Inglourious Basterds: Part II

For another perspective on this movie, I suggest reading John Rosenthal’s review titled “Inglourious Basterds: A German Fantasy, Not a ‘Jewish’ One”. Rosenthal posits that the movie is written to make the Germans look sympathetic, and the joke is on the buffoonish Americans–who are neither cultured nor competent and barbaric to boot. The movie glorifies German fantasies of vengeful Jews, when in reality, the Germans were the barbarians. One wouldn’t know this watching the movie, according to this review.

While Rosenthal makes compelling arguments and may well be correct about Tarantino’s motives, I would suggest that Tarantino was too smart by half, then. Consider the barroom scene. Repeatedly, the Americans and their fighters expressed frustration at being stuck in an underground bar because it is stupid strategically in a fight. They feared being double-crossed. Here is what Rosenthal says:

This is especially true of a long central scene that takes place in a basement bar in occupied France. The scene is entirely built around a German parlor game in which each participant is required to guess the identity of a real person or fictive character whose name has been written on a card and stuck to his or her forehead.

Well, that game is one I myself have played as an unwashed American. We called it Polish Poker growing up–a politically incorrect allusion to a source of a version of the game, I suspect. At any rate, it was the Brit who botched the hand signal and also the Brit who enjoyed his drink courageously before his death–stiff upper lip and all that. It was also the American, who, at the end of the bloodbath, out maneuvered the German soldier who mowed down anyone left alive, including, it looked like, his own compatriots. It was a gory mess that ended as the American feared.

Another point of concern was portraying the German enlisted “hero” as regretful. Rosenthal says:
“They include not only the jovial enlisted men in the barroom scene, but also, for instance, a celebrated and lovelorn sharpshooter who openly regrets his military exploits.” While he did seem a little sickened by his actions, he was certainly still portrayed as evil. In the very next scene, when his advances are rebuffed by Shoshanna, he threatens rape or worse saying “no one denies me” and then, after being shot by her, shoots her in cold blood when she shows concern for him. It is the Jew, as symbolized by Shoshanna, who hasn’t lost her humanity. The German is portrayed as having none. While this might validate the modern Germans’ thinly disguised anti-semitism by seeing her shot dead, it certainly doesn’t portray the German perspective in a positive light. To the contrary, the Germans are portrayed as vicious, anti-semitic, heartless, yes cunning, killers of women and children–from the first scene until the climactic end.

There is no question Tarantino indulged in a facile portrayal of Americans. Bumbling in, direct action, hicky accents, etc. But still, the Americans and the good guys won. For all the German ostensible heroics, they are still portrayed as losers. They are losers who go up in a ball of flames. They are losers who are branded as losers on their swastika carved forehead.

The suicide bomber reference was also not lost on me. Tarantino, as I wrote in my other review, is hardly courageous. In fact, like his comrades, he’s a product of Hollywood’s amorality. He won’t name current tyrants. He has to go back to World War II to find blood thirsty villains. That is why I suggested substituting an Islamofascist for every Nazi killed.

As to the bloody gore: No, I didn’t enjoy seeing a guy’s head bashed in. In fact, I covered my eyes at the over-the-top gruesome parts and there were many. It was a Tarantino film after all. The blood lust is a caricature and silly. Still, it was satisfying to see the bad guys come to such an ignoble end. It would have been a wonderful thing had World War II ended in such a glorious way. Unfortunately, Hitler got the satisfaction of controlling his own death. At least, historians can fantasize about a better end.

Did Tarantino make an anti-semitic film? Was he trying to portray Germans sympathetically? Perhaps. Americans aren’t stupid. They’ll catch the way Americans are portrayed. They’ll see the suicide bomber reference for the inversion it is. They might miss the underlying German fears of Jew revenge. Or, if they get it, they understand the Jews motive, even as most Jews have lived among their German brethren peacefully without recompense. It is, after all, a fantasy.

What sane, moral person can’t understand the desire to avenge their family, culture and people nearly being blotted out? Americans get it generally. And so do Germans. The Germans know how they’d feel if the roles were reversed and that’s why they’re afraid even after all these years. And the Jews have been models of restraint and forgiveness. I’m not sure I could do the same.

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