On Top of the World

Well behaved women rarely make history.

The Case for Inglourious Basterds

The Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday and sparked some discussion across my Twitter. It was suggested I might try to “sell” my favourite of the Best Picture nominees (because Star Trek was unfairly left off!), and one of the more polarizing, Inglourious Basterds, to those who have until now avoided it. I don’t necessarily want to convince people to see things my way, but here are my responses to various criticisms I’ve heard and my top selling points. (Note: It does include spoilers!)

1. It is not about the Basterds.
The Nazi-killing team led by Brad Pitt are not the focus or the force of this film. They are the fluff.

2. It is not about violence.
It is very violent, yes, absolutely (it’s a Tarantio film and it’s a war film) but the violence is not the focus either. It is part of the movie, like the costumes and the cinematography. Part of how the story is told and in that it becomes violence for the sake of art not violence for the sake of violence.

3. It is not about the Holocaust.
And it is certainly not about rewriting Holocaust history. Yes, it is a revisionist history (emphasis on story) of WWII. But it is not intending to make light of or denigrate the reality of the Holocaust. It is not out to teach history. It is a movie.

And, ultimately, the Jewish lead is the shining star of the film. And her struggle is the heart.

4. Star Trek is revisionist history, too.
I don’t mean that as flippantly as it sounds. Of course there is a (HUGE) difference between rewriting made up history and rewriting actual history. My point is that Inglourious Basterds is not pretending to be a true story. It is fantasy just as much as Star Trek or Captain America. James Barnes didn’t kill Hitler, either.

5. Quentin Tarantino is an arrogant bastard. So?
Now, I find arrogance attractive. And not just in theory. I know a lot of people who say “I love Tony Stark, but I wouldn’t want to date him.” Well, I’d want to date Tony Stark. And I admire Quentin Tarantino. I think I like him more for his self-love, so I do understand why people like him less for it. But not liking QT the man is not really a good enough reason to not see the movie. Not liking QT the filmmaker is more reasonable. If you’ve disliked every other Tarantino flick, sure, you probably won’t like Inglourious Basterds. But if it is simply Tarantino’s attitude you dislike, well, you are only punishing yourself by not seeing it. He would say he doesn’t need your approval, right?

6. The cast deserves their win for SAG’s Best Ensemble.
The performances are all solid and some, most notably Christoph Waltz and the two women, are really stand-out. (Just ignore Mike Meyers.)

7. Shosanna.
Shosanna (played brilliantly by Melanie Laurent) is the driving force of the film. Under all the glitz and bullets and blood and posturing is a little Jewish girl’s revenge story and it is beautiful. You want her to succeed. You want her to throw history to the wind and kill Hitler.

8. Diane Kruger.
I know, I’m not rational about her. But read this article. I could write a whole separate post about the line “I’ve turned down a lot of girlfriend-of-the-superhero parts.” I still might. As Bridget Von Hammersmark, Diane shines. She gives the “surprising and career-making performance” she fought so hard to win. And I love her for being proud of it: “I know that one day I’ll have kids and I’ll show them the movie and they’ll say, ‘Mom was pretty cool. She didn’t suck,'” she says with a grin.

Brad Pitt would never say that so plainly. Just saying.

9. It is better than Avatar.
I liked Avatar. It is certainly very pretty to look at. I believe that when other movies are made with the new tech that Avatar brings to the table, it will not hold up. It will always be first, but it is not a great film. I could write a whole post about Avatar, too, but there are thousands already and all I really have to say is:

Why does James Cameron find it necessary to make the most technologically advanced film of all time to tell the story of nature trumping technology?

[Note: This can also apply to George Lucas, but Star Wars >>>>> Avatar]

But it’s those thousands wherein my point is made: everyone has seen Avatar, right? That’s what the numbers say. And Inglourious Basterds is a better film. It might even be a better spectacle.

10. It is Oscar Nominated.
I am going to do everything I can to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as I can. Because I want my opinion to be as informed as possible. That’s just me! But if you don’t see this film, your opinion will not count as much with me (I don’t expect you to care, I’m just explaining). That’s all 😉



  madmarvelgirl wrote @

Thanks, Anika!

The idea of this being Shoshanna’s story, which was just explained to me yesterday, does make it more appealing as far as wat the movie is about. This still doesn’t really sound like my thing; it’s just not the way that I like to see history handled. And, sorry, but I have no idea who any of these actors are so it’s not like they can appeal to me!

And since I am not a fan of awards or rankings or ‘best of’ lists, except as a vehicle to find out about things I might want to see, I don’t really *care* if anybody thinks I’m not informed enough to make a decision, about something that doesn’t matter to me anyway.

