I saw the film Inglourious Basterds the other day, upon the recommendation of a number of friends. I left the theater feeling two simultaneous and somewhat contradictory feelings (in a word: ambivalent). On the one hand, I “enjoyed” the film: the tension-building dialogues exploding in a climactic release (apologies for the sexual undertones there), the hip, “anything goes” approach to style (anachronistic soundtrack, insider cameos, visual homage, etc.) and the powerful archetypal film characters (the bad ass soldiers, the avenging victim, the brilliant psychopath, etc.). It was an incredibly well-made film, but it also gave me exactly what I would want (on one level) from a movie about people taking on the Nazis. [SPOILER ALERT] The Nazis get SLAUGHTERED! The good guys win, and even if some of them died in the process, it was heroically in the act of destroying some of the most evil people in history.
But this is where the contradictory feeling came in. It felt wrong to enjoy the massacre of Nazis. (There was some part of me that felt like I was watching Team America: World Police without realizing it was a satire of American military arrogance.)
The scene that came back to me as I was reflecting on the film & realizing my ambivalence was when Hitler, Goebbels & the Nazi elite were watching the film within the film about the young Nazi war hero who killed 300 Allied soldiers from a tower. Repeatedly, we watch the Nazis applauding scenes of the sniper picking off his attackers (probably Americans) and we scoff at this propagandistic depiction of violence against the enemy, portrayed as inhuman, anonymous targets for the hero to destroy. Even the young Nazi hero seems to feel disdain for the way this is portrayed…
Though I did not find it ironic at the time, subsequently, we as the audience are treated to the sight of these Nazi filmgoers being burned to death & shot down like fish in a barrel by Jewish soldiers (along with a highly fetishized moment of actor Eli Roth ripping Hitler’s face apart with a hail (heil?) of bullets). It seems implicit that we will cheer this on, indeed, the whole film feels like a set-up for a moment that we can hardly believe could end this way (knowing actual history as we do). Of course, it was an “alternate history” reality we see occurring, but it felt so much more satisfying than what actually happened. However, I began to wonder how we as the filmgoers were much different from the Nazi movie audience cheering the death of Allied soldiers.
This led me to see the director of IB, Quentin Tarantino, as a sort of Joseph Goebbels figure of American populist cinema (depicting simplistic good/evil characters, giving an audience what it wants, using techniques–such as the score, B-movie conventions, etc.–to tap into the collective audience subconscious and manipulate them to the filmmaker’s ends), which oddly then, would make Harvey Weinstein, a Jew, the Hitler figure…although I suppose it’s not completely surprising as he has been seen as a bit of a fascist dictator in the filmmaking business.
The film had a number of role reversals of Nazi for Jew (Aldo referring to Nazi’s as “not human”, the brutal beatings/casual executions of German soldiers, all of the Nazi’s being burned to death similar to the crematoriums), which made me feel like I was being set up/propogandized to applaud the same thing for the Nazis which I lamented for the Jews. I may be seeing something that is not there at all, but it seems like to take this film simply as a “revenge fantasy film” for Jews (see reactions from descendants of Holocaust survivors and Rabbis here) lacks a certain amount of incredulity that a savvy director such as QT would expect. Am I supposed to resist my enjoyment of this slice of fantasy justice, or give into it and become implicitly akin to the Nazi filmgoers?
Anyhow, regardless of whether I have appropriately interpreted this sequence of scenes, I would recommend anyone else who “enjoyed” watching all of the Nazis get killed as inhuman representations of pure evil to watch a film like Stalingrad where the audience follows young German soldiers, who don’t seem as gung ho about the 3rd Reich as we usually see in films, heading to the Russian front where they are led like sheep to a slaughter. Anyone associated with the Nazi regime certainly finds themselves on the wrong side of history, but we may need to be careful to allow ourselves to be duped into seeing ANYONE as less than human…even those who we feel like are the worst people in history.
