I had to lay out six bucks to watch Inglorious Basterds on Pay Per View because the wait on Netflix was just too long. So clearly Quentin Tarantino’s fantasy adventure about a band of Jews who wander around occupied France killing and torturing German soldiers is doing well on DVD. And listen, there’s no denying the director’s skill or the fine acting or even the entertainment value of the film’s first half. The first scene, in fact, is worthy of Hitchcock.
But I found it an appalling movie – really; appalling. I can’t remember the last time I used the word offensive about a work of art. Art never offends me – well, hardly ever. But this film isn’t offensive in any petty Piss Christ way – you know, where some adolescent vandal scrawls obscenities on the sacred to annoy the grown-ups and get some attention. This is offensive in the moral, “Let them eat cake,” sense: that is, it exhibits an understanding of human suffering so shallow it falls outside the bounds of civil discussion.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you this: there was this thing called the Holocaust, right? I mean, right? Where people not so different from you and me acquiesced to the logic of Satanic evil? We do remember this, I know. How they built factories for killing children like your children and parents like your parents and lovers like your lover and people like you because those people had this name instead of that name, this bloodline instead of that. A city’s-worth of crucifixions. I know we haven’t forgotten.
Okay, so I don’t want to overstate this. I understand time passes and we move on and books like Night and films like Shoah are almost too true to bear and we need sentimental, less true stuff like Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful and some shallowness and forgetfulness are part of the triumph of life and hooray for that.
But for Tarantino, no matter how talented, to address the issues inherent in the event as pure fodder for storytelling, to think his squirrelly man-on-man torture fantasies or his video geek understanding of life provide an adequate moral response to that level of history – I don’t know, man – it just felt to me like he was molding toy soldiers out of the ashes of the dead. Even real Jews torturing real German soldiers would not provide a profound or even interesting resolution, but this stuff?
Which is not to say Tarantino’s a bad guy or a bad director or that there’s a special room in hell or whatever. It’s just to point out what I think is an extreme example of an everyday problem in today’s Hollywood film-making. When you ask yourself how our creative class could have responded so shabbily to 9/11; when you wonder how they could’ve made movies that gave aid and comfort to our enemies while our soldiers were in the field; when you wonder why so few of them thought to reconsider their ideology in the face of so horrifying a disproof, you may be able to find the answer in a film like Inglorious Basterds.
Whether it’s because of money or celebrity, a fierce leftist miscreed or isolation among their own kind, too many of our artists seem to have been sapped of their understanding of suffering and history. They have lost their feel for the passion and pity of life. They think it’s all only a movie.