Inglourious Basterds part 1

LaPadite vs Landa in an epic pipe-off.

For a minute or so, it looks like the protagonist of Inglourious Basterds is going to be Perrier LaPadite, a humble French dairy farmer just trying to eke his way through World War II in the French countryside with his daughters.  Into LaPadite’s island of relative calm comes Col Hans Landa.  The opening scene of Inglourious Basterds is over 15 minutes long, which is extraordinary in and of itself.  15 minutes is a huge amount of screen time to spend on a scene, especially an opening scene, especially a two-handed opening scene where one of the characters will never be seen again.  That’s just the beginning of the daring and audacity of Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay.

The scene is one long suspense beat, a pattern that will be repeated throughout the movie.  Over and over, Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until is is almost a relief when the tension explodes into violence.  Which is, as it turns out, one of the things that elevates Basterds to the level of high art — Tarantino repeatedly uses the audience’s desire for release against it.  The movie doesn’t merely use violence, it’s about violence, particularly violence in movies, or in popular culture anyway, and the way it can be used to manipulate an audience, or a populace.  It repeatedly gets you longing for violence and then, by the time it shows up, it’s not what you wanted or expected it to be.  The movie as a whole doesn’t offer up easy answers, rather it asks extremely uncomfortable questions.

Shortly into the first scene, it becomes clear that LaPadite isn’t the protagonist, Landa is.  LaPadite is reactive, Landa is the one driving the scene every step of the way.  The performances in Basterds are extraordinary, and Christoph Waltz as Landa is extraordinary even by the standards of the rest of the movie, but the performance, if I may be so bold, rises from the ingenuity of the screenplay.

Landa comes into LaPadite’s humble abode and gently insinuates himself into his family.  He is polite, complimentary and even gracious.  Why do we know that he’s actually a ruthless killer, a monster to be reckoned with?  Two reasons.  One, he’s wearing a Nazi uniform, and everyone old enough to see Inglourious Basterds knows that Nazis are evil (a supposition the movie will go on to exploit to its fullest).  Two, we know Landa is scary because LaPadite and his daughters act scared around him.  Landa actually has to go pretty far out of his way to put LaPadite at ease: he poses as a gentleman, a connoisseur, a gossip, a harmless bureaucrat.  He drinks milk, he invites LaPadite to speak English with him.

(Audiences take the English-speaking as a "movie joke" at first.  Of course, Landa has an agenda, from the very beginning: he knows the people hiding in the house, whom we haven’t met yet, don’t speak English.)

What does Landa want?  He wants to kill the Dreyfusses, the Jewish family LaPadite is hiding under his floorboards.  Landa knows the Dreyfusses are there, he knows exactly where they are.  He could just order LaPadite into the yard and have his men pry up the boards, but he doesn’t.  Instead, he draws out his joshing, smug interrogation to excruciating lengths.  He puts on a show, in short, for an audience of one, he performs.  He pretends to be a bureaucrat with his pen and file, and then he takes out his enormous pipe.  The audience takes his pipe as a sexual joke — Landa’s pipe is bigger than LaPadite’s — but it’s actually a character beat.  Landa smokes the pipe because he believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective.  Or rather, he poses as Holmes, for reasons yet unclear.  To us, he is a Nazi, we see only the uniform, but in his own mind he is a detective, on the hunt for dangerous criminals — the Dreyfusses.  (In an act of cultural precognition, he also imitates Columbo — he pretends he is ready to go, then does the "oh, one last thing" bit.) 

He says he’s proud of his nickname — "The Jew Hunter."  Later on, he’ll claim that he hates the nickname.  Two possibilities: either he’s lying one of the times, for the benefit of effect, or else he changes his mind between the beginning of the movie to the end.  He seems to me to be a very theatrical character, who breathes performance and layered meanings, who says whatever he says to any given person in any given situation.

Landa slowly backs LaPadite into a corner with his equating of Jews with rats.  He’s a salesman, in a way, and the thing he’s selling is "the revealing of the Dreyfusses."  A salesman will tell you, you start off asking questions that can only be answered as "yes" until you finally get your mark into a corner, and they’re so used to saying "yes" that by the time you spring your trap they’re afraid to say "no."  May I come in?  Of course.  May I have a glass of milk?  Why not.  May I compliment your daughters, speak English with you, ask you a few harmless questions, smoke a pipe with you?  Yes, yes and yes.  Do you hate rats?  Well, yes, I suppose.  Aren’t Jews a lot like rats?

