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30 August 2009 @ 02:21 pm
Inglourious Basterds  


At the end of Inglourious Basterds, "Apache" Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, refers to an act of violence that he commits as his "masterpiece". This is of course Quentin Tarantino winking at the audience through the screen, half-jokingly telling us that he regards the film with high esteem, even in the light of his other much-lauded cinematic successes. As the film galloped to its conclusion, I have to admit I was already beginning to apply the same word, masterpiece, to the film that Apache applied to his skill with a knife.

The film is far and away the best film I've seen so far this year, and in the Tarantino canon, I have to put it at least on par with Pulp Fiction as his best, and repeated viewing may shove it ahead. I think it is cinema as literature, and should be discussed in college classrooms and salons for years to come.

The film, more so than any other work by Tarantino, is directly metatextual. While Tarantino has in the past positioned himself as a postmodern director by referencing, quoting, and sometimes directly lifting from other films, this is the movie where I feel he's commented on the actual medium and experience of watching movies the most. When a theater burns in the movie, I'm immediately reminded that I'm in theater while I'm watching the movie. When the audience is gunned down while the image of the theater owner come film star taunts them from the screen, I can't help but think some kind of comment is being made on the act of film-making and movie-going. In my eyes, I suspect that Tarantino means to posit that both are acts of apotheosis.

Which is not to say that this film isn't about Nazis and how evil they were. The film sets the goal for its heroes as killing the people who kill the Jewish people in its first scene by having the main antagonist ruthlessly murder a Jewish family. The next scene focuses on the recruitment of a squadron of Jewish American soldiers who swear to kill as many Nazis as possible. The lines between good and evil are very quickly drawn, and rarely blurred. While Apache and his men commit horrible acts of violence, their bloodthirst is forgiven by the fact that the people they butcher have it coming. The act of identifying one's self as a Nazi is an unforgivable act and is accordingly punishable by Apache giving the Nazis he chooses to spare the equivalent of the mark of Cain.

There are moments however, when the audience is meant to sympathize with the villains. There is one character who while being a Nazi, is also young, handsome, conflicted, and in love. He shows guilt and remorse, and at the climax of his character arc, he is intensely pathetic. However instead of letting the audience persist in feeling bad for the boy, Tarantino quickly has the character perform a deeply unsympathetic act, drilling into the audience's head that Nazis are villains and are not to be trusted, liked, nor forgiven. Evil and good rub up against each other in this film but they never intersect.

Besides all that, the film was a masterpiece for not only Tarantino, but actors Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and art director Sebastian T. Krawinkel. I can't gush about this film anymore, but to say that I'm sure this is a film that I'll be revisiting again and again in my life.
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