I grew up watching war movies.  The Longest Day (should have been called the Longest Movie),  PT 109,  All Quiet on the Western Front, and then there were the Vietnam war classics, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and so many more, not to mention Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Reader and so on.  It is however one thing to do a straight up war movie, another thing altogether to do something of a fictional parody (not to be confused with a comedy or a spoof). There is a very fine line one has to tread when it comes to the whole issue of the Nazis treatment of Jews during WWII. How does one do a parody, without losing the moral edge and concern for justice in the face of the Holocaust?  I must say that I honestly didn’t think this could be pulled off without someone raising the spectre of moral outrage, but somehow Quentin (violent???— Who me?) Tarantino has pulled it off, without trivializing anyone’s suffering, and on the whole without glorifying the human insanity known as war.

I must say that I am not a big Tarantino fan, his movies are too violent and crude for me on the whole. but in my book this is easily the best movie he has made, or at least his best since Pulp Fiction.  For a start the acting in this movie is superb.  Christoph Waltz as S.S. Officer Landa should win an academy award for his performance of the creepy but sophisticated Jew Hunter in this film. Here is a man who just radiates wickedness and human evil, all the while smiling and appearing to be normal in some respects.  Brad Pitt as erstwhile Apache commander Aldo of a brigade of Nazi hunters, who hails from Tennessee and sports a moustache and a phony Southern accent to boot, by no means bests Waltz as the best actor on the stage of this particular movie.  Pitt may win the plot line, but he loses the acting battle with Waltz in this film. And there are some fun cameo performances as well, such as Mike Myers playing the British intelligence dude.

The thing that makes a war parody so difficult to pull of is of course that it is such a serious subject. You really don’t want to have the Veteran’s Administration on your doorstep for overstepping the bounds of the appropriate when it comes to ‘these hallowed dead’.  And there is another side to this as well. The heroes in this movie are no less brutal than the villains, under the assumption that one must fight fire with fire.  This is a movie all about revenge.  Not merely the revenge of the Allies against the Nazis, but more specifically the revenge of a Jewish woman named Shoshanna (played very ably by Melanie Laurent) on her Nazi tormentors who had murdered her family.  Revenge is a soup best served cold, and it is hard to feel any warmth for any of these violent souls in this movie.  There really isn’t an ounce of human kindness or mercy shown in this film, or if there is, I missed it.

The cinematography is classic Tarantino– lots of close ups, odd angles, dramatic highlighting of strong colors, vivid well shot scenes, the usual stuff. And Tarantino deliberately does hommages to older movies using classic music— old show tunes, and even old cowboy film music (which is somewhat appropriate considering the scalping M.O. of Aldo and his gang of seven).  What is also explored in this movie is ‘what if’ scenarios.  What if someone had actually managed to blow up the Nazi high command before 1945?  How many lives could have been saved by such a drastic action, which would always require the inside help of Germans who wanted Nazism destroyed?

It may go without saying in American circles that Nazism should never be glorified as an extreme form of racism and ethnic cleansing, but I will never forget the chill I got  down my spine whilst on sabbatical in Tubingen when I was invited to the home of a devout Christian professor of Bible, and ushered into his parlor and there on the wall was an enormous black and white portrait, of dear old Papa– in full S.S. uniform.  And this was in 2000! 

‘Inglorious Basterds’ is not a movie to take the children or dear old mom to see. It’s not a date movie either for that matter. But its 2 hours and 33 minutes roll right along without a hitch and do indeed provoke some interesting thoughts about alternative ends to a bloody and horrible war.  And who wouldn’t have wanted WWII stopped before 1945 if it could have been stopped without capitulation to the Axis powers?   Tarantino does a tarantella, a dance of death, in this artful film, and I for one found it worth the watching, despite its excesses.  But then, since as General Mark Clark said,  ‘war is Hell’,  how could one give a sense of that without some excesses?

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