It is interesting to me to see your reasons, but I’m just not really convinced to sit through something that’s long and unpleasantly violent that just doesn’t sound like a story that I would care about.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

Well, I mostly wanted to address the issues that have been bandied around and put forth what it is that appeals to me. So I am satisfied with that.

Plus, you’ve been clear about why you don’t want to see it *for you* and why the awards don’t matter *to you* so I don’t have argument with that — it’s not as if I could reasonably hold your opinion of what you like against you. I only find fault with someone who would try to make that decision for someone/everyone else (“This movie shouldn’t be made/seen/awarded for x,y,z reasons” ) and most especially without seeing it.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

One more thing: I mentioned the performances because they are great not because the specific actors appeal to me. I did single out Diane because she is a personal favourite, but I meant to highlight the acting not the people if that makes sense.

I still agree you shouldn’t see the movie, I just wanted to clarify that one point for myself.

  Jennifer wrote @

I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. I have no doubt that it’s a well-acted, well-written, well-made film. But, ultimately, I still think it’s irresponsible.

There are still people who deny that the Holocaust happened. There are still people who think that the Jews should have butched up and fought back if they didn’t want horrible things to happen to them. And this kind of filmmaking presents a story that implies that, if only those Jews had been badass and more determined, they totally could have killed Hitler.

It denigrates survivors, and it makes Jewish characters into Nazi-like villains in the MIDST of World War II. It isn’t even like Magneto — whose story skates a thin line — where a person’s childhood experiences create these reactionary attitudes in him later. This is making a film about Jewish people during World War II and making them butchers. Who they’re butchering doesn’t matter.

I’ve spent most of my life studying the Holocaust. One of the most important classes I took in college was a seminar on the Holocaust in text and image, and we talked endlessly about WWII films and books and the politics of representation of those horrors. I have very firm opinions about this sort of thing, and I’m not going to give money to a film that I find to be so problematic in concept.

Also, I assume Quentin Tarantino is not Jewish himself; correct me if I’m wrong, but if he isn’t he has even less right to be telling a story that is, as someone put it on Twitter, essentially “Jewsploitation.” Either way, his arrogance — which you acknowledge — and obsession with making an action romp out of such a serious subject, would probably turn me off to this film even if it weren’t for the revisionist history.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

Okay. First, there are only two Jewish characters in the film, Shosanna and the Bear Jew. I can see the argument for “Jewsploitation” for the Bear Jew but Shosanna is not defined by her status as a Jew so much as someone who has been wronged. Your complaints against the “butchering” and making them Nazi-like villains are fair, but the same could be said of Avatar or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Braveheart or any movie about a small group of people fighting back against the larger group in power.

I’m not Quentin Tarantino but I don’t believe he had any plan to imply the Jews (or any of the other groups persecuted by Nazis, because it was not only the Jews) should have done it this way or that the survivors shoudl feel ashamed they weren’t badass enough. That is not what I personally inferred. And I would not classify the film as an action “romp”; it is a highly stylized dramatic feature.

I appreciate your viewpoint, I’m not out to change your firm opinions, and I acknowledge that you are more learned in the subject of the Holocaust and its representation in text and image. I do not believe it is fair to say Tarantino has less right to tell the story because he is not Jewish; to me that implies I have less right to care about the story because I am also not Jewish. Everyone has the right to tell the stories they want to tell and how they want to tell them.

  Jennifer wrote @

Every summary and review I’ve seen of the film has described the Basterds as “8 Jewish-American soldiers,” so if only the “Bear Jew” is actually Jewish there’s a lot of misinformation being spread.

As for your other examples — Avatar is problematic in its own right, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are fantasies, and Braveheart has an actual historical basis for its fighting-back-against-the-odds story. This is inserting a revenge fantasy into real history, and particularly important/still influential history at that, so it requires a different level of sensitivity.

I’m sure Tarantino didn’t set out to be offensive (well, at least not in that way), but intentions matter little in the evaluation of a final product, and how that product does or can influence the audience. And of course he has the right to tell a story about Jewish characters; of course you and I have the right to care about them. But to create this problematic story about another culture is appropriation, using another culture’s tragedy for his own fictitious ends. I’m not saying I’d want to see this movie were it made by a Jewish director, but the context would be a lot different, and so, likely, would the product.

Finally: yes, other groups were persecuted by the Nazis. The Roma, gays, Catholics and Slavs (both of which I am). But none were targeted for systematic genocide in the same way; none were annihilated in the same way. What happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust stands apart from the other horrors of the war, even as it’s entwined.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

I honestly don’t know for certain but I think either way I agree about misinformation; that was sort of where this came from — people making assumptions about the movie based on what the internet says.

All right. The first and third Indiana Jones movies feature Nazis. Are they fantasy and if so, how are they and Inglorious Basterds is not?

