Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards": initial impressions

I have yet to see the film "Inglorious Bastards", misspelled by Tarantino as "Inglourious Basterds", so take these notes with due scepticism. The impression that I've formed from what I've read about the plot and the film reviews that I've read is that this is intended to be a post-world war II Nazi propaganda film.

The first clue is title. A native speaker of American or British English (or French, for that matter) with any kind of spelling competence would never spell inglorious with an extra u inserted after the first o. The only reason for this spelling would be that the author was only partially familiar with English spelling. This gives you a choice. You can believe that the misspelling is represents simple incompetence, or you can believe that the misspelling is indicative of how a non-native speaker of English -- a Nazi, perhaps -- might attempt to render the word into English. The misspelling of bastards as basterds to match the sound of the spoken word gives one a similar choice.

The first section of the film shows us an urbane, educated Nazi officer who is entrusted with tracking down Jewish fugatives. In this case, the "Jew Hunter" manages to kill all of the Jews he has been seeking except for one Jewish girl who, later in the film, manages to inflict a violent revenge against Hitler himself and some of his top henchmen. Objectively, we see a core Nazi propaganda message: the individual Jewish girl who escapes today might be the one who assassinates the F├╝hrer tomorrow (so make sure to wipe them all out).

Next we see the Basterds, a team of Jewish-American commandos who commit atrocities behind German lines. In the Nazi mind, this would make perfect sense. If all Jews are members of one big conspiracy, then of course American Jews would be especially enraged by the treatment of their European co-conspirators. And if the war was only started by the American Jews in order to kill, murder and enslave innocent Germans, then of course the Americans would be authorizing atrocities against German soldiers.

The balance of the film is concerned with the Basterds and the surviving Jewish woman from the beginning teaming up to launch a successful assassination attempt against Hitler and some of his top henchmen. This is what marks the film as post-war Nazi propaganda. Instead of showing Hitler ingloriously killing himself while trapped like a rat in his underground bunker, Tarantino shows Hitler falling prey to a successful "stab in the back" of the German nation.

Everything about this film from the Germanglish title to the evocation of the German "stab in the back" mythology screams Nazi propaganda. And yet, I'm pretty sure that Quentin Tarantino is not a Nazi sympathizer. I think the real meaning of this film is that it was intended as pure humiliation: a film that is objectively pro-Nazi, and therefore a blasphemy, that will nevertheless win Tarantino fame, money, and praise from loyal legions of sycophantic fans.

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