CALIFORNIA ÜBER ALLES: An Analysis of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) by Joseph Suglia
“The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but THE PAST. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’–well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five–well, two and two are five.”
–George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”
Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they might believe that the Jews overcame the Nazis. They will not know that around six million Jews–not to mention the elderly, the disabled, homosexuals, the chronically unemployed, gypsies, political dissidents, intellectuals (there were other categories, as well)–were funneled into factories of death, where they were stripped, shorn of their hair, and gassed. Killed en masse as if they were vermin or swine.
No Jews are murdered, no corpses are incinerated in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino’s most malevolent travesty and perhaps the most ethically reprehensible motion picture ever made. Nazis are incinerated. Machine-gunned and set aflame. In a cinema. In Vichy France. In 1944. By a band of Jewish-American soldiers and French resistance fighters.
What, precisely, was Tarantino hoping to accomplish by this fusillade of historical revisionism? By this erasure of history? Is this nothing more than a puerile time-machine fantasy? To deprive Hitler of the right to be killed by his own hand?
Tarantino’s own remarks belie this interpretation: “The power of the cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich. I get a kick out of that!”
When the Nazis are cremated in the cinema, then, Tarantino is cinematically cremating the memory of their dominion. The burning cinema is the central metaphor of the film. It is a self-reflexive metaphor.
Predictably, few Americans seem to have a problem with this dehistoricization and rehistoricization of the Holocaust. After all, America is a country without much of a history of its own. Most of us are afflicted with historical amnesia. To demonstrate my point, let me adduce a personal example. I posted the first sentence of this review on facebook years ago: “Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.”
I received this in response (the mistakes have been retained for the sake of authenticity): “Aint it grand though!”
If this is what most Americans believe, then we are lost. The entire culture is lost.
What no one seems to recognize is that the film is an insult both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who died in it.
The destruction of history is politically dangerous. It is also a form of ethical rape, especially when that history is fraught with so much hideousness, so much carnage, so much death, so much sorrow. To the supporters of the film, let me ask:
Do you honestly think that survivors of the Shoah would approve of this film?
Though Tarantino might claim that his film revolts against the Third Reich, it does nothing of the sort. Inglorious Basterds does not combat fascism. By liquidating history, it allies itself with fascism. It is a film that uses the same totalitarian methods as the Nazi propagandists, despite Tarantino’s misguided intentions.
Holocaust revisionists such as David Irving and Ingrid Rimland (and so many others) would applaud what Tarantino has done in this film. After all, he has created a film in which the Nazis lose, the Jews win, and the Holocaust never takes place. Is that not what the fascist “historians” have been saying all along?
Permit me to make a few remarks about Tarantino’s method of presentation.
No one has described Tarantino better than the brilliant English novelist and critic Will Self. The filmmaker is a “pasticheur and an artistic fraud,” Self writes. Indeed, he is all of that and much worse. Nearly every image in Tarantino’s cinema is derivative or evocative of something else. The climax of Death Proof (2007)–in which a misogynist is surrounded by a ring of femmes fatales and pummeled into unconsciousness–blatantly and uninventively reconstitutes a formally identical moment in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Another scene in Death Proof–in which the female leads are surreptitiously photographed–repeats one of Dario Argento’s lavish set-pieces in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969). Even the same Ennio Morricone music is deployed.
Throughout Inglorious Basterds, there are references to other films. Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943) is playing at the theatre before it is razed to the ground. Most of the film’s musical compositions were taken from the soundtracks to other films, such as Revolver (1973) and Allonsanfan (1974), both which were scored by Morricone. Curiously, none of these allusions adds to the film. Tarantino merely showcases the cultural references. He seems incapable of communicating himself cinematically except by way of derivations from other works of cinema. He does not create. He does not originate. He does not imagine. He does not conceive. He ventriloquizes.
I could not help but feel a certain depression after viewing this abominable film. I recalled that in the 1990s Tarantino was given carte blanche–the whitest of white cards–from critics for his use of racist language. Here we have a work not of anti-Semitism, but of anti-Judaism.
Consider this injustice: Michael Haneke’s elegantly chilling The White Ribbon (2009), a film that casts a dark light on some of the conditions that led to National Socialism, is largely unseen and this atrocity is surrounded by a cavalcade of approval. Genocide pornography is the worst form of pornography in existence, for it transforms the ultimate horror–the mass manufacture of corpses–into an object of consumption and enjoyment. For this reason, I condemn Quentin Tarantino and his unforgivable film. Quentin Tarantino is vile, and Inglourious Basterds is slime.