Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter


‘Inglourious Basterds': Should Jews Be Outraged?

posted by Kris Rasmussen

inglouriousbasterds.jpg
I have long written director Tarantino off as someone who values the razzle-dazzle of moviemaking over the possibilities of transformative storytelling on the big screen. After all, I had to watch “Pulp Fiction” in film class like every other film student, but never bought into anything more than the visual “wow” factor of it all. So I was in no rush to check out his latest, “Inglourious Basterds.” But after reading Movie Mom’s review -which while pointing out problems with the film surprised me by still giving the movie a B+ – and then reading a very interesting editorial in Newsweek called “Inglorious Basterds:When Jews Attack,” I began to have some nagging questions about this movie.
Is this movie about a small group of Jews who have a goal to torture and kill Nazis and bring their leader one hundred scalps each glorifying a relatively small footnote in history?(Examples of large scale violent Jewish resistance were not as common as recent movies, including “Defiance,” might indicate.) Is such a stylized, frenetic telling of these horrific slayings diminishing the experience of many Jews during the Holocaust? And most importantly, I have been asking myself since watching the movie, should Jews be outraged by this movie?


To say “Inglourious Basterds” relishes, revels and otherwise delights in revenge is an understatement. No, the bigger statement of this movie it seems to me is that if you have been victimized enough, traumatized enough, you have license to do what you want with the bad guys. More than that, the movie seems to support the idea that this is somehow the greatest legacy one can leave behind.
So I come back to the question of why I am not reading or hearing more from the Jewish community about the inglorious representation “Inglourious” gives of Jews and of a defining period in history. I am not Jewish, but all I can say is that I have to believe that if I was, I would be angry about my faith and culture being represented in a way that seems to attack the legacy of many Jews to peacefully preserve the memory of many who unjustly suffered and died.
If you are someone of Jewish faith, I would really appreciate you leaving a thoughtful comment on your reaction to this movie or perhaps explain to me why I am overreacting. After all, I just found this great L.A. Times article in which one rabbi agrees with my take on this and another rabbi doesn’t. So I’m looking forward to some lively discussion, Idol Chatter readers!
Quentin Tarantino



  • James

    I haven’t seen this yet, but that’s just because of my busy schedule. I’ve read many reviews and various concerns. From what I can tell, this is probably a new genre, albeit a predictably small one; Jewsploitation. Tarantino is into the “‘sploitation” thing, as he’s shown with Jackie Brown. I would define “‘sploitation” as directed as a revenge fantasy about an oppressed people vanquishing the oppressor. The keyword is fantasy. Shaft and his army of friends didn’t bring down “the Man” in the 70s any more than the Basterds brought down the Nazis. It’s mindless entertainment. This is not an endorsement of the movies. I am saying that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously historically (obviously), or otherwise.

  • Alicia

    I’m not Jewish, but I have seen the movie. I think the “When Jews attack” portion of the film which gives it its title was very undeveloped in the actual movie.
    It was as if Tarantino couldn’t decide whether he wanted to remake “The Dirty Dozen” or develop the seperate story line concerning Shoshana (which was the best part of the film). Personally, even within the rules setting this film up as a “revenge fantasy” I thought it was preposterous and half-baked. Yet nearly every individual “set piece” was brilliantly done. I don’t think the film need trouble anyone because it is just too silly.
    I have really enjoyed several Tarantino films, but this one left me cold. In my opinion, he needs a co-writer.

  • http://HUH? Andre

    A movie director hands you a tale of the greatest fantasy of revenge, presents the Nazi’s as pathetic pigs basically, and you find something wrong with that?
    No one is ever going to forget what happened, but its time to move on and learn from what has happened. This movie is a comedy fantasy – a movie. There are a lot of atrocities that are happening right now, that are not serving the human condition in the present and future; furthermore, for you to split hairs and waste time to try to find something wrong in a movie that displays a fantasy scene where the killers are killed that are responsible for the holocaust in a sort of comedically twisted tryst……??????? Is there anything you won’t complain about is my question.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/2009/08/inglourious-basterds.html Nell Minow

    Thanks for a thoughtful comment. Every Jew will have to make his or her own decision about whether this film is offensive. I was not offended by it. I believe Tarantino is a master of the language of film and a writer of arresting dialog. But I also believe he is a Cuisinart of popular culture with no moral weight or point or value other than sensation and some notion of coolness. He appropriates signifiers of great power like Nazis as a short cut to getting us to feel strongly, because he does not want to take the time to show us a reason. It bothers me that he does this, but it does not offend me. I recommend an excellent discussion of this issue on Slate’s cultural gabfest this week that includes Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler. He expressed the same ambivalence I feel about the film.
    As I said in my review,
    “If the misspelling of the words in the title was a signal of some kind, like the backwards letter intended as a warning and a small sign of protest in the sign over the gate at Auschwitz, then we could look for meaning in the reworking of historical events and the actions taken by real people. But Tarantino does not care about that. He is still about sensation, not sense. He appropriates the signifiers of WWII because they are easy, and because they are both scary and safe. His Nah-sies are like dinosaurs, unquestionably dangerous and unquestionably vanquished. Tarantino is a film savant. He knows and understands and loves the language of film. He just doesn’t have much to say.”

