Inglorious Basterds, by Albert W. Vogt III

Here is a list of Quentin Tarantino movies I like: Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill (both volumes, 2003 and 2004 respectively), and Django Unchained (2012). Here is a list of Quentin Tarantino movies I do not like: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Hateful Eight (2015), and Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood (2019). As you can see from these lists, there are some classic Tarantino titles that I do not enjoy. Does that make me a terrible cinephile? Maybe? I am not sure what to make of Tarantino, and why he is so hit or miss for me. There are times when, in my view, he is able to reign in his excesses enough to make a film that moves along quite well, and those are found in my “like” list. At other times, he over-indulges in aspects of the filmmaking process, be it violence or dialog or spending way too much time in establishing a scene, and those are in my “do not like” list. One film of his that is perhaps my favorite of his is Inglorious Basterds (2009), though it is kind of all over the map of film traits above mentioned.

In many Tarantino films, revenge is a motivating factor for many of the characters, and Inglorious Basterds is no different. Interestingly, the setting for this vengeance piece is France during World War II. With Germany’s Nazi regime responsible for the deaths of over six million Jews, and the man responsible, Hitler, escaping justice by committing suicide, history does not seem to give us the kind of retribution many might seek for these horrible crimes. And how does the film reminds us of how terrible was the Nazi regime and its Jew hunting henchmen, the Gestapo? By first introducing its main villain, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). He arrives at Perrier LaPadite’s (Denis Ménochet) dairy farm and discovers that he is hiding the Jewish Dreyfus family in his home under the floorboards. Landa orders his men to shoot and kill the entire family through the floor, and the only one who manages to escape is one of the daughters, Shoshana (Mélanie Laurent). The film then shifts to a few years later, and we see Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) addressing a group of American soldiers all of Jewish heritage. In his charming Appalachian drawl, he is giving them their mission: to drop in occupied France and kill as many Nazis as they can get their hands on in advance of the planned D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Once there, they are joined by Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), a German soldier who deserted because he passionately hates the Gestapo and was murdering their officers. Once in France, they begin carrying out their work. We then see Shoshana, going by Emmanuelle Mimieux, who is now running a cinema in Paris. The Germans take note of her theater, and commandeer it to premier a film about the infamous soldier Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl). Zoller has taken a liking to Shoshana, and thus is instrumental in convincing Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to debut this all important movie in Shoshana’s cinema. It is important not just because of its perceived propaganda value, but because Hitler and the entire German high command plan to attend. Raine’s men catch wind of this from a spy in the German film industry, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger). Von Hammersmark agrees to get a group of Raine’s men into the movie, but they are met there by Landa who sees through their phoney Italian accents and captures Raine. He allows two of Raine’s men in, however. While Landa takes Raine and another of his soldiers into custody, the two left behind manage to sneak into Hitler’s private balcony and begin filling the box and everyone in it with bullets. Of course, this all goes on while Shoshana had locked everyone inside and had her boyfriend, Marcel (Jacky Ido), burn the place down. She unfortunately had been killed by Zoller for refusing his affections but not before she killed him in turn. Having let this all go down, Landa takes credit for the destruction of Germany’s leaders and helping to end the war, a message he conveys to the Allies who agree to let him defect to the United States. However, Raine cannot let such a monster go into a quiet retirement on Nantucket, as was the settlement, without leaving the Nazi with a reminder of who he was and what he did. Thus the film ends with Raine carving a swastika into Landa’s forehead with his famous Bowie knife.

Inglorious Basterds is quite the ride. Of course, none of this actually happened, historically speaking. Still, it satisfies a certain urge among those who care about such things for justice, even if it is of the cinematic variety. I have to confess to feeling a certain satisfaction in seeing Hitler’s face decimated by machine gun fire when I saw it the first time. It goes against my Christian principles, though. I do not think there is any arguing how terrible of a person was Hitler. Thus, if you believe in such things, you can sleep easy at night knowing that there is ultimately punishment for such people. In the meantime, the Church teaches that redemption is possible for everyone, so long as they are among the living. Hitler took his life before he could be brought before an Allied tribunal in order to answer for the Holocaust and any number of other evil things he did. Hence we will never know if in his final, addled last moments he had any regrets for what he had done. Maybe it was as simple as deciding to invade Russia? Given his writings and acts even before he came to power, it is doubtful that he any contrition for what he did to the Jews of Europe, and for that may God have mercy on his soul. No one else will, particularly not Tarantino.

With movies like Inglorious Basterds, we can imagine what it would be like for somebody like Hitler to get what I am sure many feel like would be his just desserts. So if that is something you have been pining to see, then this is the film for you. It is certainly not a family friendly movie as there is much bloody violence and cursing. There are some difficult moments to watch in it. After all, it is a Tarantino film. Just understand that the idea of vengeance is truly beyond our human understanding, and it is better to love than to seek such bloody satisfaction. This has been the stance of the Catholic Church for centuries, and one of the reasons why we are against the death penalty. Nonetheless, movies are the realm of the imagination, and best safely left there.

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