The dehumanizing of The Other is an important tactic in war, and, not coincidentally, in drama.  A dramatist routinely places audience identification with one character or another, the result being we want one character to succeed over another.  In an excellent drama, everyone is right, everyone has their reasons, and everyone acts intelligently and resourcefully.  It is the conflicting agendas of the principals that gives rise to drama.  But there are very few WWII movies — very few war movies in general — hell, very few movies in general — that bother to create excellent drama.  Rather, characters are labeled "good" or "bad" so that the audience knows who to "root for."  Basterds stretches this tendency to ridiculous extremes, ending up as an examination and critique of cinematic art.

LaPadite is,  of course, torn.  He wants to protect the Dreyfusses, but he wants to protect his daughters, and himself, more.  What Landa finally sells LaPadite is his life.  He’s aware, he says, of what humans are capable of when they no longer have dignity.  Well, he should — he spends fifteen minutes stripping away LaPadite’s.

Finally, Landa reveals his agenda — he has known from the beginning that the Dreyfusses are under the floorboards, and he is here to kill them.  There was nothing LaPadite could have done to save them, Landa was merely toying with him the whole time.  Why?  No reason is given, the drama of the scene seems to be there in order to set up Landa as a character, to set up one of the Dreyfusses, Shoshanna, as a character, and to present the stakes of the movie in a remarkable and effective manner.  On a character level, Landa’s performance seems to be there because, well, that’s what he enjoys doing, toying with people, taking the stage, going through his performance before springing the trap.  His toying with LaPadite ties him to Jules in Pulp Fiction: one recites a Bible verse before killing someone because it sounds cool, the other behaves like a detective from popular fiction because it pleases him to do so.

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74 Responses to “Inglourious Basterds part 1”
  1. rattsu says:

    I have to admit, I had no desire to see this movie at all. While I can see why people do enjoy Tarantino, I prefer the movies that he borrows from, and I have no desire to see a hackneyed version of a scene I’ve come to love from other sources. That being said, I do like Reservoir Dogs, and some of the scenes he has done I have liked. I guess what spoils him for me is that I can never be sure if he actually is making something of his own, or if he just copies and repackages. Since I recognize so much from some of his other movies, every time I see something original and interesting from him I always go in with the assumption that he has borrowed it from elsewhere, I just haven’t seen that particular movie yet.

    But, this review made me curious to see this movie, if nothing else to see if he is still doing the same old thing…

    • As an avid Tarantino fan, your opinion on him reads like a description of everything he’s not. You may recognize some of his scenes because HE is often imitated. Or perhaps because he falls in love with a cliche genre like spaghetti westerns or samurai thrillers, but everything he creates is so far from what anyone has done with it. And on top of it he adds fantastic dialogue and characterization. I don’t like to look at Reservoir Dogs as an example, because that’s just QT discovering his niche.

      Of course, it’s all a matter of opinion. I think just because the genre is cliched doesn’t mean he isn’t genuinely brilliant.

      (not to shit all over your comment, I just wanted to put my two cents in)

  2. sheherazahde says:

    “his equivocation of Jews with rats.”

    I haven’t seen the movie but I think you mean “equating” not “equivocating”.

    “ending up as an examination and examination of cinematic art.

    I have no idea what second word you meant here, or if you just accidentally repeated a sentence fragment.

    Just reading your description of this scene gives me chills. I didn’t see the movie because I suspected I would find it too stressful. I think I was right.

  3. samedietc says:

    A Frenchman betrays someone named Dreyfus? That would never happen in real life!

    On a slightly more serious note, I think the scene is almost unreadable if you take Shoshanna as the protagonist. (We don’t even know she’s there!–kind of like in “Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel,” where the A-story ending looks like a B-story scene.) But what if you take it as her traumatic origin story?

