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Three Takes on Inglorious Basterds

(In a break from our usual programming, On Violence is talking Academy Awards all week. Today everyone trashes on "Inglorious Basterds." Tomorrow we'll close up with a "The Hurt Locker" review and and link drop.)

Eric C's Second Take on Inglorious Basterds

I ended my last post on Inglorious Basterds asking you not to think too hard about the film. Quentin Tarantino disagrees. Not because he makes "important" films--he's never really tried to do that--but because Quentin Tarantino loves sub-textual film criticism, as he mentioned in an interview with Terry Gross. Fortunately, I do too.

So what's Inglorious Basterds about, beneath the surface? Propaganda and the German film industry. Goebbels is a supporting character, and the film's climax revolves around a propaganda film premiere. This propaganda film-within-a-film, which depicts a German sniper shooting hundreds of Americans from a bell tower, is over-the-top, absurd and unstomachingly jingoistic. Of course, that's also a pretty accurate description of Inglorious Basterds.

And that's the rub, isn't it? Despite being critical of propaganda, Inglorious Basterds is itself propaganda. Nazis, as I wrote before, are the easiest villains in the world to caricature. In his introduction to The Moon is Down, Donald V. Coers describes the common stereotypes of Germans in wartime propaganda, "heel clicking Huns...depraved, monocled intellectuals...thundering seig heils" or as Tarantino said, "if you want to see jack-booting Nazis in movies, you've got to watch American movies made at that time."

Or you could just watch Inglorious Basterds today. Hans Landa embodies a depraved intellectual. Goebbels is a pervert. Hitler acts like a moronic child. The heroic Nazi sniper is also a sexual predator.

Unlike propaganda by Germans or Americans in the 30's and 40's, Inglorious Basterds' impact is negligible; the war ended sixty years ago. It's more disturbing when Marcus Luttrell writes the jingoistic soon-to-be-filmed Lone Survivor today, or when Turkish filmmakers make the rabidly anti-American In the Valley of Wolves: Iraq, the most popular film in Turkish cinema history. Current propaganda spreads hate and fear; Inglorious Basterds spreads a nostalgic hate and fear.

Doesn't make it any less ridiculous.

Matty P's Take On Inglorious Basterds

Two soldiers face one another; one a Nazi and one an American. One man obstinately allows himself to be bludgeoned to death rather than betray his allies. With defiant dignity, he kneels awaiting a gruesome death at the hands of his captors, displaying a solemn honor at dying for the sake of his country and his comrades. Yet this man who loses his life is not meant to be a hero. He is the villain because he is a Nazi.

For me, this scene from Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds epitomizes my disconnect with the movie. An action movie about Jewish vengeance against the Nazi regime, the protagonists lack the moral fortitude of the Nazi that they kill. The heroes, the people the audience are meant to be cheering, descend to the very same moral depths as the Nazis they despise. It's been mentioned here at On V and elsewhere that the heroes commit acts of violence which mirror historical atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers and guards (namely, carving swastikas in the foreheads of the enemy). They also fire into crowds, beat men to death with baseball bats, and appear to be the worst covert ops insertion team in history as none bothered to learn German.

My problem isn't with using the Nazi party as antagonists. The best Indiana Jones movies pit the archeology professor against the Third Reich. As a large portion of my family is of German Jewish decent, I enjoy watching the staunch monocled Nazi stereotype outwitted by a plucky hero. My outrage stems from portrayals of American soldiers who appear more vicious and morally vapid than their Nazi counterparts.

Michael C on Ambushes and Inglorious Basterds


I have many issues with Inglorious Basterds, but I don't have enough room to cover them all. Instead, I will write about how Quentin Tarantino filmed sucky ambushes.

When we finally catch up with the Basterds in France, they are standing around two survivors of a slaughtered German platoon. The Basterds take their time interrogating the prisoners; they torture both, murder one, and then release the surviving Soldier, all this in the same place where they ambushed the German patrol.

In real life, an ambush is tactical mission that allows a smaller element to disrupt the operations of a larger force. It has two things going for it: surprise and speed. Surprise when you initiate the ambush, and speed as you destroy enemy forces and then exfiltrate. The longer you hang around on the objective (where you conducted the ambush), the sooner you will be discovered and killed.

Tarantino's Basterds break a fundamental rule of warfare in pursuit of his Nazi-violence-porn fantasy.

Is it that important that I tear apart one tactical mistake in Inglorious Basterds? It is. Inglorious Basterds butchered the past to fulfill some dumb fantasy. It doesn't deserve a Best Picture nomination.

(Also, I could barely sit through it and Eric C left in the middle to chase tail. It was that boring.)

five comments

Michael C didn’t mention it, But I normally hate when he analyzes the tactics in a movie. In this case we made an exception.

Also, I love Matty p’s point.


When I saw Inglorious Basterds I was entertained from the first second to the last. I left the theater thinking that it has been some time since I had enjoyed a movie as much. From a historical perspective of course the film is utter trash. I didn’t expect anything less. Nor was I expecting accurate depictions of military tactics. I am pretty sure that Tarantino did not profess to offer either of these elements. What was offered was entertainment and in that area the movie delivered with aplomb! A masterpiece.


Entertainment is hard to quantify. Most people, even critics who liked the film, thought many of the scenes were way too long. Hard to keep entertained that way.


Derek, I’m glad we have a differing opinion. I know a great deal of people who enjoyed the movie and wished they’d comment for us on why. What Eric is asking, I think, is what criteria were you using to qualify the movie as a masterpiece? That it was funny? The dialogue (which the director is know for)? The filming and lighting?

I admit, there were portion I enjoyed. Mostly the acting of the “Jew hunter.” Still, one performance can’t redeem the movie.


I personally was quite amazed by the film. I didn’t like it at all – but it most certainly created an effect! And I would suppose that this is exactly what the director/producer wanted. It’s an artists’ movie, not a war film at all!
You guys already pointed out a number of the flaws and the thing which made it really ridiculous was definitely the sniper-hero, who never re-located and took out something like 300 enemy soldiers… everybody knew where he was and nothing at all happened to him… yet for some reason they all wanted to be his target… but that just proves the point: is was just an artistic creation in order to stir up feelings, thoughts and considerations.

And that I believe, they did quite well. The atmosphere comes over in a rather realistic manner.
Do you guys know any old Nazis? I really liked the covert hostility of the main Nazi character and the sick, “friendly” way he always sneaked his poison in. Very realistic. Also the story of the Jews hiding in the cellar. Ancient classic: how the French guy who was hiding them ended up betraying them. I know many a person who is guilty of that sort of crime and I can promise you, they are suffering from it for all eternity, because they can afterwards never forgive themselves for it…

Anyway as for the scalping… did any of you read about the “Indian party” in “One shot, one kill”?
Frankly I don’t have a problem with it at all, because back then in Italy it did seem to serve a purpose and scared off the enemy. Therefore many lives were saved.