Monday, September 07, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)

Inglourious Basterds is not only probably Tarantino's best film to date -- at this point in time, I'd say it is -- but more importantly it is a film that I never would have thought him capable of creating. Though certain stylistic flourishes remain, Tarantino drops a few of his crutches (namely the mixtape soundtrack and the barrage of pop culture fetishism) and tackles his subject matter with something his work, even the good stuff, has rarely possessed in the past -- a desire to communicate an important idea.

The film melds Tarantino's mastery of surface pleasures with a newfound commitment to layered, sophisticated thematics and the result is an exhilarating film that is not only a rewrite of history, but in some ways an actual argument in support of historical inaccuracy. Tarantino argues that we have had enough films in which we see the repeated images of strong, powerful Nazis hounding terrified Jews and executing them mercilessly. Those films have their place in telling a history, but what are the consequences of having those images barrage us every year around Oscar season?

Like the film's Nazi propagandists who realize that the cinema can be used to rally a nation and inspire pride, Tarantino audaciously suggests that a film with a band of ruthless Jewish spies who put terror into the hearts of their enemies might have real life value in the way it alters our perceptions. Instead of using cinema to kill the Jews over and over and over, why not use it to burn the idea of Nazism in effigy? Only Tarantino would be so cocky as to use the final line of his film to insinuate that he knows that the film he has created is fantastic. But I have to say that I agree with his assessment.

Inglourious Basterds is a film that is exciting not only because it is perhaps the pinnacle of Tarantino's cinema. It is exciting because it suggests that Tarantino may have reached a new stage in his career. It took him 15 years to live up to the enormous hype of Pulp Fiction. Let's hope it takes far less time for him to match this one.