    There’s so little of her, but she turns out (surprisingly) to be one of the main characters, I’m almost tempted to see the stand-off not between two pipe-smokers (which it certainly is, on the manifest level), but between Landa and Shoshanna as two opposites–man/woman, cat/mouse(rat), above/below, English/no-English. In that case (and apologies for spoilers / jumping ahead), it’s interesting to me that Shoshanna and Landa come to have a similar agenda.

    I guess there might be something to say about the flapping sheets hung out to dry and the silver screen, too, but I have to go to work.

    • Todd says:

      As you point out, Shoshanna does become a protagonist of Basterds, and this could, indeed, be seen, in a way, as “her scene.” But we don’t know that yet.

      You comment underlines another aspect of Tarantino’s casual daring as a writer: he’s a main character, Shoshanna, who’s going to end up driving half the narrative, and the device he comes up with to introduce her is a fifteen-minute scene about a French dairy farmer being interrogated by an SS officer. Classic Tarantino.

  4. tawdryjones says:

    Wow, you put into words what I felt watching this movie. I had trouble explaining to friends why this movie was more than just “older Tarantino.” More, please!

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Bah! Just a name that stuck!”

    either he’s lying one of the times, for the benefit of effect, or else he changes his mind between the beginning of the movie to the end.

    Don’t want to get too ahead of the commentary (and I hope everyone’s seen the movie by now), but I think a strong case could be made that he’s lying the second time – his objective while interrogating Aldo and Utivich is tied much more into making them see how dopey their nicknames are. He’s demythologizing the three of them, saying “we’re real people, not fictional characters,” in much the same way Tarantino is deconstructing movie violence. Landa needs the Basterds to believe he hates his nickname if he’s going to keep his dignity even when selling out his cause, in exactly the way LaPadite couldn’t.

    Then again, Waltz is so charismatic a performer that you want to believe him in the later scene, but methinks he doth protest a tad much . . .

    So glad you’re discussing this. I love this movie and everything about it. Some have said Landa chugging the milk is a callback to Sam Jackson sipping the sprite before he massacres Brett in Pulp Fiction, but it also reminded me of the milkshake drinking on display in There will be Blood!, another movie with five acts and one that Tarantino has admitted forced him to “step up his game” when directing Basterds.

    -Le Ted

    • Todd says:

      Re: “Bah! Just a name that stuck!”

      I hadn’t heard that. That’s excellent.

    • Re: “Bah! Just a name that stuck!”

      I think there’s an argument to be made that Landa is being equally honest/dishonest in both cases. He takes pride in being a hunter, but thinks it silly that people believe he has a particular interest in hunting Jews. As a person who doesn’t appear to genuinely believe in anything aside from his own cleverness, opinion and meaning are just things to arrange for the needs of a given situation.

      As another example, he clearly introduces the rats vs squirrels argument as part of his strategy to demoralize and wear down LaPadite, and yet it seems entirely plausible that he actually finds the line of reasoning valid. (And speaking of “Pulp Fiction”, this bit echos Vince & Jules on pigs vs dogs, with Landa in this case essentially taking the Vince role.)

  6. All right, so I really need to see this movie.

  7. perich says:

    I’m excited for this.

  8. Now that I think about it, Tarantino has been using a lot of really uncomfortable and tense scenes in his work lately. Beatrix getting buried alive in the second volume of Kill Bill was a very tough scene to watch. Tarantino revisits the concept in his CSI two-parter. Death Proof is pretty much two long tension builds. And like you said, this movie is littered with such scenes, though the first one may be the most difficult to watch.

    • Todd says:

      Each “chapter” is constructed to build toward a climax of almost suffocating suspense.

      • On a different topic, it’s interesting that you bring up the tendency of drama to direct to audience to identify with one character because this scene gives the audience very little clue as to who they’re supposed to latch on to. Landa, despite being in control of the scene, is clearly not someone we want to identify with. LaPadite is sympathetic as an ordinary man trying to do the right thing, but as you point out, he’s also exclusively reactive at the point when we meet him and is eventually backed into a corner by Landa. The Dreyfuss family is the most obviously sympathetic party in the scene and a lot of filmmakers would probably encourage us to view events through their eyes. But Tarantino spends most of the scene away from them. If I remember right, we only see one shot of them beneath the floorboards before they die. We’re not limited to what they know either, since we can understand the English portion of the conversation. It’s not too hard to tell that Shoshanna will reappear later on, but all we know about her right now is that her family was just massacred and the only reason she is a live is that, for whatever reason, Landa decided not to hunt her down. It’s not unlike the situation Tarantino creates in the first half of Death Proof, where everyone you could potentially sympathize with is clearly going to die, so who are you supposed to root for? If the viewer wants to pick a sympathetic character to side with who has some chance of coming out with any kind of victory, the options are not looking good at this stage.

