Inglouroius Basterds: Tarantino's Dark Mirror?

Inglouroius Basterds: Tarantino’s Dark Mirror?

Is Tarantino trying to tell us something about the way we watch movies?

Sort-of spoiler alert: this post deals with a particular scene towards the end of the Inglourious Basterds, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to go into the theater with a clean slate, you should stop reading now (and get out there and see this movie pronto—it’s a gold mine for overthinking). That being said, I won’t reveal any major plot points, so if you don’t mind losing out a bit on the experience, then plow ahead.


First things first. This isn’t just a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s a Tarantino movie/fantasy about Nazis. There’s so much to be said about this complex film’s intentions and interpretations that I’d be a fool to try to give the entire movie the Overthinking It treatment in one shot. Instead, I want to focus on Nation’s Pride, the propaganda piece that serves as the backdrop for the film’s climax, and its unsettling effects on a movie audience.

Allow me to briefly setup: The Nazi high command, including Hitler himself, has gathered in a Paris movie theater for the premiere screening of Nation’s Pride, a Goebbel’s propaganda piece featuring a German war hero, Fredrick Zoller. As the Basterds try to execute their half-baked plot to blow up the theater, Zoller mows down wave after wave of American soldiers, and as each bullet splatters American blood on the ground, the Nazi crowd’s excitement grows and grows. They clap and cheer. Hitler is having a grand old time. We the movie audience are meant to be repulsed by the scene of Nazis enjoying Goebbel’s crass display of violence on screen. They’re killing the good guys, and we don’t like that.

During the screening, one of the main protagonists shoots one of the main Nazis in the back. Audience reaction? They clap and cheer, of course. This Nazi had it coming, right?

Oh, wait. That’s what the Nazis were doing during the screening of Nation’s Pride. I think I may have cheered a couple other Nazi killing moments in this movie, and I know I’ve cheered the death of expendable enemies in other movies. Now I feel dirty.

Did Tarantino intentionally sequence these events to elicit a cheer from the crowd shortly after Nation’s Pride elicited cheers from Hilter and Goebbels? I may be giving him too much credit, but Tarantino is an exceptionally deliberate and creative filmmaker. Even if he didn’t specifically setup this particular moment of audience participation, the message is still pretty clear: Tarantino is calling out his audience for reveling in violence much like the Nazis did.

Which is ironic, of course, given that Tarantino is the provider of said violence in this case, and that Tarantino himself often seems to revel in his moments of ultra-violence. But this case somehow feels different. It is a World War II movie, and Tarantino must certainly be self-aware enough to understand the implications of his ultra-violence in this context, especially the movie’s climax (which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it yet). And since he fairly explicitly calls out the Americans for their penchant for cruelty–they’re called “Basterds” for a reason–why not go one step further and apply that to the largely American audience as well?

Agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments, but please, do our readers a favor and indicate if your comment has spoilers in it.

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7 Comments on “Inglouroius Basterds: Tarantino’s Dark Mirror?”

  1. Donald Brown #

    Haven’t seen the film, and that’s largely because of my indifference to the kind of ‘overthinking’ it inspires. First premise: we go to movies to root for ‘good guys’ and to watch ‘bad guys’ defeated (and if necessary disembowled). Stop right there: any movie that is little more than a excuse for such an exercise is manipulative to the point of caricature. So I tend to stay home.

    Ok, fine, but some like manipulative caricatures, are addicted to them, in fact. Now they watch a film which gives them manipulative caricatures in order to underscore their addiction to manipulative caricatures. And some feel manipulated? Yes, because the filmmaker has manipulated their desire to be manipulated, and in the name of the easiest, knee-jerk manipulation possible: are you ‘a jew’ or ‘a nazi’? Or, in this case, ‘an american’ or ‘a nazi’.

    What your comment seems to say is: If both sides behave the same (within gross caricature) then they become the same. But I’d say they become the same only for the purposes of manipulation, which brings us back to how limited that first premise is. So . . . I’m just glad I’m not the ‘target audience’ for this exercise.


  2. J.Rollins #

    I think this film is a HUGE middle finger to the propaganda of war films, at the same time I think it’s saying ‘but aren’t those films still cathartic?’.

    I thought the same thing about Nation’s Pride the second time I saw it, I realized that Nation’s Pride and the last scene were prety close to one another and in context to Basterds the audience was Hitler laughing and laughing.

    It may be a statement saying ‘We’re no better than they are on a gut level.’ And I don’t think that’s a bad thing to state at all.

    This movie also makes Saving Private Ryan look like Forrest Gump!


  3. Will #

    I definable agree. The film seems to be saying “You actually laughed at those scenes earlier? You liked them? This is what you are. “


  4. Eric #

    I think it’s more an indictment on Tarantino and what he’ll do for money. That’s why I didn’t like the film much. Tarantino is getting cliche. None of the dialogue would have any power if it weren’t for the constant, looming threat of violence that Tarantino has in all his scenes. It gets old.


  5. Topher #


    I think the depiction of the Nazis enjoying the violence in ‘Nation’s Pride’ was deliberate. And in turn, turning it around on our own audience as well. Tarantino’s films have always played with our heads. From The mixed story lines of ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, he has shown he knows how to play an audience.

    Earlier in the film, Goebbels is compared to famous Jewish Hollywood filmmakers at the time, like David O. Selznick. It’s in the climax of the film that the Jewish theater owner Shoshana’s film of her laughing as the theater burns down while Nazi’s die. top it off with that we are seeing this depicted in a Hollywood film brought to you by the Weinstein Company– we see the true victory the film is celebrating.

    Hooray for Hollywood!


  6. Zack #

    I agree with you completely! I saw the Nazis laugh at the senseless murder onscreen, and thought “now I know they’re really evil.” Then I remembered watching the earlier scenes of even more violent Nazi-killing, and realized that I, the audience member, was also guilty of enjoying the violence.

    I think this is central to understanding the film, and have seen almost no one talking about it. All of the Nazis are real humans- a new father, a young man in love- while all of the Jews are monsters.

    The repeated, final image of the carved swastikas on foreheads and the speech Pitt gives are the most important point of the film- he thinks Nazis should never be forgiven. In reality, most Nazis were regular everyday people. They’ve been demonized to the level of Satan himself. The truth is messier and more nuanced.


  7. Grinderman #

    I agree with Zack. I’m actually shocked there hasn’t been more of a reaction to the idea of Jewish-American soldiers turning themselves into suicide bombers, because the implications (especially when you think about how positively the film portrays revenge) are really fucked up.


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