I’ve been making a lot of reviews lately, I know, but this film has made itself a special place in my heart. I also made a reference to it in one of my earlier entries–with regards to Marvel’s Nick Fury–and I guess compelled to actually say something about the film now that I actually watched the thing.
If I could sum up Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds into two words, it would be these:
If I could get a mug or zippo lighter in the spirit of Garth Ennis’ Preacher with those words, I would definitely consider it. I think what I really liked about Tarantino’s film is the fact that it plays on your expectations–usually well ingrained film or plot-expectations–and then says “Nope,” and does something else entirely. There is something really exaggerated and almost lampoonish about Inglourious Basterds: from the portrayal of its characters, to the garishness of its iconography and all the way to the messed up situations that occur within it.
But while there are moments of hilarity–yes hilarity in a movie about a group of Jewish-American soldiers sent to kill, torture, and destroy Nazi soldiers in 1944–it is not a comedy or a parody. It is quite serious. It is a film that shows what happens to the best laid plans: especially in a war or an enemy infiltration situation and how quickly some interesting characters can die. It illustrates how evil wins when good men have their families threatened. In addition, it also shows how the “good guys” can be immensely but necessarily cruel in war, and how even an evil, remorseless antagonist can be one of the most captivating characters in the entire film.
There is something very … comic book action hero-like about this film and how it is put together. Tarantino himself stated that he wanted to create a World War II movie over the backdrop and ambiance of a spaghetti Western. There is definitely a resonance of Kill Bill in some of the seemingly ad hoc situations that arise in this film: complete with contemporary music set around a period piece and lots of gore and dead Nazis.
But I definitely think about super-hero comics when I think about this film now in retrospect. Hitler seems to have something of a cape, the American soldiers have a very brash gung-ho Americanism thing going on, the Nazi antagonist is very Machiavellian and over the top, and there is a very clear revenge scenario going on here. It feeds into your sense of blood-lust and satisfaction in watching something “evil” die. At the same time though, Tarantino subverts this. For all the protagonists portray the Nazis in the film as evil, and often most of the people in here are relatively two-dimensional–there are still moments of humanity from the “bad guys” that almost make you feel sorry for them being scalped, or having swastikas carved into their heads, or, you know, killed.
As for those people who think that this, well, obviously not historically inaccurate, consider my reference to action hero comics. Was it accurate for Superman to beat the crap out of Hitler? Was it also accurate for Captain America to have a few swings at him? Probably not, but I’m sure there was definite satisfaction in reading that and these comics–the result of war propaganda and good art–translated into Tarantino’s film very nicely.
But all that is either surface or merely part of the film. There is another aspect as well: more of the details. The multi-lingual segments of the film carried me through and gave me some more of the ambiance of that time. It left it no less charged. And then there is a meta-thematic element: that of film itself.
It is no coincidence that the build-up and the climax of Inglourious Basterds takes place in a film theatre, is centred around the viewing of a propaganda film, is subverted by a “revenge film” and whose antagonists are ultimately destroyed by film–by a moving sequential account of history ignited by the flames of war–itself. Because while many of the events in this movie did not happen, and many of the characters didn’t even exist, I feel like that the enemy’s “death by film” symbolizes a much greater artistic achievement over fascism: that when you seek to destroy something with art, art can ultimately change and destroy you as well.
On the television, Inglourious Basterds didn’t get any stars–which is a shame–but that only suits its personality. It’s not here for the glory, and it is not ornate or nice, but definitely has a lot of very kick-ass–literal and otherwise–moments. I think that I will give this film a five out of five.