There are two significant aspects of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds, that deserve mentioning. First, the film is a more true to life war movie than any war film ever produced, because it lacks a central hero or martyr and it devours the traditional war epic about the solitary hero (Sergeant York, Audie Murphy, etc.). There isn’t any doubt that Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is the star of the film, but his character isn’t the motivating force in the film. The only so-called war hero is German Private Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), who cites Sergeant York, the decorated WWI American soldier, as a template for his exploits and fame. However, this war hero is on the wrong side of the lines so to speak. In fact, Taratino is artful to capture the traditional war film within his film through the Zoller inspired and starring Nazi/Goebbels production “A Nation’s Pride.” This film is a gory mashup of Sergeant York with Enemy at the Gates, and we get to see scenes from it during the final chapter of Inglourious Basterds. Zoller admits that what is depicted in his war film is only what men do in war, and that seems to be the message of the encapsulating film as well. However, Inglourious Basterds doesn’t glorify war in the way shown in “A Nation’s Pride” or other traditional war films. Instead, it glorifies past film genres while simultaneously baring the general ingloriousness of war and the way that it is portrayed on film.
And second, Taratino continues to play with the audience’s acculurated and learned expectations of filmmaking based on character placement, setting, and soundtrack. For example, the opening cottage scene evokes a showdown between Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) and Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz). The music is straight out of a spaghetti western show down. LaPadite washes prior to the arrival of his adversary, and he is depicted as physically strong by swinging the axe into the tree stump. There is a simple ripote between LaPadite and Landa, but Landa is leading the dance with a supple hand. Additionally, there are cues to an impending fight or deception on the part of LaPadite, such as having one of his daughters close the window and the intense looks from father to daughter–a signal perhaps? No, LaPadite is a scared person in Nazi-occupied France who fears for his life and the lives of his daughters. By the time that Landa arrives, Landa really doesn’t have to do any more work to discover the location of the Jews hiding in LaPadite’s crawl space. He may appear strong and ready to fight, and Tarantino’s cues imply that there will be resistance. However, Tarantino is an iconoclast and a film maker provocateur–he breaks with traditions by revealing them to the audience in a way that aids his storytelling while deconstructing the very techniques and mise en scene that audiences have bought into by learning those particular filmmaking traditions in countless prior films. This is not to say that Tarantino deconstructs in order to destroy; the exact opposite is true. He acknowledges prior work through his rich intertextuality on the screen, and he knowingly winks to the audience that without what came before he would be unable to leave his glorious mark on world cinema.
I whole heartedly recommend that you see Inglourious Basterds. After you’ve seen it, stop by and let me know what you think.