Don’t Waste Your Money on “Inglourious Basterds”

September 3, 2009

I didn’t know much about the theme, but I liked “Pulp Fiction” and I was in France, so I thought, “Hey, let’s go and see Inglorious Basterds.” It was not merely repulsive; it was morally disgusting. It portrays Jews reveling — and asks us to join in the revelry — in war crimes and sadism, as if the morally appropriate response to cruelty and evil is merely to become cruel and evil oneself.

According to Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly (“Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger“),

The horror-movie director Eli Roth—his film Hostel is the most repulsively violent movie I’ve ever seen twice—plays a Basterd known as the “Bear Jew,” whose specialty is braining Germans with a baseball bat. Roth told me recently that Inglourious Basterds falls into a subgenre he calls “kosher porn.”

“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth said. “My character gets to beat Nazis to death. That’s something I could watch all day. My parents are very strong about Holocaust education. My grandparents got out of Poland and Russia and Austria, but their relatives did not.”

Tarantino’s producer, Lawrence Bender, says that after reading the first draft of Inglourious Basterds, he told Tarantino, “As your producing partner, I thank you, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you, motherfucker, because this movie is a fucking Jewish wet dream.”

Films that portray victims as strong or as emerging victorious are one thing; a film that portrays victims as having the same moral character is another. The movie is a slur on Jews.

The film also demands that we accept the thesis that every German conscript was as guilty as every eager SS man. That seems, to say the least, absurd.

The film had a few good moments, but a few good moments do not a movie make. Christoph Waltz very brilliantly creates the character of SS officer Hans Landa and a scene in a cellar bar is well acted. A few scenes of Hitler were interesting in their portrayal of him as a weakling (who guffaws and snickers at one scene after another of people being shot). But … that’s about it. So if you can watch a few scenes on YouTube, that’s enough. The rest of the movie is simply sickening trash. (And Brad Pitt, who has played some good roles, merely appears ridiculous, thanks, no doubt, to the pathetic script and the absurd character he was asked to play.)

Ugh.

(Oops! Sorry for the original misspelling of Tarantino’s misspelling of “inglorious.”)

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Manu September 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I could not agree more. Waltz plays well though, but the film is just sick and long and boring. Lost €10 and 3 hours…

Matt Cockerill September 3, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Tom, I admit to having some negative preconceptions about you because of your attacks on Lew Rockwell et al.

But good for you making this post. Despite the hysteria, Tarantino really dissapoints by making a pro-war, pro-state piece of trash.

Henri Hein September 4, 2009 at 3:35 am

That was my impression from the previews, but thanks for the warning(s).

Charles N. Steele September 5, 2009 at 12:43 am
Mike September 5, 2009 at 1:21 am

I agree completely. It’s sickening.

Tuur Demeester September 5, 2009 at 1:56 am

I absolutely loved the movie. Of course, morally it was completely reprehensible, and the violence was sometimes too much, even for someone already numbed by thousands of videos from the web. But that’s something you know beforehand going to a Tarantino movie, just as one knows that Sun Tzu or Machiavelli are ethically not very sound. Should that stop one from enjoying to read their works?

I loved the movie because of how Tarantino masters visual storytelling. His photography is genius, and nobody beats him when it comes down to playing with genres—he’s the Frank Zappa of the movie business. This movie is his master piece.

SandMan September 5, 2009 at 10:43 pm

I saw the movie and now wish I hadn’t. I liked some of Tarantino’s other work, but this was a real disappointment.

Thanks, Charles, for the link. You’re right that the real story is more interesting. Matt, how is pointing out that Rockwell is a racist an “attack,” rather than a statement of fact? Those guys let Ron Paul twist in the wind; it’s pretty widely known that the worst of those newsletters have Rockwell’s fingers all over them. Anyway, we agree that Inglourious Basterds was definitely inglorious. Tuur, you have a good point about not rejecting art because of the objectionable moral postures of the artist, but I don’t see this as about his art. It’s a statement of his own view of the world, and that view is pretty twisted. Anyway, the movie was choppy and looked like a cut-and-paste job to me.

abc@gmail.com September 5, 2009 at 11:09 pm

It was a fantastic movie. If you think it’s about the holocaust or about Jews beating up Nazis in any historical way, you’re missing the point. The point is that it’s an extended commentary on Hollywood’s fascination with World War II and Nazis and a lot more. Plus it’s extremely well made with terrific action sequences, dialogue, commentary upon commentary. It’s like Kill Bill, which was a terrific movie too, but better.

