A Wish Fulfilled By Tarantino
Inglourious Basterds will always be a film that brought me closer to humanity. As I watch the characters on screen interact, each with a knowledge the other doesn’t know, I am wholly transported. I am there, afraid to make a sound. It is frighteningly dangerous and deliciously enchanting to be involved with this skewed moment in history. The opening scene not only sets the tone for the next 153 minutes, but the small details of that farm and two families in great circumstance will spur the actions of every character. This film is beautifully tense.
Inglourious Basterds was added to Tarantino’s list of exquisitely twisted tales in 2009. It is set in Nazi-occupied France and follows a few vastly different groups of people. First, a group of Jewish ‘out for scalps’ U.S. soldiers are on a mission to end the war by killing Hitler, and as many top officials in the regime as possible. Then, we follow Shoshanna, a young woman who outlives her entire family in a devastating bloodbath (hello, opening scene) and then takes on an alias as a movie theater owner. Finally, we have Col. Hans Landa — the Jew Hunter, exploding Christoph Waltz’s career and making him a coveted player in Tarantino’s later films.
Historically, the Jewish narrative has been one of oppression and victimhood, which was sealed into the post-Holocaust American Jewish psyche. Quentin Tarantino plays into the cultural “wish fulfillment” and fantasy of a people fighting back and winning instead of being slaughtered by the millions in this superbly important film. All other movies that focus on this subject matter include stories of survival, stories of overcoming, stories of making it out, but never stories that do all of that and more. They have never had revenge, until now. That is what this film did — it rewrote history. Even though it’s not true, the emotions and lives he builds feel real, and spur people today to continue chanting ‘never again’.
When I first saw the trailer, I thought “Uh, that looks dumb.” And maybe that’s because I was an 8th grader who thought 13 Going On 30 was the end-all be-all. I don’t exactly remember when I finally saw the film, but I do feel as if each time I watch it (which is about countless at this point), another ounce of me is thoroughly moved. I remember my brother and father went to see it in theaters, and when they came home, they kept on repeating, “Oh, you know it’s gonna be good from that opening scene — and that’s all we’re saying.” One of the reasons I may consider this movie to be my favorite, could be because of its introduction to my gauge on if a movie is good. I ask myself, is the opening scene IT? If not, then nope. I need to be captured. And I know I can be, because movies like this exist.
Tarantino places no great importance on the sudden deletion of characters. One second they’re in, the next they’re out. Those who you think will survive, often don’t. Those you think will not survive — well those are just up in the air if Tarantino has anything to do with it. I don’t truly consider myself to be a Tarantino fan. I hated the Kill Bill movies. I thought Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were great films, but they don’t do it for me like Inglourious Basterds. I didn’t go gaga over Django Unchained. Perhaps having a connection to the Jewish culture really did put me in a place to feel like he rewrote history in the most incredible way. He ended the war before millions of lives were stolen. And though it’s not true, movies are there for us to have an escape. I cannot think of a period of time I’d rather rewrite.
What is so successful about this movie is how it manages to stay so under the table (and I’m not just talking about that gun pointed towards the family jewels bar scene) and then explodes to a level we couldn’t see coming. Both extremes are not true of real life — or sadly, that time in history. The systemic killing by the Nazi regime was horribly mundane and bland. Pieces clicked together, and it just happened. In the same vein, the little decisions characters choose to follow in this film make for fiery and severe plot turns. Tarantino was able to create the greatest suspension through his characters and their relationships with each other. To the Jew Hunter, finding people to kill was a game, but it was real life for Shoshanna, whose family he obliterated.
A scene that I often deem my favorite is when Shoshanna, under her new guise, is at a restaurant with a group of people who may want to use her theater for a very important Nazi movie premiere. She wants them to pick her theater so that she can burn it down with all of the party leaders inside. Towards the end of the meal, Christoph Waltz sits down next to her. She attempts to order a drink, which he promptly changes to be a glass of milk. She knows who he is. But, does he know who she is? They wait. The glass is set down. He orders a dessert. They wait. When it arrives without the cream, he doesn’t let her take a bite. Again, they wait. Is it simply coincidence that he makes her squirm due to the fact that he massacred her family on a dairy farm? Does he know? If so, why does he allow the Nazi party to move into her theater, where he knows she must have something planned to avenge her family? I believe he does know, and it was the one wrong step he took to up the stakes of his beloved game.
Inglourious Basterds doesn’t only take me to a different time period, with glistening realistic characters and fantastic, threatening, fascinating conversation — it instills the idea in me that words and actions can change a whole world. They can change entire lives. And even though this film was just a tiny pulled loose thread of a way life could have gone, it re-affirms, for me, that a deep breath can change the direction of the wind. It taught me that small decisions by a handful of individuals can change generations of lives to come.