Basterds Rewrite History: Because facts are for pussies

The time machine question is a device that proves very few care for Hitler. When asked, “What would you do if you had a time machine?”, a staggering number of people will say, “Go back and kill Hitler.” Why? Sure, everything he did was problematic to humanity, but why kill? Maybe go back and arrange it so he actually got into Art School. Everyone has it out for Hitler, and Nazis as a whole. When it comes to the topic, people want blood. Nazi blood! The blood of the guilty! So, failing an actual time machine, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds serves as the next best thing, and is possibly the first film to give audiences flat out Man on Nazi violence.

When it surfaced that Tarantino’s long awaited “World War II film” (rumours started spreading a good year before Kill Bill was in the works) was a film about killing Nazis in cold blood I immediately loved it. A group of Jews beating the shit out of Nazis for a film’s premise - I can get behind that.

Many people will tell you that this is a war film. It isn’t. It’s a Nazi film. There is a difference, especially in this case, because WWII is merely the setting for the story’s progression. The dual story lines found within the film are connected only by the shared goal of the protagonists: to kill the Nazis dead.

Nazis have been firmly cemented into the pop-culture collective consciousness as being the unquestioned personification of evil, which makes them perfect film villains. A Nazi’s only characterization is the fact that he is a Nazi. One of the first things to come out of Aldo “the Apache” Raine’s mouth is that a Nazi “ain’t got no humanity,” solidifying their reputation as a soulless mass of evil.

Another way that it works to Tarantino’s advantage is that the main villain is the entire Third Reich. Nazis have been through the genre-bending rigmarole before and are easily fitted with other even stranger genres. This is what Tarantino loves - schlocky pastiche. Nazi films have a long history of being thrown into any fine genre-blend: Shockwave was Nazi zombies, Boys of Brazil was Nazis and clones, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is Nazis and 70‘s sexploitation, and Dead Snow was Nazi zombies, again. Inglorious Basterds has been compared to the “spaghetti western,” a favourite of Tarantino’s, and it’s a fitting description. Brad Pitt’s Aldo “the Apache” is basically Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, dressed in 1940’s War garb.

What separates Inglorious Basterds from any of the aforementioned films is that it’s better than all of them. This is a Nazi film with larger dimensions; a Nazi film where the Nazis are actual characters. The Basterds’ view of the Nazi is they are guilty by association, yet the film’s main villain is more fully realized than the majority of the other characters. Right from his first scene, Standartenfuhrer Hans Landa comes off as a man simply doing his job, and seems rather innocent and polite about it – always holding himself with a sense of class and social awkwardness thrown in for charm, misusing English sayings and phrases. This isn’t some cruel death machine SS character from the 70’s. This is an actual human being. Peel back the skin of the character and his true evil can be found, but Landa’s evil is one of a rare subtly. Nazi officials are more frequently characterized by mindlessly gunning down people. This is probably why he survives so long.

Inglorious Basterds starts off with the killing of nameless Nazis but eventually grows to showcase the actions of human beings when faced with what they see as evil. Tarantino knows that Nazis are evil and that evil must be destroyed, but along the way he gives us characters that carry more humanity than your average villain, making this possibly the best of the genre.

Sam MacDonald

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