  • http://www.whyshouldicareontheweb.com jeanette friedman

    I am a daughter of Holocaust survivors who helps survivors write their memoirs and also acts as a referral service to those of them in need. There are more than 150,000 impoverished elderly Holocaust survivors around the world, including in America, who cannot get the help they need that would allow them to die with dignity on clean sheets in their old age.
    Hollywood’s current exploitation of the Holocaust is disgusting. (At least Spielberg gave all the profits of Schindler’s List to charity and founded the Shoah Visual History Foundation to get their stories told.) But exploiters like Weinstein and Tarantino just can’t give a penny up to those poor, silent Holocaust leftovers who suffered so much and whose past now serves as fodder for their films. (Nechama Tec, who wrote Defiance is not thrilled with “James Bond Does the Holocaust, too.)
    These “basterds” make more money in one day that some of these people have made in their lifetimes. It would be only be the right thing to do if the “sploiters” would do something to help someone other than themselves, but I have lost hope for these people Compassion is not something they have in their minds or hearts. Their minds and hearts are filled with perverted fantasies that make our parents look like basket cases.
    The worst of all this is that most of the producers of this drivel are Jewish and have nothing but contempt for those of us whose parents went through the hell of the Holocaust.
    If those “inglourious basterds” (that includes those who made “Death in Love”, “The Grey Zone” and “The Reader”) want to help, they can call UJAFed/NY at 212-836-1720 and speak to the people who are in the process of trying to raise money for the starving Holocaust survivors in the New York area.
    If they want to give money on the West Coast, let them call the people at the 1939 Club ((310) 491-7802) and get some information from them.
    If they want to help the starving Holocaust survivors in Europe, they can donate funds specifically for that to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee–212-687-6200 and ask for Steve Schwager.
    80,000 of these poor Holocaust survivors live in Israel. To give money to Israeli Holocaust survivors, call Zev Factor or Noach Flug at +972-2-6231737
    Anyone who calls these people can tell them that Jeanette asked them to make the call.

  • http://maggiesfarm.anotherdotcom.com/archives/12318-Inglourious-Basterds,-A-Personal-Take.html Bruce Kesler
  • Kris Rasmussen

    Andre- I don’t complain about many things: stories about love and forgiveness and repentance, or real people doing acts of kindness, or intelligent debate with strangers. The list could go on and on.
    However, I didn’t frame my post as a complaint. I framed it as a question. The fact that I can link to several other articles with similar questions might indicate that this is a worthy question to discuss.
    As far as this movie being a comedy…you have a very different definition of the genre.

  • GJ

    This is just a classic example of a person getting offended on someone else’s behalf. It’s called paternalism.

  • D A C

    It’s just a movie! Whatever happened to freedom of expression.
    I am a Lebenease American Ive been offended offten since 9-11
    Arab Americans are often protrade as terrorist or evil do”ors
    I do not see anyone standing up for them.

  • Dan Creech

    It is just amovie, there is no need to be politically correct here,good movie at that,

  • lbean

    Good discussion. Obviously everyone realizes it’s “just a movie”–and I think the point was to generate discussion, not be paternalistic. I went looking for exactly such a discussion after seeing the film. I’m not Jewish, but I have studied a lot of WWII history in my days as a German major in college, and it’s still an interest of mine. I’ll admit freely that I enjoyed the movie. Typical Tarentino gore, but I thought the Germans were well-portrayed. Books I’ve read really matched the whole Shoshana sequence (especially the first part with the betrayal), and even though some characters were one-dimensional, I found it fascinating.
    Jeanette–I wholeheartedly agree that at least some (if not all) the proceeds could and should go to Holocaust survivors who are struggling. What a great idea. Quentin himself does not need more money, for Pete’s sake! I don’t make much (I teach elementary school), but I will be calling the numbers you listed to make a contribution. I appreciate the information. God Bless.

  • Jay

    Jewish people felt that after the 6 day war, they could really look anyone in the eye. It was an important moment in Jewish history for the psyche of Jews, because the stereotype is that they are not tough, not strong, and somewhat perpetual victims. There’s also a bit of shame in the Jewish community for not fighting back more. It might have been futile, but there is absolutely no pride in not having responded violently.
    The reaction to the movie by jews has been so positive, I think, because of that. If it happens again, we aren’t going to take it lying down.

  • Keith Wald

    I happen to be the son of jewish parents, but I have to agree with most of the other comments here. Sometimes a movie is just a movie. I’m sure all this analysis is putting way, way more thought into these issues than Tarantino himself did when he wrote it. It’s just entertainment.

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