August 23, 2009

Inglourious Basterds And WW II Responsibility

"Inglorious Basterds" is a wild night at the pictures, it's full of great action, hair splitting suspense, and some top notch acting, especially from Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa. Tarantino, who I am not completely sold on as a "master" director has crafted a great film, one that many people will adore. Yet at the end of the day, I feel uncomfortable with it, in fact, I view it as irresponsible.

Not too long ago, I spent a large chunk of my Saturday playing Call of Duty: World At War. I was mowing down wave after wave of German and Japanese soldiers in virtual re-enactments of WW II battles. While it was fun, I couldn't help but think that these battles were real situations that occurred in the past. My grandparent's generation trials and turmoils had now become my point and shoot adventure. "Inglorious Basterds" provides that same type of war is a video game feel. 

Characters are given wild names: "Aldo The Apache" for the dashing hero, The Bear Jew for the torturer, and of course "The Jew Hunter" for the evil villain. At some points in the film, some characters are given brief colorful biographies (similar to this video game) that are suited to a video game . The violence in the film while gritty and bloody, carries no consequence, just the same way a video game can. This idea of violence without consequence unsettles me because the film features real characters who are responsible for some of history's most heinous acts.

Now, I understand that it may be strange to hear TPG, the lover of action cinema to take issue with violence in a movie (I can't wait for blood fest of Final Destination), yet one must be sensitive about WW II when presenting it to audiences. In the film Hitler and Goebells, too very real genocidal maniacs are portrayed as as almost clown like, and I'm sure many people in the world don't see them as that. I worry that to the young kids growing up killing Germans on fictional battlefields that a movie like "Inglorious Basterds" will weaken their understanding of the horrors of the Third Reich.

And while I have zero sympathy for the Nazis, I can't help but think about the message the film sends about war in general. War is a dirty nasty thing waged but ordinary folks who transform into killers. This transformation is never addressed in the film. How do ordinary American men become bloodthirsty warriors and do they never feel any emotion besides blood lust, even when they're own comrades die? The film makes a huge deal about how the Basterds feel about nazi's potentially returning to society after the war. But what about the Basterds. Are we lead to assume that the scalping bloodthirsty warriors will just waltz back to picket fences and nine to five jobs with no psychological damage?

Cinema features promptly in the film, the climax of the film involves a premiere and the potential destructive power of actual film stock. So it is disappointing that Tarantino, didn't understand the importance that a filmmaker has when telling a WWII story. In my eyes, he won't be considered one of the great directors of our time until he figure out how to tell one, until then he'll just be, dare, I say, inglorious?


  1. I love a good war movie, especially a WII-era war film but I have to say if an enemy were to carry out this kind of mission on the United States, the American people would be horrified and outraged.

    Unnecessary violence doesn't weaken the morale of an Army or population. Historically, it strengthens their resolve to repel an invader. Ike would never have let this kind of mission happen for that reason. The Armed Forces of the United States are supposed to be above that kind of thing. Or so I was told my entire career as an enlisted troop.

  2. Wasn't the point of the story to be irresponsible? Obviously its a subject matter that demands a responsible approach... but don't characters like The Bear Jew immediately reinforce Tarantino's treatment of any subject matter: over the top, comedic, excessive.

    Responsible isn't a word I'd ever associate with Quentin Tarantino, I think he's made a pretty strong effort over his career to enforce that distinction