        • robjmiller says:

          Maybe we are supposed to sympathize with Landa. If we changed his clothes and threw some slang into his speech, he could become something like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. American audiences tend to love charismatic villains, although the weight of history makes it nearly impossible in this case.

          But perhaps Tarantino thought that if Kubrick could make an audience love a murderer and rapist, he could make us at least sympathize with a Nazi.

          • Todd says:

            I don’t think it’s only American audiences who enjoy charismatic villains. And while I don’t think Tarantino wants us to sympathise with Landa, exactly, by the end of the movie he does want to put us in a place where we kind of don’t know what to think of him.

        • Todd says:

          It’s better than that — in the middle of Landa’s speech about how he depersonalizes Jews, Tarantino shows us that the Dreyfusses are hiding beneath the floorboards, but all we see are their eyes and maybe a hand. He makes us feel their terror, but we still don’t know who they are — they are, for the purposes of the scene, still depersonalized.

          • I guess that would further emphasize the idea that Landa is the protagonist, at least for this scene, and that he is actually the lens that it’s filtered through. Though it also kind of adds to our connection to Shoshanna. The only “good release” in the scene is that she gets to do what all of us want to do: get the hell out of there.

            • Todd says:

              Landa is the protagonist in the scene, in the classic sense — he’s the one who sets events into motion. Or, one could say, Hitler is the protagonist, since he’s the one who set the war into motion, and Landa is there as his representative.

              • Do you have a post somewhere about the definition of “protagonist”? I’m wondering now whether Batman is actually the protagonist of The Dark Knoght since he mainly react to what the Joker is doing.

                Incidentally, I noticed you had posted this analysis much earlier in the day, but I made it into my reward for getting me new article finished.

                • Todd says:

                  Well, you’ve hit on the perennial problem of the superhero screenplay — the superhero is almost always reactive. That’s why WB had so much trouble hanging onto actors to play Batman — the title character would spend all the movie in a rubber suit while the guys playing the villains got to be the protagonists. Now, you can have a reactive protagonist, but the audience will generally be more interested in the person who’s upsetting the status quo.

                  • But isn’t the protagonist the character who reacts to the disruption of the status quo that kicks off the narrative? In Jaws, the sheriff doesn’t kick off the narrative – the shark does by killing that girl. In a mystery, the crime is committed and the protagonist comes in to solve it. Or is that just another example that follows the superhero-type structure? Is that what you were referring to awhile back regarding “adolescent power fantasy”?

                    • Todd says:

                      The shark is not a protagonist, or even an antagonist — it’s a weather condition. It has no plan or agenda, it’s just there, and needs to be dealt with. The drama of Jaws is that Brody wants to do the job he has signed on to do while everyone else wants him to do something else, anything else. Brody, finally, is the only one who can do the thing that everyone should have wanted to do from the beginning — kill the shark. And he’s the least qualified to do so because he’s afraid of the water.

                      In an excellent detective script, the protagonist’s desire is “to solve the mystery.” When the mystery is solved, the drama is complete. But the mystery is only nominally “who dunnit,” the mystery is really “what is the way of the world?” The detective keeps peeling back the layers of artifice until he or she arrives at its irreducible core — “Aha, so-and-so did it, because that is, after all, the way of the world.”

                      This is, I believe, unrelated to the superhero narrative being an adolescent power fantasy.

                    • But isn’t the murder in a detective story the disruption of the status quo? Or is the status quo “the world is like this, this person has been murdered, the criminal is at large, etc,” and the protagonist is disrupting that status quo by trying to solve the murder?

