Guest post by Michelle Calligaro
“When people say there is too much violence in [my books], what they are saying is there is too much reality in life.” Joyce Carol Oates
One man being hounded at the moment because of the violence in his art is Quentin Tarantino over his new film Inglourious Basterds, a pulp action-thriller set during World War II. I will admit that Reservoir Dogs is one of my all-time favourite movies, but I haven’t watched many of Tarantino’s films since. I gave up after Natural Born Killers – I don’t even think I watched it all the way through. But a friend convinced me that Inglourious Basterds was worth seeing, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plot is inspired, the international cast excellent and it is visually and stylistically spot-on.
But, and I think this is what the critics are missing, the most interesting thing about Inglourious Basterds is the way Tarantino presents violence. It isn’t always easy to watch, I spent half the film with my hand over my eyes, but all the characters are compromised by it. And while Tarantino has himself said that we love to watch it, I don’t think, in this instance at least, it is violence simply for violence’s sake. The black humour prevalent throughout doesn’t allow a complacent view of the agresssion, for which none of the characters are vindicated: Aldo, the American ‘hero’ and leader of the basterds is clearly psychotic. The classic ‘Mexican-standoff’ moment, when three men have their guns pointed at each other’s dicks, pretty much sums up for me the appalling and ridiculous futility of male violence that is magnified in war.
Some have said that his use of the pulp genre reduces the absolute horror of his subject. I disagree – like any great artist, he makes us see something we are very familiar with in a new way. You can only watch so many realist dramas about the Holocaust before you start to become numb to the horror and inhumanity of it all. Inglourious Basterds, while being highly entertaining, challenges you all over again. And at the same time, Tarantino continues to question his own art by setting the destruction of Hitler and his Nazi war machine inside a cinema – an icon of art, but also one of the great instruments of war propaganda.
Tarantino’s films don’t always satisy beyond the level of schlock fest, but Inglourious Basterds is inspired. And to return to Ms Oates, it would be very naive of us to think that the reality of World War II was any less senselessly violent than Tarantino imagines.
Cross-posted at The Readings Carlton blog