Inglorious Basterds

An “alternate history” story of a group of commando Jewish-Americans led by Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, who set out to kill as many Nazis as possible behind enemy lines in occupied France, and end up stumbling upon an opportunity to take out the major leadership of Germany, including Hitler, Goering, Goebels and Bormann. While this film has its share of exaggerated Tarantino violence, it’s rather restrained compared to his previous films, focusing more on long dialogue tension build-ups intended to mimic the spaghetti westerns he is trying to imitate, along with the melodramatic spaghetti western soundtrack film techniques. He remains a pastiche postmodern as well with his corny side-comment flashbacks and comic book title cards.

Brad Pitt’s cutesy uneducated hick accent turns every expression of violence he says into a joke, which adds to the dehumanizing aspect of the film. Interestingly, the film does not merely capture the dehumanization of the Jews by Nazis, but it apparently accuses all sides of such dehumanizing. The strongest sequence suggesting this is a very long sequence of an SS Officer describing how Jews are seen by the Germans as rats (but allegedly without malice), immediately followed by Pitt lecturing his squad about how much fun they are going to have killing and scalping “Gnatzis” because they are not human anyway. His cute hick accent turning his joy of violence into entertainment. Pitt’s lecture dehumanizing Nazis is no less dehumanizing than the Nazis, thus hinting at a suggestion by Tarantino that all races, even Jews, can be driven by racist hatred and violence. Perhaps to Tarantino, the grotesque violence against the Nazis by the Jewish commandos is justified because of how evil they are, climaxing in a shot of Hitler’s body and face being blown away by Eli Roth’s machine gun in a Bonnie and Clyde ending.

Hitler himself is depicted as a stereotypical raving madman rather than a deliberate calculating man of evil, thus trivializing evil and reducing it to insanity, which no doubt will be felt as an insult by those who know all too well the banality of evil. But the alternate history of actually assassinating Hitler seems to be a catharsis for all the 17 historical attempts we know of that ended in failures. Rather than playing to history and creating a tragic heroic failure, as in true stories like Valkyre, Tarantino surprises us and opts to satisfy our movie fantasy for once, just once, to dream the “what if” of one of those attempts actually succeeding. No doubt, it will be considered catharsis by moviegoers without concern for historical truth, but as the trivialization of evil by actual victims of history.

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