With all the buzz in LA this week about the Oscar voting – here is my vote— Inglorious Basterds should win Best Picture, and many other accolades for Quentin Tarantino and his brilliant cast. Basterds is the most intriguing movie about WWII and the Holocaust to be made in decades.
Writing about the film this week, a few days before the holiday of Purim, I am drawn to a parallel between Basterds and Purim. In the Purim story, Jewish salvation came not at the hands of politicians and power-brokers, but through a Jewish woman who had hidden her identity from everyone including her husband. In Basterds, it is also a Jewish woman, whose past and Jewish identity a secret, and is being romanced by a Nazi poster-boy, who is the heroine.
Basterds is a film about WWII and the “face of Jewish revenge” portrayed by a band of American Jews scalping Nazi behind enemy lines. There is also the Jewish woman who plots to murder the entire Nazi leadership as revenge for her murdered. None of these things actually happened, Basterds is a fairy tale.
The film is brilliant from every angle. It has drama, humor, romance, and suspense. The plot twists are compelling. The story, the photography, the script, the acting, and the drama all are detailed, textured, nuanced, colorful, and captivating.
I was apprehensive. I had never seen a Tarantino film, and heard there is a lot of violence. While Basterds has some pretty graphic violence, it is a WWII movie after- all. The scalping made everyone cringe. Yet the violence pales in comparison to portrayals of mass murder by Nazi death squads or gas chambers.
The Jews are tough in this film. More James Bond than Woody Allen, more Mossad, that Seinfeld. There are no sheep being led to the slaughter. The Nazis are brutal, interesting, grotesque – not unlike the real Nazis. The leader of the Basterds played by Brad Pitt brands Nazis with Swastikas on their foreheads so they cannot escape into regular life afterward. They cannot escape what they have done.
It is clear that Tarantino did a ton of research on his subject matter. He read up on the Nazi film industry, and the war, and real life WWII spy stuff. He digested all the previously exulted WWII movies and hints of them appear in the film
I enjoyed many parts of the film for their poetic justice, suspense, and dialogue – but this one I love to retell.
Winston Churchill, when hearing of the Germans plans to replace Jewish cinema with Nazi cinema, says “You say [Goebbels] wants to take on the Jews at their own game?”
If we cannot laugh we cannot heal. If we cannot dream we cannot move on. Tarantino’s film helps us heal, and move on, but that is not why he made it – he made it because it needed to be made.
If they would have murdered Hitler – millions would have been saved, but it was not the priority of the Allied forces. In fact, the only ones that made a serious attempt at it late in the war were fellow Germans.
The Allies tried to win the war the old-fashioned way, with infantry, tanks, planes and bombs, with propaganda, cloaks, daggers and brute force. I don’t know if this was Tarantino’s goal, but Basterds shows that redemption can come from average people doing extraordinary things. To stop an evil tyrant we cannot depend solely on conventional means, and conventional players, we need to act and hope that we are helped by the hand of God.