I think intentions do count in art and especially storytelling. The intent is what shapes the story and the film, you acknowledge that when you say a Jewish filmmaker’s take on it would be different.

You say sensitivity and I say censorship. If “culture” (a “problematic” concept in itself) trumps creativity — well, does that mean films featuring black leads should not be helmed by whites? Films featuring female leads should not be directed by men? And where does the fantasy line come into play? Would it be okay to tell the exact story this film tells exactly as it is if we called Germany Mustafar? Should The Hurt Locker be discounted because Kathryn Bigelow is neither a soldier nor a man? Should Lee Daniels’ work on Precious be ignored because the novel was written by a woman? I realize you are not making such a sweeping statement but “using another culture’s tragedy for his own fictitious means” could be applied to each of those.

If nothing else, Inglourious Basterds has people talking about the Holocaust, about the War, about what really happened. Argument is better than ignorance, yes? Better your anger than apathy, yes? Quentin Tarantino, and all the other people involved in this film, at least from what I can determine, wanted to make a great film. Christoph Waltz has said over and over he would not have taken the part if it were simply a token Nazi. In the article I linked, Diane said she went after this role because it was doing something different, that it made her feel proud, instead of ashamed, to be German. Eli Roth has said many times that he thinks it is important for people to knowexactly what you said — that the Jewish people were specifically targeted — and he believes his involvement in this film reminds them. Eli Roth is Jewish.

I am glad you are commenting, that we are having this discussion. I think it is important. But the freedom to make a film, to tell a story, in whatever manner one wants, no matter who he or she is, that is something the Nazis were 100% against and it is something I will always stand up for. I believe, firmly, it is the responsible thing to do.

  Jennifer wrote @

I’m honestly not sure what to say at this point that isn’t just reiterating my previous points. Thank you for the discussion.

  Becky wrote @

Hmm. I saw the movie over the weekend, but hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about it because Tarantino really isn’t a director I love; my sister wanted to watch it, or I probably wouldn’t have seen it. But your post and some comments did raise my eyebrows and actually made me a little uncomfortable, particularly your comparison of doing a history retelling to NuTrek. You’re absolutely right that there is a huge difference, but I think in that comparison you really *downplayed* why that difference is *important*: changing Trek mythology doesn’t affect any real people, but writing a story about what Jews could or should have done to end WWII and the holocaust *does*.

As much as the movie is intended to be fantasy, that’s still what it does. As Jen mentioned above, a lot of people *do* think that if Jews had just fought back or been more brave, things would have been different. Making a story where that’s basically what happens — and it’s specified in their introduction that *all* of the Basterds are Jews, IIRC — does play into a bigger narrative. The movie is fiction; that narrative isn’t, and like all stories it has the power to change — or confirm — what people think.

I’m Jewish: what people think of Jews and Jewish history affects *me*.

That’s also why it makes me uncomfortable that Tarantino, the driving force behind this movie, isn’t a Jew. Not because people can’t or shouldn’t tell stories about other folks’ cultures, but because *he* is not part of the group that’s affected by what people think of Jews. Another director who *is* Jewish could have made the film, and while I still wouldn’t have cared for it, I wouldn’t have worried about if he or she had really thought about the implications of the story, but because Tarantino isn’t affected directly by anti-Semitism, I *do* have that worry. That doesn’t mean he didn’t think about it; he seems like a smart guy, so he must have. But he may well have made choices that Jewish director might not have because the way the story shakes out isn’t as pressing an issue for him.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

I have been corrected about the Basterds’ heritage. I apologize for that mistake.

Now, like I said to Jen, I entirely appreciate your viewpoint and how different it is from mine (as not-a-Jew). That said: I don’t think that is fair. I think people are people, we are ALL individuals and we are ALL affected individually. I understand that Tarantino (and myself) have not been affected by anti-semitism directly but that does not mean we have not been affected by any ism at all. For myself, I was a minority for being not Jewish when I was at university (Brandeis University in Waltham, MA). I’m not in any way saying that is the same (it’s not), it is my individual experience. But I find it a bit disingenuous to say how the story shakes out isn’t as pressing an issue to Tarantino as to the imaginary Jewish director. It is HIS story.

All I really wanted to say was it’s not fair to openly hate a movie you’ve never seen. You have seen it, you are allowed to hate it. You are allowed to boycott it, just like I’m allowed to like it. Everyone is allowed to their opinion and their feelings and thoughts and beliefs. Even Jen is, having not seen it. Her thoughts are still valid, if uninformed.

And while I understand the distinction — it is my belief that Star Trek has the ability to affect real people. As any story does.

