violent basterds…

by tobybee

Anzya and I just went and saw ‘Inglourious Basterds’.

I really wanted to see the film – I was speaking last week with an academic who was raving about it, saying that it acted out revenge fantasies that he never knew he had. I also have never particularly longed to kill Nazis (although of course I’ve obviously never wished them well), so I was somewhat intrigued to see how I’d respond to the film. In particular, would I love it as much as he had.

Well, I did quite like it. I laughed at many of the violent acts, particularly the very last moment (I won’t explain what it was – don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it). But as I write these words, I remember that the Nazis in the film screening scenes, when they were watching Italian soldiers being killed, were laughing at those deaths. And I found their laughter grotesque. And at another moment, again towards the end of the film, when so many of the Nazis were burning (sorry, bit of a spoiler, but not a total spoiler…) I re-realised how much I despise violence. And that watching those Nazis die made me recognise not the fun in their death, but the way in which fascism breeds fascism, violence breeds violence, potentially implicating us all in a world and a system which I fear and detest. And I thought, Can our history really be redeemed by perpetrating violence against those who violate us? But then, two minutes later, I was laughing at an act of violence which I felt was warranted. Maybe it was something about the symbolic level of the violence. Watching Nazis burn alive was, for me, horrifying. Watching a Nazi get a swastika carved into his head was funny.

Because the carving of the swastika represents the permanency of the Nazi identity. It isn’t something one can shed by taking off their clothes. To participate in such a regime is to be permanently marked. And the carving marked them once and for all.

I know, of course, that violence is Quentin Tarantino’s stock trade. But there was something particular about the violence that he showed in this film. Something which pointed, for me, to the inadequacy of the available responses we have to deal with the traumas that we, in our western societies, experience.

There’s lots of other ways in which this film could be thought through. What do those of you out there in blogland think?

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