                      Before the first scene of Jaws, Brody’s goal and the town’s goal for him match, but then the status quo is disrupted with the death of the girl and Brody reacts (first by ignoring the problem and following orders, eventually by going out into the water to kill the shark).

                      I get the impression I’m wrong about this, but don’t understand how. 😉

                    • Todd says:

                      The murder is not the disruption of the status quo, the dame walking into the office to tell the detective about the murder is. The detective is going merrily about his life when the mystery introduces itself.

                      Take a look at House: he doesn’t care about the patient’s life, he cares about solving the mystery. If the mystery isn’t interesting, he doesn’t pursue it. The patient’s life-threatening illness upsets the patient’s status quo, but not House’s — he couldn’t care less.

                    • Anonymous says:

                      Sure, but in these cases, the protagonist ISN’T the one disrupting the status quo, but the one REACTING to that disruption. So at what point does the protagonist stop being reactive and become proactive?

                    • Todd says:

                      The detective decides to take on the case. It doesn’t have anything to do with him. His decision to act makes him the protagonist, and his goal is “to solve the mystery.”

                      For another view, look at Schindler’s List: again, it could be said that Hitler is the protagonist, since he puts the Jews into the ghetto, or that Goth is the protagonist, since he sets the narrative into motion by liquidating the ghetto. But Schindler isn’t concerned about the Jews or the ghetto, his goal is to become a successful businessman. Goth is a problem only insofar as he gets in the way of Schindler becoming a successful businessman. It’s only at the end of Act IV that Schindler has a revelation and undergoes a change, and realizes that “success” has a completely different meaning than he thought it had.

                    • So in the detective story, the status quo is a world in which a crime has been committed, or a girl needs finding, or whatever? The puzzle already exists as part of the status quo, and the protagonist disrupts it by taking the case?

                      You said “the dame walking into the office to tell the detective about the murder” is the disruption of the status quo – how is the detective taking the case not a reaction to this disruption? Is it just because he has a choice in whether or not to do it?

                      Is Schindler the protagonist because he enters the world of the story with his own (independent but related) agenda, thus disrupting the status quo – the status quo being a place and time where the Nazis are putting Jews into the ghetto?

                    • Todd says:

                      That’s right. “Protagonist” means “first actor.” Philip Marlowe’s status quo is that he doesn’t want to get involved — he makes a choice to do so. And the status quo for Schindler is, indeed, the Nazis push into Poland, as the movie makes clear — without the Nazis, without WWII, Schindler would have been a failure. It took the Nazis creating a situation where Schindler could use cheap labor to build things for a national war machine to make him a business success.

                    • So the status quo of the story is a time and place in which someone has been murdered, or the Nazis are in control of Poland, or a shark is killing people, or the Ark of the Covenant is real and in need of fetching, or being a gangster seems better than being the president of the United States, or a magic ring that needs destroying…
                      but all that is, if you will, written in the past tense (even if we see it onscreen) as the setting of the story, and the first action taken in “the present” to kick off the upward climb of the narrative is the protagonist making a choice of his own free will to go out and do something about it – take the case, or become a war profiteer, or prove himself, or go get the Ark, or become a gangster, or destroy the ring.

                      Is that right?

                    • Todd says:

                      That is correct. And many times, although not lately much, the protagonist does not “act” until well into the movie. Take Michael Corleone — The Godfather is well underway before he decides that he’s going to avenge his father’s attempted murder. All that happens before that is setup, a long introduction to who these people are and how they live their lives.

                    • Okay, thank you – I think I finally get it.

                      Michael doesn’t HAVE to go to that meeting and kill those two men. There are other options being debated when he volunteers, and he’s not involved by default, because he has up to that point been separate from the family business. He CHOOSES TO ACT, and that action starts the story proper, which is “Michael becomes Godfather at the cost of his soul” or somesuch.

                      To use Mamet’s shtick, everything prior to that action is the “once upon a time,” and the “and then one day,” as late in the film as it is, is that scene where he takes charge, saying he’ll go to the meeting and kill them both.

                      Thanks for your insight, and your patience. 🙂

                    • Todd says:

                      And, I’ll point out that, prior to the first scene of Jaws, the town’s goal does not match Brody’s — he’s a (pardon) fish out of water, no one trusts him, everyone thinks he’s a lame-o. He’s got a tough row to hoe even before the shark shows up.

