2012 Film Challenge #23 - Inglorious Basterds
Even before watching this I knew I'd be in trouble when it came to the writing about it. It's a film by Quentin Tarantino, so the chances are it'd be pretentious but highly entertaining with incredible depth. But at the same time, even vague knowledge of its synopsis was enough to tell me that it deals in exactly the sort of themes which made The Dirty Dozen appear so repellent to me.
Was I going to have to come across as a hypocrite?
Yes and no. Sort of.
Both this film and The Dirty Dozen deal with raggle-taggle bands of soldiers whose mission doesn't seem to extend beyond “kill as many as you can in order to reduce morale and spread terror”.
I found that quite hard to stomach in The Dirty Dozen, yet I haven't stopped thinking about Inglorious Basterds since I stopped watching. This I'm attributing to a few subtle yet important differences.
First of all, I believe at no point did The Dirty Dozen differentiate between Germans and Nazis. Inglorious Basterds, though, did. The Basterds themselves didn't, but the film did. It contained the notable line: “I'm more than just this uniform, you know”; and shown no small number of German soldiers as being human (as opposed to “the bad guys”).
I said in my reaction to The Dirty Dozen that the best war films are those which portray all soldiers, regardless of allegiance, as individuals caught up in something bigger than themselves which, ultimately, has nothing to do with them.
I got that from Inglorious Basterds. The Allied Army differentiated between Nazis and Germans. To them, only members of the National Socialist Party, the Gestapo and the SS were “Nazis”. All else were just “Germans” - ordinary people who, don't forget, along with their families would have been subjected to no end of terror had they not partaken in the war effort.
This film takes that into account, and is much stronger as a result. More human.
We have German soldiers crying for their lives and begging for parlance as they've just become fathers. Even the omnipresent evil “Jew Hunter” was ultimately more interested in self-preservation than his ethnic cleansing – eventually finding his nickname repellent and instead choosing the winning side.
Secondly, whilst The Dirty Dozen are, without question, supposed to be the heroes – the “good guys”- despite the fact that they're on the winning side and are fronted by Brad Pitt, I don't believe that the Inglorious Basterds were supposed to be, well, good. They breach the Geneva Convention and use the sort of terror, torture and intimidation tactics against which they were supposed to be fighting.
Do you know what these shades of grey do? They “ask questions” and “invite discussion”. They're therefore the hallmark of an excellent story; the difference between a “work of art” and a “ripping yarn”.
Finally, in (SPOILER) having Hitler and the entire Nazi cabinet gunned down in a hellish inferno, this film takes an immense plunge into the realms of alternative-reality science-fiction. It is, explicitly and unashamedly, “fiction” – whereas The Dirty Dozen makes no such attempt to distance itself from reality.
It is, therefore, acceptable for me to have enjoyed Inglorious Basterds but not The Dirty Dozen. At least, I've justified it for myself.
I'm massively relieved, though, that Eli Roth's “Bear Jew” didn't have more screen time. His measured “look how COOL I am” tapping of a baseball bat along the walls of a tunnel, followed by a savage “look how UNHINGED I am” beating of an unarmed prisoner of war – complete with “deranged” baseball commentary – was tedious, odious and excruciating enough to make the skin-crawl. Had he featured any more, it might have had a devastating impact upon the film's watchability.
And Mr. Tarantino being Mr. Tarantino, a lot of cinematic geekiness/reverence lies below the surface. This is set in a world where films matter. More to the point, it's seemingly supposed to be set in his world: The Tarantino Universe – with several characters apparently intended to be the ancestors of those who would appear in his other films.
If that's true, then Mr. Tarantino's sort of shot himself in the foot. It means that every film he's ever made up to this point must now be re-assessed in the context of having taken place in a world in which WW2 ended a year early.
This means that there'd be no Holocaust, no Hiroshima and, perhaps, no Cold War.
You could speculate for years, but inarguably the world would be an unrecognisable place had the events of 1944-45 panned out at all differently.
This means that Mr. Tarantino has either given himself a green-light for any and all discrepancies that appear in his films to be attributed to “the war” (so that's why Beatrice is allowed to take her sword as hand luggage on the plane in the first Kill Bill!); or he's exposed himself as somebody who doesn't really think through the minutiae of his imagined worlds.
Or, perhaps it simply means that all of these are “just films”, and not really to be thought about in such depth.
Yeah, probably that one.