My favourite Tarantino film; I find more depth in Basterds than any of his other films. Taraninto’s ability to build tension has never been better, the cast is one of Tarantino’s best (Waltz’ performance is a marvel), the interwoven structure works brilliantly, but it’s the meta-commentary on films and film-making that really excites me.
Note, this review contains spoilers.
Tarantino’s worship of movies is well-documented and I’m sure he has a lot of rage for Nazi propaganda film-making (indeed, John Ford’s apparent appearance in The Birth of a Nation is one of the reasons for Tarantino’s controversial hatred of the man). Beyond the technical awfulness of Goebbel’s film within Basterds – the actual soldier the film is based on playing himself, all the snippets of the film we see being the exact same thing, etc. – Nazi propaganda films like it were used to stir political fervour and advance a political cause widely regarded as one of the cruellest and vilest in all human history. For “violating” film-making in this way, an art Tarantino holds to near mythic levels of appreciation and love, they’re punished in Basterds by being destroyed – literally! – by their films, for their abuse of the art.
There’s greater meaning behind that ending scene now; much has been written of Tarantino paralleling Hitler and the Nazis laughing and sadistically enjoying the portrayed deaths of hundreds of men (with the real-life audience, us, meant to be disgusted by this display of mirth over violence), and we the actual audience displaying similar joy and satisfaction at Shoshanna and the Basterds burning alive, and shooting, those present.
This fascinates me as it’s one of the rare times Tarantino offers a deeper criticism or examination of violence in his films. Of course the Third Reich ending is a wonderful thing, but is displaying fervored joy at such a slaughter healthy? It’s a rare moment of self-reflection on violence for Tarantino’s films, and while I don’t believe it’s there to function as a straight “we’re not so different, you and I” moment exactly, the parallels between the Nazi’s infamous crime of burning Jews alive, and Shoshanna and the Basterds literally burning the Nazi high command alive, are definitely there.There’s a lot there beyond the surface-level catharsis.
The film offers a fascinating examination of how cinema can be used to dehumanise violence and the enemy. While I do find the final line of the film to be a bit of an eye-roll moment, I do agree with Tarantino – this was his masterpiece.
I give it four and a half slices of strudel, and a glass of milk.