  9. chrispiers says:

    I can’t wait to read the rest of your analysis. This was probably my favorite film of last year. Honestly, it depends on the day. I was really impressed with Hurt Locker, too.

    One thing I liked about this movie was that it was about film as much as it was about war or the protagonist’s journey. The repeated scenes of tension, the variations on a theme, combined with the fact that these characters are larger than life and almost seem to know they’re in a movie, reminded me of another film that I ended up not liking: Funny Games. That one played with the audience wanting a release, wanting to witness violence, but made me feel guilty about it. Which was the point, but I didn’t like that. This one was uncomfortable, but still entertaining. I was grateful for that.

    One question I have about the opening scene. Why does Landa apparently LET Shoshanna escape? I can’t quite fathom it, unless he was already planning ahead for his eventual escape from the life of a Nazi, but that seems too preposterous. There’s no way he could have predicted where life would take her. Right?

    • samedietc says:

      Why does Landa apparently LET Shoshanna escape?

      I was also confused about that. We can understand this from Tarantino’s standpoint as setting up her motivation (Nazis killed my brother!) and her anxiety in the strudel scene (oh, Landa and his love of dairy!).

      But what does this say about Landa? It seems to indicate that, although he seems to take some joy in trapping LaPadite and discovering the Jews, he’s not a fanatic Jew-hater–he’s just a Jew-Hunter. It would be the same to him if it were gypsies or homosexuals–he seems interested in the formal aspect of the game, regardless of the content.

      If the Inglourious Basterds are bastards precisely because they believe that ends justify the means, Landa is a gentleman in that he’s only interested in means. (Or the contrast could be over getting one’s hands dirty–Landa doesn’t do it.)

      • Todd says:

        I just assumed that Shoshanna was out of shooting range. Landa says something as he lowers his gun, which I’ve never caught.

      • So maybe he’s not Sherlock Holmes so much as Mycroft. Mycroft was even smarter than Sherlock, but he only ever cared about the puzzle and wasn’t willing to do the leg work or follow through on anything once he’s worked it out. I think you’re right that he is more interested in doing his job than any ultimate end. His disparaging remarks about Jews, as I recall them, are all in relation to talking about his work and made without any suggestion that he feels passionate about the idea of eradicating the Jewish people.

        • Todd says:

          I actually don’t know how Landa feels about Jews. He does the rat speech, but for all we know he’s doing that for effect — he wants LaPadite to be unnerved. He’s a detective, this is his job, and his boss has a specific homicidal agenda that Landa does, or does not, agree with or enjoy.

          After all, he doesn’t kill Shoshanna, or the Dreyfusses for that matter — he directs the soldiers to do so. Killing people trapped under the floorboards is their job, not his.

          • I’m lreaning towards the idea that Landa doesn’t particularly care about Jews one way or another, partly because what he does seems somehow more horrible if it’s not motivated by some twisted belief that he is doing the morally right thing. He may see them as beneath him (literally and figuratively?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw everyone that way.

      • Anonymous says:

        In the script, Landa’s sidekick Hermann asks about letting Shoshanna leave. Landa states some reservations about shooting a girl in the back before joking that she may make it out of the country and become “President of the United States,” (suggesting the ambiguity of his faith in the Nazi cause and foreshadowing his decision to sell out in Ch. 5?). He also explains that “after word spreads about what happened today, it’s highly unlikely she will find any willing farmers to extend her aid,” (suggesting an interesting correlation between Landa’s reputation and need to spread word of what happens to Jews who try to hide in France and the Basterds’ campaign to make German soldiers “imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands”).

        But you don’t have to take my word for it: Read IB online @

        -Le Ted

        • Todd says:

          So there we have it — he changes his mind. He goes to shoot her, but changes his mind.

          Thanks for the link there, that’ll come in handy.

          • It could be that he changes his mind, but I’m wary of using deleted material as a way to explain something – it was excised for a reason, and the reason could be that its meaning is no longer appropriate.

