I just went to see Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, in all its bloody, quirky, fiery beauty. As with most good art, this film left me satisfied yet troubled to confront my own bloody, quirky, fiery beauty.
First, the movie is a great piece of filmmaking. Tarantino is at his best, showing his trademark style of being as much a cinema fan and afficionado as a solid and visionary director. The guy has chops, and there are plenty of original as well as reverential choices he makes throughout. It is impossible not to get swept up in the sheer joy Tarantino obviously has in the journey of his film. And there are a number of solid performances of surprising depth and even understatement--a lot of closeups and dialog displaying Tarantino's (also the writer) brilliant ear for language. Inglourious Basterds is a beautiful, complex, troubling and even humorous piece of art.
Like some of the paintings I recently saw at the Getty museum in L.A., the film was not just pretty to look at; it really challenged me. I'm troubled by the joy I felt watching Nazis getting maimed and killed in the most horrific ways. I was cheering on the basterds as they scalped one Nazi or beat another with a baseball bat (these are in the TV ads, so no real spoiler). After all, they're Nazis--they've got it coming, right? Right?
In some ways I felt this was something of a cultural catharsis. Tarantino is going back and rewriting history in what my angry flesh feels is a very satisfying way. Seeing swastikas burn and get carved into...well, I'll have to stop lest I get into spoilers. But you get the idea. There's a strong feeling of satisfaction, even relief, at some of the most evil people in history getting what most of us feel they deserve.
But throughout the movie, there was always my underlying value system reminding me that that's not how Jesus handled the evil people around him. "Oh, Robert! You didn't go and take Jesus to a Tarantino film, did you? You were so happy with the violent come-uppances before you dragged Jesus into the whole mess." Well, I tried to leave him at home, but he just insisted on coming along. He's like that sometimes.
Anyway, there was all kinds of Old Testament stuff going through my head in my attempts to rationalize my elation. Little Quentin has nothing on the Judges or any number of Old Testament figures exacting the Lord's vengeance on those who would thwart his will. Just picture Ehud confronting fat King Eglon, coldly whispering in his ear, "I have a message for you from the Lord," and then thrusting his machete in the king's gut so deep that the fat swallows the handle (Judges 3). Tarantino wishes he could write so well.
So, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I cheered on the destruction of Nazis. I was not overly-sensitive to the violence, just enough to assure myself that I'm not a serial killer. But Jesus was there with me in the form of the Holy Spirit, reminding me that my sin is no less sinful than that of Hitler himself. Nevertheless, it is paid for. And even an inglourious basterd like me has been given the right to be called a son of the Living God...and vengeance is his!
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