Of one thing you can be sure: There are no last suppers for Inglourious Basterds.
Glorious. Brilliant. Stunning. These words are an understatement in describing Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino yet again managed to surprise his audience into speechless stupor with his latest film. From the first minute of the movie to the very last, Tarantino’s artful mastery of violence and suspense will have the audience gripping the edge of their seats, mouths so open they show forgotten, half-chewed popcorn. The movie that seemed from trailers to be a simple action/fantasy movie about killing Nazis during WWII proved upon viewing to be a complex lesson about humanity’s capacity for cruelty. At the same time, the sardonic humor present in much of the dialogue makes Inglourious Basterds an all too enjoyable class.
Hinted at by Tarantino’s artistic flourishes—the movie is done in the vein of the “spaghetti-western” and features a deliberately mispelled title; Tarantino phrases Inglorious Basterds like a translated Catch-22. The film’s adoption of a classical five scene scheme is similarly outlandish, but unlike a Shakespeare play, their is no pretense of formality here. Like Joseph Heller, Tarantino courts the preposterous and patently absurd like a surrealist painting— art that imitates life so vaguely that it proves more accurate than realism. For Tarantino, through paradox there is precision.
In the first chapter, Tarantino introduces evil incarnate in Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Landa quickly draws the audience’s disgust by bullying French farmer LaPadite (Dennis Menochet) into admitting that he is sheltering a Jewish family. The colonel, with his oily mannerisms and multi-lingual skills, orders the murder of the family, leaving one survivor, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). By the end of this portion, I, along with the rest of the crowd at the theater, wanted the destruction of every Nazi Tarantino could conjure.
How convenient then, that Part Two portrays a group called the Inglourious Basterds, who are covertly inserted into Occupied France in order to kill Nazis. Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), the men set out to gather 100 Nazi scalps each. Soon, these men become fearsome legends among the Nazi soldiers, which brought a sense of triumph to those of us who wanted no more than for the evil exuded by the Nazis to be extinct.
Then we are introduced to the head of the Nazi Party, the leader of this wickedness, the mastermind behind the killing of innocents: Adolf Hitler. He is portrayed as pathetic, weak, and almost childish in his tantrums—definitely not a hardened criminal. The idea that Tarantino’s Hitler singlehandedly ordered the mass murder of eleven million people is rendered comically absurd. Immediately, the scene takes us to a bleak forest where the Basterds slaughter a squad of German soldiers, even beating the leader to death for not betraying his comrades-in-arms. The one survivor returns with the Swastika embedded permanently into his forehead. We see the Basterds laughing maniacally in the dull-colored ditch where the heads of the dead Germans shine bright red, showing telltale signs of having been scalped. Although the scene is supposed to be joyous, it is unconsciously haunting.
At this point, who can say which side is evil? While the audience sits, confusedly contemplating the film’s central moral dilemma, Tarantino brings back Shosanna, now the successful owner of a cinema. Surely Shoshanna’s desire for revenge must be righteous, must be true, in spite of every other character’s questionable actions. And so we have no choice but to wait for her to reach her goal, and hopefully get rid of some truly evil people along the way.
While Shosanna puts her plans into action, the Basterds and Col. Landa return, both headed towards Shosanna and her cinema, each with different plans in mind. As all the characters head toward the explosive finale, the tension builds up, even as the humor increases tenfold, and at some points, there is even some romance thrown in. None of this tension ends until the final second of the film, with even the last image firmly tattooed into our consciousness.
For lovers of Quentin Tarantino, I guarantee that this movie has his bloody signature splashed all over its flammable nitrate film print. For others, I guarantee that this movie is the masterpiece of the year, a precious piece of artwork that deserves a spot, if not at the Louvre, at least at the Oscars.