One Man’s Terrorist: Quentin Tarantino and the Nazis

Yesterday, a copy of the screenplay of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, arrived in my mailbox, from I read it today. I haven’t seen the movie yet (it opens in the US next Friday—and I will certainly be watching an early showing, popcorn on my lap), but I am ten times more interested in seeing what Tarantino does in filming his script than I was two days ago.

This has got to be one hell of a movie. Good? Bad? I don’t know, of course—and it could be either. For sure, it has to be interesting. Though I’m not sure I would want to call it “original” or “new,” there certainly isn’t anything quite like it that I’ve ever seen. Not, that is, if the screenplay is any reflection of the movie.

As of now, I don’t know if the film plays for laughs, for its farcical elements, or if the satire will come across more deeply and more black. The trailers do lead me to believe that the movie is angled towards comedy by its promoters. But, funny or not, this has got to be one serious movie.

Towards the end of the movie, Colonel Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz), a German SS officer known as “the Jew Hunter,” says to American Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), “At this moment, both Hirschberg and Donowitz should be sitting in the very seats we left them in…. Explosives, still around their ankles, still ready to explode. And your mission, some would call it a terrorist plot, as of this moment is still a go” (emphasis mine). If there’s an easily expressed point to this movie, it might be that old cliché, ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s patriot.’

What sort of picture is this? It’s an action picture taking the conventions of contemporary action drama to extremes. Take ‘revenge,’ for example… well, take revenge. Nazis, for the past sixty years, have been the easiest bad guys to portray for we have made them the easiest to hate. Just look: even now the quickest way to vilify an enemy is to paint them in Nazi colors. Do a search on “Obama’s Brownshirts” and you’ll get close to 20,000 hits. Give people reason to want revenge against the Nazis (Jews, for example) and you’ve got the easiest revenge/action movie situation possible.

But what do you do with it? And why?

I can’t answer these questions from the screenplay alone, but I am expecting a movie that is going to annoy as many people as it thrills—and probably for all the wrong reasons, in both instances.

This may also be the most political movie Tarantino has made. The parallels between the explosive ending and 9/11 are hard to miss. But what is the point? Again, I can guess, but don’t want to commit until I see what I have now read.

By way of full disclosure, I should admit that I’ve long been a Tarantino fan, even to the extent of writing a book, Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes, that will be published later this year by Praeger. Even so, I have not been as startled by a screenplay—ever—as I have been by this one. I look forward to the movie with a combination of dread and excitement.

I am extremely interested to see how I will feel as I walk away from the theater—assuming, of course, that it doesn’t blow up.

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