Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another thought on Inglourious Basterds

The wife's away this week, and out of sheer boredom I decided to watch all of Tarantino's films again. We'll see how far I get. Started last night with Inglourious Basterds. Felt about it pretty much the same way I did the first time - still love it - may have enjoyed it more this time. Wasn't as worried, I guess, about what it was saying about torture.

Which is probably the right way to approach this movie. This time I was struck by something Brad Pitt's character says in that memorable scene where we first see the Basterds in action whacking Germans. He says, "Killing Nazis is the closest we get to going to the movies," or words to that effect.

Reverse it and you have what is pretty obviously the point of this movie: going to the movies is the closest most of us will ever get to killing Nazis. To, in other words, seeing good triumph over evil, and even participating in that triumph - most of us partake of great events only vicariously.

In other words this movie is really about the capacity of the movies to offer us catharsis, a space in which to live out the things we can't in real life. Shosanna does this in a very literal way - she doesn't get to experience her vengeance, her triumph, only her cinematic avatar does.
Victims of the Nazis don't get to bash Nazi heads in - only their celluloid homonculi do.

None of which is to say that because it's "just a movie," we don't have to worry about what it says about torture - if nothing else this movie should convince us that the diminutive "just" is a slur on art. But it is to say that, at least potentially, violence onscreen (on the page, or in a song) can have a different meaning than it does in real life. Can. And that maybe we don't have to, even shouldn't, forbid to our imaginations everything forbidden to our bodies.

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