            • Todd says:

              I agree — deleted material is deleted for a reason, and the finished document must stand on its own. In this instance, given a choice between “she gets away despite Landa’s attempts” and “Landa changes his mind” is all I’m looking for, and the “extended scene” does little more than give a very long explanation for why he changed his mind.

              • Fair enough.

                I like that Tarantino decided to keep the reason more ambiguous in the finished work.

                • mattyoung says:

                  And that ambiguity plays further into what Todd, if I understand it right, believes Tarantino wants to do with Landa and our reaction to Landa. Poop-stick or all part of the plan… we’ll never know.

    • musicpsych says:

      When I watched this scene, I thought he let her escape because it made him feel the thrill of the hunt, watching his “prey” running from him. It reinforces his position as “Jew hunter” and makes him feel powerful. And it’s not even that it was anything personal about her, but just that she represents what is still out there for him to hunt.

      Thinking about it now, too, since she was far away, it could be that she wasn’t worth the effort it would have taken to make sure she was killed. To him, she was bound to meet her fate eventually – it would only be a matter of time, right? And it’s not like she poses any sort of threat, at least that he can see.

      I almost want to draw a parallel between this and concentration camps – rather than killing Jews outright in public (like Shoshanna would have been), it is done in a more controlled, private location (like inside the LaPadite home/cellar, and not even directly, but through the floorboards). Hopefully I’m not being too glib with that analogy…

  10. I don’t get the impression from the film that Landa hates the Jews, but rather that he’ll do whatever he needs to to get ahead. If that’s being a Jew killer, fine – or if that’s switching sides and helping kill Hitler, that’s fine, too. This lack of morality is perhaps scarier than the morality of “the Jews are evil and must be exterminated,” because the person saying the latter could at least be swayed should they be convinced of the value of human life. Landa might well know already – he just doesn’t care.

    Tarantino’s use of suspense in this film is extraordinary, not only within his own body of work, but also within modern film in general. The bait-and-switch of the violence is masterfully done… I was just about to say more about that, but then remembered I’d already done so in an earlier thread on this site about the movie:

    Upon more reflection, I feel that this film, while great, is another example of how Tarantino needs an editor at the script stage, but maybe you’ll prove me wrong as the analysis continues. Looking forward to it.

    • What do you mean about the editor? Are you referring to the length of the scenes or the quality itself?

      • A bit of both. I think some of his material could be trimmed down in length, and some of it could use some rewriting to make it stronger before filming begins.

        My opinion of Kill Bill 1 and 2 is that there’s a solid 90 minute movie stuck inside four hours between the two films (which were originally conceived as one film). Most of Kill Bill V 1 is dead weight. But there’s still some good stuff between the two films. I can’t say the same about Death Proof, however. It’s the only Tarantino movie that, I was surprised to find, bored me. I think if he’d rewritten the script in such a way that I as an audience member actually cared about any of the characters, it’d be much more effective. But it’s not a length issue there – no amount of cutting would save Death Proof.

        Every moment in the deliberately-paced Jackie Brown earns its screen time, but not so with Tarantino’s films since.

        Just my two cents.

        • I can respect that. However, I disagree. I think it says a lot about a movie viewer if they find themselves bored just because there’s no action for 15 minute lengths. I for one never noticed the lengths until about 99% of my friends freaked out about it, simply because I’m always so captivated by the dialogue and mood.

          I pretend Death Proof never happened. Because I want to continue to see QT as immaculate. Truthfully, I agree with you on all points there.

          Also, I find it interesting that you bring up the fact that the script lacked in part because you didn’t like any of the characters. I’m still trying to figure out how that reflects on a person and their tastes, because my mother is the exact same way. Which made her a difficult person to watch “There Will Be Blood” with. If you’ve seen it, what was your opinion on that movie? I’d be interested to know.

          • Maybe you misunderstand me. I don’t need action every fifteen minutes (or ever – the biggest bit of physical action in The Remains of the Day is an old man falling over while carrying a tray, but it’s a thoroughly engrossing film), but I do need characters and situations I care about. I hardly get that in Kill Bill, and not at all in Death Proof, but I can watch the Tarantino characters in his first three films sit and banter all day. I’d gladly watch all the dialogue scenes in Jackie Brown again (a pleasure) before watching any two minutes of Death Proof. And when I talk about dead weight in Kill Bill, some of that dead weight is action scenes. The entire Vivica A Fox episode is superfluous, as I recall.

