soldiers over three days. Zoller (Daniel Brühl), the sniper, is also in attendance and he’s feeling uncomfortable about the movie (in which he plays himself) but Hitler and Goebbels, the producer of the film, are laughing in delight. Writer/director Quentin Tarantino must, he must, see the parallel of that situation to that of an American audience, this movie, and himself. The message is that Hitler and Goebbels are despicable, grotesque figures to laugh at something like this. And yet, the single, universal, and invited response to the violence in Tarantino’s last five films is laughter. At best, the laughter is uncomfortable. Goebbels’ laughter is, at first, uncomfortable. You can see that in his eyes. But then he laughs in earnest as the body count grows. It takes guts to symbolize yourself with Goebbels. Or I think it’s guts.
In rural France, 1941, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is an SS officer tasked with rounding up Jews in the country. He is good at it. Good enough to be labeled “The Jew Hunter.” He comes to a small farm and interrogates the farmer to find that there are Jews hidden in the house. Landa is menacing, but weirdly amiable in dealing with the mass murder of which he is a significant part. Three years later, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is organizing a group of Jewish soldiers (Eli Roth, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom) to go into France ahead of D-Day to terrorize Nazi soldiers with guerrilla tactics and sadism. One young woman escaped in 1941 from the farm house that Landa inspected. Her name is Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent). She got to Paris and is now the owner of a movie theater. There, she attracts the affection of Pvt. Frederick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), a German war hero, who has the grand idea of having his biopic, Nation’s Pride, to have its premiere at Shosanna’s theater. This brings in Lt. Archie Cox (Michael Fassbender), a British intelligence officer and former German film critic, into events with a plot masterminded by a German actress-turned-agent (Diane Kruger) to bomb the premiere, which the German high command will attend.
Up until that point, I had basically accepted the film as entertaining and fully engaging. Then, when the film began and I saw what was either hypocrisy or an irony so deep as to simulate hypocrisy, I remembered why I responded so poorly to the movie back in 2009. I felt no catharsis, no satisfaction at seeing Hitler gunned to pieces and then exploded. If Tarantino hadn’t directed Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), and Death Proof (2007) or produced Hostel (2005), this would be a masterpiece. The laughing Hitler, the demented face of Eli Roth as he obliterates his foes, and the relationship between Zoller and Shosanna would be deep, meaningful messages to his audience about violence and revenge. They are terrible, meaningless things that any healthy mind would do whatever they might to eradicate it from their lives. But when Raine speaks that final line, quoted above, I don’t think it’s supposed to be ironic. After all, Tarantino said “I wanted to have a masterpiece before the decade’s out” and that Inglourious Basterds was the best bit of writing he’d ever done. I leave the psychoanalysis to you.
Of course, it is a piece of strong filmmaking. The story is three neatly-fitted tales that are each interesting in their own way and cleverly written. The only bits of intrusion come from his unremitting use of 70’s soundtracks (including those of Ennio Morricone) and a bit of hard electric guitar. The rest is cool, slightly stylized camerawork (Robert Richardson) without flaw. As incredibly disturbing as I believe the climactic scene to be, the pyrotechnics inside the theater (not the big explosions or gunplay) is terrifically constructed. The movie received Oscar nods for Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, and all Editing. I enjoyed every performance completely. Even Pitt’s caricature is enjoyable. Waltz won the Oscar for Supporting Actor and that’s deserved.
I hate to dislike a thriller for its lack of integrity, but there you are. I just can’t shake it. Buy it today on Blu Ray!