149. Inglorious Basterds


I like to think that Quentin Tarantino wrote this movie during a 36-hour-long adderall bender, that he only got up from his typewriter every thirty minutes or so to walk around excitedly after just conceiving that perfect line or phrase. Tarantino is very much a fan service director, he makes his art according to what he feels his audience will enjoy most. And Inglorious Basterds is no different, as it very much appeals to Jewish movie lovers (like me!) who love the alternate history of the allies winning WWII by burning down Germans in a movie theater.

But there’s a common misconception about Tarantino films that they’re overly bloody. This isn’t true, they certainly are bloody but with the exception of Kill Bill, they’re only bloody in  sparse moments. We get buildup to a bloody scene, and that scene itself is so awesome and tantalizing we now immediately identify the movie as being a bloody work. But Tarantino’s best weapon isn’t guns or blades or bombs but dialogue, long, drawn-out conversations where people are stationary for ten or twenty minutes at a time. Where they sit inexplicably, get past necessary conversational pleasantries and finally get to the core of what they’re trying to say. Sure, the violence is the dessert, but the dialogue is the entree that brought us to the restaurant in the first place.

While not his best film, Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s best exemplar of his mastery of dialogue, where his characters reveal such harsh truths about themselves not necessarily by what they say but by what they don’t say. Shoshana is terrified when she runs into Colonel Hans Landa again, but she stays mum and silent in fear of saying the wrong thing and exposing herself as a Jewish runaway. Bridget Von Hammersmarck has a gift of gab but her dutiful efforts to keep civility boil down after the Basterds lose their cool and raise their voices. And Landa himself is smart enough to know that people who are hiding something hate conversation, and he will talk until the end of days to expose those who so badly wish they had nothing to say.

It’s a rudimentary part of storytelling but one that Tarantino understands and pulls off better than anyone. The opening sequence is the best part of the film, as Landa at no point ever threatens the milk farmer but just simply talks him into submission, throwing him charm and jokes and pleasant stories to the point where the farmer must submit. It’s only fitting that Landa, Tarantino’s ultimate villain, speaks four languages as his greatest weapon isn’t a close connection to Hitler or Goebbels, but his ability to speak the harsh ethos of their will to a wide audience. Landa isn’t so much a Nazi as an opportunist, a man who if he was born in the U.S. instead of Germany, he could have easily been a politician or CEO with his gift of gab serving as a suitable replacement of a tenured resume. He’s told better stories, but with Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has finally given us characters who can tell just as great stories as his own.

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