11 thoughts on “Inglourious Propoganda”
Beautiful post. Thank you.
My brother Chris’s blog, which I told you about the other day, has some good comments that I think you’ll agree with.
Hey Greg, thanks for the post. I guess I get uncomfortable when writers/thinkers/movies attempt to equivocate between different regimes, such as when it is suggested that George Bush was no better than Hitler or the United States is an imperialistic fascist regime, etc. so in that sense I appreciate that this movie draws a clear distinction in the moral grounding of the two groups. At the same time though, you’re right- if we’re fantasizing about revenge against our enemies, are we any better than them? As Christians, we’re reminded that we are just as depraved as Hitler in our hearts, so we recognize that it is only by God’s grace that we don’t behave like him. Plus, revenge is really off limits to those who believe in a God who is just and who will judge all according to his perfect purposes in the last days, so I could see how I would feel a real conflict rooting for Brad Pitt’s squad. Did you get the sense that Q.T. was playing with this tension on purpose, or was he just going for pure pulp?
I’ve got a rare opportunity to go to the movies by myself this afternoon, so a little Jingoistic Propaganda sounds perfect. Thanks for the heads up.
In response to your question, “Did you get the sense that Q.T. was playing with this tension on purpose, or was he just going for pure pulp?”, that is part of the dilemma. As I said, I think QT is a savvy director, so he would HAVE to have realized what he was doing…but they he also seems like someone who has a lack of fully developed, adult self-awareness, so in his deadly narcissism/delayed adolescence cocktail, he may have not completely realized the corner he painted himself into.
You’re a fascist. And I know you take that as a compliment.
Thanks for the comments,
Greg, you nailed it on the movie critique; I think the movie was typical Tarantino-bloody entertainment, making fun of both sides and trying to get the audience to realize the depths of their depravity.
I’m NOT a fascist, and I do take offense to your comment, and challenge you to a fistfight. It’s time to put up or shut up!
I have still yet to see this movie, but finally caved and read your post. Don’t you think most every action movie has a piece of this to them? Was Rambo any better than the Russians and Afghan’s that he so mercilessly slaughtered? Was the Rebel Alliance and it’s witchcraft/supernatural-believing leaders more peaceful than that bureaucratic Empire and it’s clueless helmeted-troopers? Once Tarantino’s movie becomes Cliff Note’s for WWII then we are in trouble. In the meantime I think I might enjoy a little revenge flick against the nazi’s, while fully realizing that not every soldier in Germany was a nazi, nor were they all evil. What is intriguing about your “jewish-revenge” meme, is that it provokes the thought of why we don’t have Russian revenge films against Stalin, or Cambodian revenge films against Pol Pot.
Maybe it’s because there are no Russian’s or Cambodians running Hollywood???
Thanks for this.
I felt like I was the only one who was bothered by this movie.
This sums up my feeling about it pretty much exactly.
Finally saw this. You know what I thought was entertaining from this film (and is typical of Tarantino) is that the tension in a scene builds and you start wondering how on earth he is going to get his characters out of this situation… and then he says, “I’m not going to… I’m going to go ahead and kill them.” I’m so unprepared for these moments because of how other movies transpire and I appreciate that in Tarantino.
That said, back to the propaganda of the film. I’m curious if a fantasy could be construed as propaganda? My understanding of the term would be, simply, trying to present something that it is not. If Coke sells the most soda and they say that in an ad, that is not propaganda. If Goebbels said that other races were inferior and they are not, then that is propaganda. However, in a fantasy film one is not making such a statement, correct?
In another fantasy, Avatar, James Cameron presents humans as evil compared to aliens. THIS IS PROPAGANDA! It is a fact that aliens want nothing more than to eat us, and destroy our planet for its resources.
So true about aliens! I’m sick of the pro-alien agenda in the US and the UK. I don’t know how much the alien lobbyists are paying lawmakers, but the fact that aliens are getting away with murder (literally: Xaltor killed and ate my cousin) makes me sick.