If you’re looking for a morality tale, rent Schindler’s List, which is actually quite mediocre Spielberg schlock.

Anyway, the movie was choppy and looked like a cut-and-paste job to me.

Choppy in what way? There are about 16 scenes, and they’re each about 10 minutes long. I’ve never seen a movie with such well done, long scenes.

It’s a statement of his own view of the world, and that view is pretty twisted.

And I guess you’ll say Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle represents Martin Scorsese’s twisted world view. Or Scarface is DePalma’s world view. Or even The Godfather is Coppolla’s world view.

Or that Ahab represents Melville’s world view.

This is a truly bizarre way to consider art.

Gil September 6, 2009 at 1:53 am

I really liked the movie.

I think it’s a mistake to complain about bad moral or political philosophy from a Tarantino movie. You’re shopping in the wrong store.

Tarantino makes films with compelling dialog and interesting violence.

I don’t expect most movies to teach me how to behave or think about vital issues. I expect them to entertain me. And, this one delivered.

Tom G. Palmer September 6, 2009 at 10:52 am

I was less impressed than some by the cinematography, not to mention the dialogue. It did have its moments, but they were few and far between. The article by Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Tarantino and others involved in making the movie did see it as presenting their own viewpoint to the world, so I think it reasonable to consider how they viewed the movie. I can see “Triumph of the Will” or other Riefenstahl movies and admire her skill without becoming a Nazi, but it would be foolish to fail to recognize that she was promoting her aesthetic appreciation of National Socialism, despite her later disavowals of being at all political. (Those disavowals were effectively rebutted in “The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl”: http://www.amazon.com/Wonderful-Horrible-Life-Leni-Riefenstahl/dp/B00000INUB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1252248670&sr=8-1 )

That said, I recognize others will focus on the gold in the garbage. I just thought it took too much time to find too little gold in far too much garbage.

Tom G. Palmer September 6, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I’d also point out that the issue of whether the movie is “pro-war” or “anti-war” is beside the point. “Casablanca” and “To Have and Have Not” are certainly “pro-war” movies, but brilliant, regardless. What I objected to was not that the movie was in favor of a war, but that it was, as Roth said to Goldberg, a kind of pornography, which I found repulsive in the extreme.

abc@gmail.com September 6, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Tastes differ. Some people like Wagner, some people see in Wagner a proto-Nazi. But does anyone think Wagner did not produce some lovely art, whatever the moral and political implications of it might have been?

Similarly does anyone really wonder whether Sergei Eisenstein was a great filmmaker? I honestly don’t know what to think of Riefenstahl’s filmmaking since the only film I’ve seen of hers was Triumph, and, although beautiful shot, it was straightforward propaganda that did nothing for me.

Frank Capra spent the war years making propaganda. And It’s a Wonderful Life is a terrific film, even if the capitalists don’t come off that well.

Tarantino makes films that are well-crafted commentary on pop culture, and in particular revenge in popular culture: See, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2. That’s what this is. The very fact that Hitler et al die at the end of this movie is a pretty good sign that this film is nowhere close to a literal retelling of history. It is a commentary on 60 years of Hollywood filmmaking about WWII. It isn’t meant to comment on actual violence. It’s meant as a commentary on Hollywood violence.

But, you know what, neither is Schindler’s List. Recall one of the final scenes of Schindler’s List. Was there really an event where all of the Schindler Jews lined up to thank Schindler at the end of the war, and where he gave a tearful speech about saving one more Jew by trading his ring, or car, and so forth. Of course not. That’s in the director’s imagination. As was Saving Private Ryan.

