I have been discussing the film Inglourious Basterds on Facebook again following a post from Claude Laliumere and then I was referred to a review by Daniel Mendelsohn in Newsweek. Mendelsohn pans the film because he believes it tells the following message:
Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into “sickening” perpetrators? I’m not so sure. An alternative, and morally superior, form of “revenge” for Jews would be to do precisely what Jews have been doing since World War II ended: that is, to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them, precisely in order to help prevent the recurrence of such mass horrors in the future. Never again, the refrain goes. The emotions that Tarantino’s new film evokes are precisely what lurk beneath the possibility that “again” will happen.
There are two things wrong with that statement. The first, I think, is so obvious I’m embarrassed for Mr. Mendelsohn. Does he really expect the victims in a Tarantino film not to fight back? And do what instead, “preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them?” I.e. create a museum? This is a war film. And this is a Tarantino film. One should expect there will be no quietly brooding intellectual discussion on the horrors perpetrated by an entire generation of people. No, there will be blood.*
The second thing that’s wrong with his statement is that it denies the core of the film itself. Repeatedly the characters state the theme: “now the shoe is on the other foot.” Often, I loathe when authors state their own theme, but here it comes together magnificently. The Jews become the killers, the Nazis the victims. Those who saw the film, did you note how people laughed and cheered when the Nazis were killed, but how silent and spooky and downright repulsed you felt when the Nazis were cheering the deaths of the Americans on their film? Tarantino was trying to wake you up, to tell you that you’re not so different from those Nazi fucks, that you should get off your high horse and stop pretending there was something evil or intrinsically wrong with that generation of people and understand that we all have the capacity to do evil within us. Tarantino turned the tables precisely to make us uncomfortable with our own enjoyment of violence, which he is capitalizing on. He is saying: “Look, you’re no different from them, when you strip away the pretense.” If you want a deep exploration of this particular subject, I suggest you read The Moment of Freedom by Jens Bjørneboe, one of the best novels I have ever read.
* I in no way mean to demean or deride the creation of such memorials as the Holocaust Museum, which serve a valuable and important purpose of reminding humanity what horrors we are capable of. But this is a film, and no one wants to watch a film about Jews getting murdered and the survivors creating a museum. Or maybe they do — but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film.