Quentin Tarantino is not a predictable artist in certain ways. One thing that can always be counted upon with him, though, is his willingness to break any rule to serve the story he wants to tell. That story, you’ll come to find out, isn’t ever going to be told conventionally. It is a winding snake with a wild rattle. Its direction cannot be predicted. It’s best to leave what you know, what you expect, at the door. Sit back, buckle in and wait.
Inglourious Basterds is an odd film, uniquely Tarantino’s, deliberately convoluted and confidently written. It is one that takes some time to sink in, however. At first glance it might seem like the most annoying movie you’ve ever seen. It might seem like it makes no clear sense and is obtuse just for the sake of it. In fact, one can’t really say for sure there is any deeper meaning there. But the same can be said about all of the beautiful modern art paintings that line the Musee d’Orsay. Meaning can be brought in but meaning can be left out and the end result is the same.
With beautiful colors, long sequences of characters talking, sometimes in different languages, Inglourious Basterds is a weird kind of movie about Nazi hunters, or about a tiny handful of heroes who sought to take down the Nazis. Not in real life, of course. This is pure fantasy but it’s fantasy for the sake of it. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to find anything wrong with that.
Oh, sure, there have been fringe accusations of Holocaust denials, declarations that the filmmaker is being disrespectful and should not tread on this ground. But the film itself is only partly about Nazis. It seems to be more about movie Nazis and movie villains. There probably isn’t another archetype, besides the Devil, who inspires more immediate hatred. A character wearing a Nazi uniform is unequivocally evil.
What is interesting in Inglourious Basterds is that one does feel bad when some of the Nazis die, others not so much. The Basterds, a group of Nazi killers headed by a Clark Gable-esque Brad Pitt, kill without pause or thought. They are private security contractors sent in to take out as many as possible.
However, this element is only part of the story. The more engaging one involves an escaped Jew named Shoshanna (portrayed by the magnificent Melanie Laurent) who has inherited a movie theater. She is approached by a Nazi (Frederick Zoller) who also loves movies. He pursues her relentlessly. But she will never, can never open her heart to him. When he forces her to have a Nazi movie premiere, the whole thing has the potential to do some serious Nazi harm.
Yes, it’s outlandish and ridiculous, yes, it never happened. Still, there is something about the movie – a kind of vibrancy that most films don’t have because most directors aren’t in a place in their career where they can afford to continue pursuing their singular artistic vision like Tarantino does. This is a director who has yet to sell out to big Hollywood. He’s one of the last auteurs.