Or the Longest Day. John Wayne did not storm the beaches of Normandy.

Anyway, Jeffrey Goldberg is not someone I find credible on lots of issues.

abc@gmail.com September 6, 2009 at 1:28 pm

“Casablanca” is also a pro-adultery movie.

MicroBalrog September 8, 2009 at 7:10 am

On this argument, should we stop making WW2 movies that glorify Allies in general? After all, not every German conscript was as guilty a Hitler. And Dresden was horrible in every language.

David J. September 9, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I saw the movie yesterday here in Germany. When the German soldier who refused to give information was beaten to death with a baseball bat several people in the audience cheered. That man could have been my grandfather or the grandfather of those people cheering the brutal murder of a prisoner of war.

I saw Saving Private Ryan in a cinema in the US. At the opening scene, the battle on the landing beach, apart from some people sobbing, the audience was completely quiet. And no one cheered when the Americans finally got at the Germans and burned them alive in their pillboxes.

Some people here in Germany seem to have forgotten that it takes more to be a decent, respectable person than just being “anti-nazi”. Perhaps they never knew it in the first place.

RL September 14, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I disagree with Dr. Palmer’s take. Why is a movie that, fictionally, ends the war early by killing Hitler and his key people a “pro-war” movie? The idea we must be willing to morally ascent to any action taken by a protagonist in a movie we see to enjoy it confuses asthetics with ethics. If Aristotle was correct that part of the function of a work of art is catharsis, I would say Tarantino certainly made a work of art here. I think the ending, where an amoral manipulator who willingly did Hitler’s bidding when it was beneficial to him and yet ended the war early when THAT was beneficial to him, would nonetheless spend his remaining days marked by his evil deeds, was brilliant.

Tarantino tries to pay homage to movies that have made a genre, and just as Kill Bill allowed him to pay homage to various aspects of great “kung fu” movies, so this effort allowed him to pay homage to various aspects of great WWII movies.

Tom G. Palmer September 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

Well, actually, I don’t think I called it it a “pro-war” movie. It glorified and revels in war crimes. That’s a different matter. As to catharsis, it matters what you’re purging. I found the emotions expressed in the Goldberg essay by enthusiasts of the movie (sadistic killings as “porn”) quite disturbing. The ending may have had a kind of poetic justice, but I found any pleasure from that overwhelmed by the revulsion I felt at the movie as a whole.

Jason September 21, 2009 at 12:16 am

With the exception of Grindhouse (the lack of quality could be smelt a mile away), this is the only Tarintino movie that I have not been interested in seeing. I don’t think I’ll even bother downloading this one. As for the Germans cheering at the German cinema, heck anyone is capable of being brainwashed these days.

Jhon K. September 27, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Could not diasagree more. This movie was fantastic.I mean the violence only of course. I could give a rats ass about the whole political nazis vs. jews concept. Tarantino merely picked that concept,theme whatever because it is the only violence that general audiences can enjoy. Its like the castration scene from day of the woman. sure,its repulsive but,the rapist deserves it,and we should enjoy his demise

samuel l. bronkowitz December 13, 2009 at 1:25 am

with its dvd release coming up, i wanted to take a look on the web to see if the movie offended anyone else’s sensibilities. thanks for the post.

i thought the movie was quite sickening and had no redeemable qualities at all. if violence lends itself to a great story, then so be it, but violence for the sake of violence, or to fulfill someone’s sadistic wet dream.. its deplorable. serial murderers act out their fantasies in real life, i guess they cant all be lucky enough to get funding for cinematic ventures. eli roth is garbage, i pray for his twisted soul.

Eric D. Dixon December 27, 2009 at 2:00 am

Just watched it again on Christmas day with my dad and brother. I have to side with Jesse Walker’s take on this one:

http://reason.com/archives/2009/08/27/that-glourious-basterd

Hal Jones May 4, 2010 at 8:12 am

Beautifying sadism and war crimes is what this movie is about. I would not have expected that Tarantino would give his talents for such a trash. Roth obviously has major psychological issues and is a racist. Disgusting.

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