28 November 2012

The Bear Jew

I think Inglorious Basterds is a demonstration of Tarantino's genius and relevance. It's a great film, period. There's a lot to be said about the picture and maybe someday I'll say it but at the moment I'm thinking about the scene which I think is the heart of the film: Eli “Hostel” Roth as Sgt. Donny Donnewitz, “The Bear Jew”, threatening the German captives with his baseball bat.

It's a powerful scene in part because it very deliberately plays with the relationship between the cinematic violence as a source of cathartic pleasure, cinematic violence as source of cathartic horror, and the enjoyment of cinematic violence as a politically troubling aspect of culture. The sequence very deliberately takes an audience back and forth between pleasure at let's beat up the Nazis and discomfort with the callous nihilism that implies. The scene is by turns scary, exciting, and disgusting, shifting tones more quickly and more often than I would have believed possible. Amazing enough that it takes us from horror, to excitement, to horror again ... but it actually brings us back to pleasure and excitement again repeatedly, dragging us back there from disgust, and then once more back to disgust, again and again. Tarantino manipulates the hell out of the audience with an unmistakable purpose. Watching it made me discomforted by my own reactions.

Which is the point.

Not for nothing does that scene end on a horrifying note. Is this what you want? Tarantino asks us. Because I will give it to you. The movie in the movie theatre at the end makes the indictment of the audience's complicity even more explicitly, but it's there throughout the film.

This gets an added frisson from knowing that Tarantino and Roth have both made careers of making films that appeal to our bloodthirstiness.


So we were talking about movies over lunch at work the other day.

I'd been talking about how Punch-Drunk Love makes explicit the strange rage and frustration which drives Adam Sandler's screen persona, and then a bit later was describing my theory about Basterds. Some wag suggested that Tarantino should have cast Sandler instead of Roth as Donnewitz ... but as we talked about it, we concluded that this wasn't just a silly idea, it would have worked.

Well guess what? In an interesting interview, Eli Roth let slip that this actually was the original plan.


FILM CRIT HULK says something a little bit similar (at astonishing length) about Kingsman: The Secret Service.

1 comment:

Cobb said...

Oh man did you nail that one. Just wait until Django Unchained!