Is "Inglorious Basterds" entertaining?
Is "Inglorious Bastreds" indulgent?
Is "Inglorious Basterds" brilliant?
In spots, yes.
Is "Inglorious Basterds" exploitive and offensive?
Oh, hell yes.
Talk about a mixed bag. It’s the last part that has everyone in an uproar. Some Tarantino defenders say that it’s just oversensitive political correctness talking. They say the film is a Jewish revenge fantasy, and how can a revenge fantasy be wrong?
Yes, it can be wrong.
There’s a limit to fantasy. There’s a line it shouldn’t cross. It’s one thing to remake "Death Wish," it’s another to tell the Matthew Sheppard story or the Helter Skelter murders and have the victims rise up and kick ass. "Basterds" isn’t that bad, but it’s damn close.
The reason I feel this strongly goes back to my college days. For some reason I decided to fill out my credits with a course about the Holocaust. Boy was I in for a rough time. Turns out I really wasn’t prepared for really talking about the Holocaust.
It was rough. It exploded a lot of the myths I and a lot of others held about those events. I won’t rehash the syllabus here. Suffice it to say that the Nazis didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. The roots of their disgusting creed extend all the way back the beginnings of western civilization and religion.
If you really examine the long history of anti-Semitism it’s hard to feel entirely guiltless where the Holocaust is concerned. I think I was the only gentile who stuck with the class to the end. I can only imagine what my old professor thinks of "Basterds."
Probably nothing good.
While there have been WWII movies before, many of them light action fantasies, "Inglorious Basterds" takes it to the extremes. It’s openly exploitive of the Nazi atrocities in a way not seen since "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS" (which I’m sure factored into Tarantino’s thinking). While that gives the movie some pop culture cred, it still doesn’t make it any less insensitive.
Two reasons make "Basterds" stand out on the offensiveness meter. One is the underlying fault of all revenge fantasies; they all imply that it is the victim’s fault. Showing Jewish soldiers slaughter Germans and assassinate Hitler suggests, whether Tarantino meant to or not, that the whole Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews of Europe had just armed themselves and fought back.
This is one of the big myths we covered in class. The fact is there were several spectacular examples of resistance throughout the Reich, but none of them made a dent in the war effort or the death camps. The German war machine had conquered nearly all of Europe. The Final Solution was an industry of death. It took the U.S., Britain and Russia several years and millions of casualties to bring it all down.
The second way "Basterds" is harmful is that it perpetuates the “Head of the Snake” myth that persists to this day — the idea that you just have to take out one man or group of men to end a war. Except that has never happened in modern warfare. It didn’t happen in Iraq.
In 1944, there were millions of men at war with the Allies. They still had thousands of tanks, planes, artillery pieces, machine guns. They still had plenty of fight left to mount the Battle of the Bulge a few months later. If all it took for them to stop fighting was for Hitler and his cronies to be killed, they probably never would have gone to war in the first place.
Seem from another perspective, the U.S. didn’t pull put of Europe after FDR died — though Hitler fully expected it to.
It’s hard to do alternative history right if you don’t respect real history, and this is what I feel happened here.
In the end Tarantino just wanted to shoot Hitler to death and blow him up in a movie theater. While there’s a certain adolescent joy in seeing that happen, there’s also an icky feeling left over.
A feeling that somebody used one of the darkest hours of human history as grist for his own personal enjoyment.