I’ve been holding off commenting on Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds because I know my take on the film is out of step with many other people I respect, and because what I want to say is a little controversial. First up, the good… there’s no doubt Mr QT is a cinephile, and his homage (pronounced in the French way) to cinema history is rampant in his latest work. I particularly enjoyed the Magnificent Seven overtures. Secondly, there are the usual distinctive and trademark good performances here (though I never for a moment believed in Brad Pitt). Thirdly, there is much visual and symbolic beauty here – particularly in the cinema scenes, and when it is adorned in all its Nazi glory.
BUT, and it’s a big but, I feel the need to comment on what to my mind is the defining feature of QT films – the use of extreme and nasty violence as a means of hip humour. Tarantino reminds me of the super smart kid at school, who is so superior in his own understanding that he feels aloof. As such he can engage in sadism or belittling of others with ease, knowing as he does that he operates on a plane of understanding that is above that of the average person. I’m prepared to accept that Tarantino is riffing on violence, trying to put it back in our faces to reflect on it. But I’m afraid the actual result is the casualisation of cruelty. He has single-handedly made some desperately sick acts appear cool for a whole culture. In my worse moments, I wonder if the man has psychotic tendencies – the inability to attach moral consequence to his own actions.
The big question is, of course, do filmmakers have any moral responsibility whatsoever? After all, they’re not preachers or lawmakers. They’re story-tellers, and they offer their stories in a contestable cultural arena. Surely it is simply up to the audiences to make what they will of those stories, and a great number of people have enjoyed and admired Inglourious Basterds. But I feel strongly that the stories we tell ourselves do actually have an effect on the cultures we forge. To live out of a story of vengeance or fear looks quite different from living out of a story of grace and compassion. As a friend of mine said yesterday, there’s the question of whether humanity is enhanced or detracted from in our artistic output. I for one wish to devote my abilities to projects which promote the former. As Arthur may have said, it’s enough that we live in a world with “Everyone living like there’s no such thing as right or wrong, like it doesn’t matter how you treat people.”
I’m with Arthur.