  Becky wrote @

Interesting! Incidentally, I also went to Brandeis; I’m familiar with how Jewish the culture there is, and how much of a reversal that can be for people. But I think that ties back into where I’m coming from: when it comes to Tarantino telling a story about Jews, this is, in a lot of ways, a discussion of privilege. At ‘deis, I can see how it would be very awkward to not be Jewish — but you can still go anywhere else in Waltham or Boston or, basically, anywhere, and *be back in the majority*. That doesn’t change because you’ve been in the minority in one situation, aside to give you empathy.

That’s sort of what I’m getting at with Tarantino’s non-Jewishenss. I do think Tarantino thought about it, and I do think he had the right to tell the story he wants to tell. I don’t even think he’s lacking empathy. But there’s still a difference between him telling a story about the holocaust and a Jewish director doing the same, because at the end of the day, a Jewish director *can’t step back into the majority*.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

Yes, I do see your point in that. It is a difference. But from everything I have read he was very deliberate in how to do it and I think that should be noted, too (which you did).

I just bristle at the idea that stories only belong to one group or another. I’m an idealist. I want to believe everything belongs to everyone.

  handyhunter wrote @

I think people are people, we are ALL individuals and we are ALL affected individually.

Yes, to an extent (which I’m starting to think ends where privilege begins). But that doesn’t account for systemic power imbalances. Being a minority in some instances doesn’t necessarily/automatically mean it cancels out one’s privilege either (eg, a white person in an Asian country is probably going to be in the minority, but that doesn’t cancel out his/her white privilege, even in a country where the majority are not white, due to stuff like colonization).

I also don’t think it’s censorship to want people to be more careful about the stories they tell, especially if it’s not a part of their own culture or history because of the long history of appropriation. It’s not censorship to be critical after the fact, either, regardless of the producer/director/writer’s intent — I think few people intend to cause harm – most just want to tell a good story, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but sometimes it happens anyway because of things their privilege makes them unaware of.

Furthermore, it’s not (can’t be) censorship because the unprivileged group doesn’t have power over the privileged to get them not to tell any one particular story (though it happens often enough the other way around because of whose stories get told, who does the telling, who gets erased, etc… on an individual and systemic level).

it is my belief that Star Trek has the ability to affect real people. As any story does.

Mine too. Which is why it’s so frustrating to me that these stories (the ones not based on history or ‘real life’) are not as progressive or inclusive as they could be.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

Maybe censorship is the wrong word.

I hope it is clear I respect all these differing viewpoints. It is a lot to think about and I don’t have a properly coherent answer for you this moment. But I really appreciate your comments, and how you framed them, and I wanted to respond to say at least that.

  retconningmybrain wrote @

One of the reasons I refused to see this movie in the theaters was the same reason I refused to see Munich and Defiance, was because I’m not into the Jewish-revenge genre that’s cropped up recently. There was a good article about this genre, and its use by and for the Jewish consciousness (whatever THAT is) and I still wasn’t into it. I don’t like the idea of Jewish aggression. As a Jew that is against the violent activities of the Israeli government in the West Bank, I felt as if these were propaganda pieces, glorifying history to justify murder.

And I totally could be wrong, because I still haven’t seen them.

I gave in and watched Inglorious Basterds because I’m a Tarantino fan. And I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not his best film, but it’s a good film. I took it as a satire that respected history while rewriting it. It was a satire of Holocaust pics (and French film, and propaganda films, and even American WW2 epics…). They even had a German propaganda pic-within-a-pic (with the spoilery-bit-I-won’t-mention that made it even more obvious).

Anyway, I enjoyed it as a satire. Tarantino, being the arrogant guy he is, has always been that way with his movies, using them to make commentary about Noir (Pulp Fiction, Blaxploitation (Jackie Brown), Hong Kong Action (Kill Bill), and now the Holocaust genre (and it has become an award-darling, studio-buzzing, money-generating, commercial genre).

But I also enjoyed the amount of non-Jewish German people involved, and really the amount of non-Jews in general. The Holocaust (and Triangle Trade, and etc. etc.) was a global tragedy, and everyone who lives in the world affected by it has their own way of telling the stories. I think that’s important.

  Magnet Girl wrote @

Yes, it is a satire, or at least Tarantino’s version of satire. That’s why I call it highly stylized and why that anyone watching it would worry about its realism sort of boggles my mind.

Thank you for commenting!

  Sam wrote @

It doesn’t boggle my mind, because even satires can be misinterpreted as serious or used partially by people to defend a certain viewpoint. I readily admit that I’ve got a very film-theory heavy background to go along with my fangirlnishness and my Jewishness. Satire works best when based in reality (that’s why parody is a defense to copyright infringement), because it has to remark on that reality. But, yeah, it doesn’t have to be realistic to be a comment on reality.

No problem. 😉

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