“Inglourious Basterds reeks of arrogance and sadism and indifference to the value of human life.
It’s a movie in which brutal death happens every which way, and by this I mean stupidly, callously, carelessly, plentifully. I began to hate it early on for the way it takes almost every character down (including ones Tarantino appears to favor) with utter indifference. Kill this one, kill that one…this is too much fun! Especially since we’re doing it to the Germans, who did what they did to the Jews. Shoot ’em, beat ’em, burn ’em, strangle ’em, roast ’em….yeah!
I hated it, in short, because it doesn’t give those German pigs a fair shake. I hated it because it has the same attitude about those damn Nazis that the damn Nazis and the other anti-Semites had about the Jews in the lead-up to the attempted implementation of the Final Solution.”
“Maybe it was because I’ve been watching nothing but festival movies for the past week and a half, but it’s so relentlessly blunt, so absurdly violent in a ’70s exploitation vein, so visceral and depraved and elbow-deep in jungle blood & guts that I loved it.
Every time a head got sliced or blown off, I laughed or let go with a big “yawww!” So did the mostly-male audience which applauded at the end. Everyone had a great time. I felt relaxed with these guys…bonded.”
Two friends arguing about the morality behind the latest film from Quentin Tarantino? No, it’s schizo-blogger Jeffrey Wells arguing with himself about when wanton violence is good and when it’s bad.
The first quote is Mr. Wells faking moral umbrage over Inglourious Basterds and the second is from his January ’08 love letter to Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, which Wells mightily enjoyed along with all the popcorn munching gorillas he normally seems to detest so much.
So, what changed in the 20 months between the two posts?
Wells elaborates a bit further on Basterds when he talks about the countenance of one of the Basterds’ German victims:
“…what speaks louder is (a) Sammel’s expression, which is clearly that of a man of intelligence and perception, (b) his eyes in particular, which have a settled quality that indicates a certain regular-Joe decency, and (c) his refusal to give Pitt information about nearby German troops that would lead to their deaths if he spilled.
Isn’t this is what men of honor and bravery do in wartime — i.e., refuse to help the enemy kill their fellow soldiers, even if it means their own death?”
By contrast he describes Brad Pitt’s character as one “who does everything but twirl his moustache as he contemplates the delicious prospect of seeing blood and brain matter emerge from Rachtman’s head.”
Wells then responds to the ensuing violence: “This is one of the most disgusting violent scenes I’ve ever sat through in my entire life. Morally disgusting, I mean.”
This is the same guy who went “Yawwww!” at Sylvester Stallone cutting Burmese in half with a .50 caliber machinegun.
What’s funny is it never occurs to him that maybe Tarantino is aiming for a little moral ambiguity in his picture – the very kind that was utterly lacking in Rambo, which went out of its way to make you feel good watching the good guy killing the bad guys in the most violent ways possible. Tarantino essentially says the same thing in an interview to BFI.org:
“Now, where I bring in, to me, some resonance to the piece is… Look, I’m not changing what the Basterds are doing at all. But there’s my portrayal of the German sergeant. He’s not a cringing coward. He’s very brave. He’s actually heroic if you consider his point of view on the subject. So I’m not making it easy for you. And I never make it easy in this movie. You can enjoy what the Basterds are doing, and I set it up for you to enjoy it. But I don’t make it that easy.”
And here’s Wells’ response to the Tarantino quote:
“Don’t believe that ‘not making it easy’ stuff. The movie makes it clear that Tarantino is down with the Basterds and their indiscriminate killings. He’s not trying to make it hard for anyone. It’s served up like fast food. He’s saying ‘this is cool, this is rad…can you dig it, chickie-poo?’ “
Let’s assume for a minute that Tarantino is baldly lying about his motives. Wells’ argument is still full of more shit than an outhouse in Slumdog Millionaire. Even fans of Rambo would agree that the killings in the movie are “served up like fast food,” but in Wellsworld, Stallone gets a “Yawwww” while Tarantino is “morally disgusting.”
There’s another more likely reason for Wells’ reaction: he wants Tarantino to get over the grindhouse wankery and get back to making Pulp Fictions and Jackie Browns. In the original Basterds piece, he writes about the first time he saw the film:
“I began hating Inglourious Basterds for the boredom (which is to say the repetition and the banality of making a movie about a cruddy ’70s exploitation movie and self-consciously smirking about this movie-ness from start to finish) and the acting (which is mostly wink-wink “bad” in a kind of ’70s grindhouse way)…”
He goes on to say:
“Tarantino has stuck his finger up his ass and given it a good sniff and smelled lilacs and gardenias so many times that he’s lost his mind…Inglourious Basterds is proof that QT has gone batshit crazy in the sense that he cares about nothing except his own backyard toys. He’s gone creatively nuts in the same way that James Joyce, in the view of some, crawled too far into his own anus and headspace when he wrote Finnegans Wake. (With no apostrophe between “n” and “s.”) All I know is that this is a truly empty and diseased film about absolutely nothing except the tip of that digit.”
What’s really bugging him here is the sense, shared by many, that Tarantino hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed in his films up through Jackie Brown and that Kill Bill and Death Proof were just film-geek wank-offs. Film lovers are beginning to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, Tarantino isn’t the guy they thought he was when they crowned him the Godard of his generation at Sundance.
They might have a point. Stripped of the phony moral outrage, this is a perfectly reasonable argument and Wells should’ve stuck to it. Instead, he rides off on his moral high horse and he contradicts himself. You see, getting in touch with his (constantly repressed) inner gorilla through Rambo brought him a weird kind of post-coital bliss. As I picture Wells engaging in a damp group hug with his movie pals before they all retire to the local strip club, it’s tempting to argue that he had an easy time getting into violence directed at hordes of faceless Burmese yet found he couldn’t get his rocks off when it was directed at intelligent, decent, regular-Joe white people. I won’t go that far, but Wells would’ve enjoyed Inglourious Basterds much more if Tarantino hadn’t forced him to look into the eyes of his victims.
On top of his disappointment in later-career Tarantino, it turns out Wells really just prefers his mass killings to go off guilt free. There’s nothing wrong with that really, but spare us the bogus indignation please.