A modern day auteur, Quentin Tarantino has continuously revolutionized how cinemagoers experience films. By embracing his various passions and interests, and incorporating them into his films, Tarantino has proved that genres and styles do not have to be limited by culture, and in the case of Inglourious Basterds (2009), historical accuracy. Because of his postmodern approach and his unique viewpoints and style, Inglourious Basterds is a welcome addition to Tarantino’s cinematic canon.
Inglourious Basterds (2009) is a contemporary spaghetti western style film that is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The film recounts the story of a motley crew of American soldiers, known as the Basterds, who set out on a mission to kill as many Nazi soldiers as possible. The Basterds are joined by rogue-Nazi soldier Hugo Stiglitz, who, like the Basterds, has taken matters into his own hands and has done everything in his power to destroy the Third Reich. While these men work in conjunction with each other, unbeknownst to this clandestine group, Shosanna Dreyfus is also plotting her revenge on the Third Reich, specifically SS Colonel Hans Landa, who is infamously called the “Jew Hunter” (Inglourious Basterds, 2009). This film features a wide range of well-known actors, which include Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Julie Dreyfus, and Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson — whom only provide voice-overs; also included in the cast are actors Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruhl, August Diehl, and Christoph Waltz, who are well-known in European cinema and theatre. The collaboration between these actors adds a sense of authenticity to the film, as Tarantino is able to effectively demonstrate how different cultures interact with each other. Furthermore, by having many of these actors speak in their native tongue, German, Tarantino is able to show a realistic portrayal Nazi antagonists juxtaposed against English-speaking protagonists. In this sense, language is used as a tool to help identify good forces and evil forces.
In order to portray the interactions and relationships that these characters have with each other, Tarantino divides the film into self-contained chapters whose narratives run parallel to each other and eventually collide at the film’s climax, Shosanna’s and the Basterds’ separate but simultaneous attack of , including a historically inaccurate assassination of Hitler, at the screening of Nation’s Pride, a Nazi propaganda film (Inglourious Basterds, 2009). Another trademark that Tarantino masterfully employs in the film’s narrative is the homage he plays to former cinema icons. These icons include Ennio Morricone — whose influence can be heard in the film’s soundtrack, Mexican B-movie actor Hugo Stiglitz — who has a character named after him played by Til Schwieger, and references made to filmmakers Enzo G. Castellari, Antonio Margheriti, and Edgar G. Ulmer. Other Tarantino signatures include a close up shot of bare feet — seen in films such as Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), a Mexican standoff — seen in films such as Reservoir Dogs (1994), and a cameo appearance by the director himself, both as a scalped Nazi soldier and as a soldier in the propaganda film Nation’s Pride (Inglourious Basterds, 2009).
Tarantino did not set out to make a historically accurate film, but rather set out to make a film that depicts the battle between right and wrong, even if the battle employs methods that are devious and underhanded. Through the film, Tarantino seeks not to represent events as they were, but rather as people want them to be, which helps to provide them with a sense of satisfaction. For example, the gratuitous violence against Nazi officers, including the assassinations of Hitler and Goebbels, allows Tarantino to vent the frustrations of countless people who suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. Tarantino is able to redirect his focus to showcase people that wanted to end the madness and destruction of the Third Reich. While seemingly opposing approaches are taken to attack Nazis, a collective goal is reached; as is stated in the film, “Down with Hitler. All the way down” (Inglourious Basterds, 2009).
Inglourious Basterds (2009) is a successful film in part because of its realistic scenery and landscape of war torn France and the narrative juxtaposition of characters and their individual and collective goals. Furthermore, Inglourious Basterds is unlike any other of Tarantino’s films in the way that it uses foreign language not only as a part of the narrative, but also as a plot device; the integration of foreign language is an indulgence into Tarantino’s love of pastiche and while they may appear to be out of place in an American film, they add a touch of realism in an otherwise historically inaccurate film.
Contemporary and anachronistic music also highlights the contrasting nature of characters and the historical inaccuracy of the film, however, it does not detract from the narrative and actually drives the action in the film. For example, Tarantino establishes Inglourious Basterds (2009) as a spaghetti western and incorporates Ennio Morricone’s music, which is highly attributed to classic spaghetti western films. Morricone’s music in the film highlights the unexpected changes in the narrative. Additionally, Tarantino’s use of music by contemporary artists, such as David Bowie and Billy Preston, helps to drive the narrative as the lyrics in the songs support the action of the narrative. While many would consider the juxtaposition of contemporary music with historical events to be discordant, the music that Tarantino chose for the film does not detract from the story and is a rare marriage of the past and the present.
Tarantino’s continued use of complex narratives, character development, and extensive knowledge of music and film enable him to create cinematic masterpieces that capture the imagination of fans and critics alike. Furthermore, it is Tarantino’s involvement in every aspect of his films that help him to make them uniquely his own. Tarantino does not adhere to anyone’s rules but his own and is willing to go where no other director and writer dreams of going.
Inglourious Basterds. (2009). Dir. Quentin Tarantino. USA/Germany/France: Universal Pictures.