In my mind, Inglorious Bastards has always been Quentin Tarantino’s most polarising film. At best one can say it is a fascinating, controversial and wholly original portrait of a crucial period during the Second World War. At worst one can characterise it as an excessive, misleading, and ultimately pointless, adolescent effort. However, on this recent viewing of the picture, the film opened itself up to me and presented me with a much more interesting reading of its thematic explorations.
Primarily, the film is about a propaganda war with cinema being used as a tool to give countries and people a mythical grandeur. For example, the titular Bastards are seen by Hitler as spectral figures who have evaded capture. Additionally, he sees one of the soldiers in the infamous group who is called “The Bear Jew” as an actual Golem from Jewish folklore. The rumours and soldiers testimonies of their actions deeply disturb him and his cult of personality that he later decides that his attendance at a lavish German Film Night at a cinema in Paris is crucial.
The picture that is being shown at said event is entitled “Nation’s Pride.” It chronicles the three days survival of a lone German sniper called Fredrick Zoller and his subsequent killing of 250 enemy soldiers. One gets the distinctive impression that the film represents a morale boost for the German High Command. More crucially, the picture is used as a tool to mythologise and immortalise a recent victory, which is characteristic of the primary goals of the Third Reich. Daniel Bruhl, who plays Zoller, is the film’s most fascinating performance as Bruhl imbues the character with contrary traits of arrogance and bashfulness, which results in the most interesting aspect of the film. In fact, one of the picture’s smallest moments casts the most considerable impression.
In the aftermath of the death of Zoller at the hands of Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), the young Jewish woman and projectionist of “Nation’s Pride.” observes the young decorated war hero in the film. She sees his vulnerability and abject fear of the situation and then she looks back at his dead body and casts this sad expression. For the first time, she can look beyond the mythic façade as well as the Nazi uniform and be reminded that she killed a human being.
The moment is also indicative of a recurring theme in the film, in which the actual truth shatters perceived truth. This theme is magnificently surmised by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) at the beginning of the film when he says, “I love rumours! Facts can be so misleading, where rumours, true or false, are often revealing.” Tarantino employs this on a personal level when characters confront one another on their reputations. For example, near the end of the picture, Landa defensively recoils at his title of “The Jew Hunter.” and remarks upon the nature of one of the captured Bastards’ nicknames, “The Little Man.”
Lt Aldo Raine smugly says at the end of the picture, “I think this might be my masterpiece.” Inglorious Basterds is not Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece but it is his most sophisticated film in expounding upon the power and virtue of the cinematic medium.