            Another important distinction – I don’t need to LIKE a character, but I need to CARE about them and what happens to them. Well-crafted characters in well-crafted fiction inspire feelings and opinions about them. We love, we hate, we feel conflicted – those are all fine. But it’s not okay if the storytellers give us no reason to care one way or the other about the characters. If the characters get killed, or fall in love, or gain the world at the price of their souls, I need to be emotionally involved enough that I’m willing to take that journey with the character. Their stakes need to be my stakes. I need to want to see them succeed or fail. If I don’t care, then the storyteller has failed me as an audience member.

            I liked There Will Be Blood, but didn’t love it. I feel the protagonist’s arc would’ve been stronger if he’d been less of a cipher early on. It also might’ve helped if he started the story as a more sympathetic and well-rounded character. As it is, none of the main or supporting characters in the film is developed to my satisfaction, not even Daniel Plainview.

            No artist is immaculate. Not even Scorsese or Bergman or Welles or Dylan or Brando or Picasso. But being aware of their failings (however rare) is part of knowing their work intimately, and brings more of an appreciation of it when it’s firing on all cylinders.

            • I was being immensely sarcastic about the immaculate thing. It’s difficult to defend a writer/director who deals with mainly irony and genre parodies. I love him for the simple fact he loves film. I may not care for samurai fights or vampires, but I still loved Kill Bill and From Dusk Till Dawn because of the situations and the filming.

              Obviously it’s just a matter of opinion, and I can say I disagree about the caring. If I think about it that way I don’t really CARE about anyone in any movie, then. It’s just a movie after all. It’s all about enjoyment.

              It still sounds like you’re talking about liking them, because you’re saying you don’t need to like them, just care about them. I can’t really think of any movie where I haven’t cared about the characters, and I obviously dislike many movies.

              Huh. Guess YMMV

              • A well-drawn bad guy isn’t likable, but you care about what happens to him – you want him to get his comeuppance or whatever. If you don’t care about a major character, whether they live or die or if you ever see them again, the storyteller isn’t doing their job. Having the audience hate an important character in the narrative is fine – having them feel apathetic toward them is not. The audience invests emotionally in the story or it doesn’t work. You can say “it’s just a movie” all you want, but we go to fiction, to stories, for reasons we don’t go to documentaries or music videos for. Stories are boring often when the stakes of the characters don’t matter to the audience (or when there are no stakes).

                • I understand the concept of not caring vs not liking. I’m not six.

                  All I’m saying is that I’ve never experienced genuinely caring about a character. I’ve never watched a movie/read a book and thought “I hope that guy dies!” or “I hope she makes it to Nebraska!” I just watch it/read it because it’s entertaining. And if it’s not entertaining, then I don’t like it. I don’t care either way.

                  I’m not saying you’re making shit up. I’m just saying that I can’t relate to your views. That’s all.

                  • But one of the reasons why it’s entertaining is because you’re invested in the story. You’re right there with the main character as he robs the bank or applies for a new job or asks the girl to marry him. It doesn’t have to be a conscious thing, but fiction doesn’t work without empathy. A good suspense sequence, like the one Alcott describes in the post above, is a clear illustration of this – if we don’t care what happens to the two characters in the scene, then it’s boring and not entertaining.

  11. spiralstairs says:

    I’m so glad to know I wasn’t the only person on the edge of my seat during that scene. The tension was excruciating, and I can’t remember the last time a movie had me on that many pins and needles. It’s the length that really made it sing. I haven’t seen it since I saw it in theaters, but the more I think about it, the more I really appreciate it. 🙂

    And this might just be me reading too much into it, but the confrontation between Landa and Bridget reminded me a lot of the second act of ‘Tosca’. Anyway, excellent analysis as usual, sir! 🙂

  12. curt_holman says:

    Inglourious drama

    “But there are very few WWII movies — very few war movies in general — hell, very few movies in general — that bother to create excellent drama.”

    One of the interesting, expectation-confounding things about ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is how “talky” it is for what initially appears to be a men-on-a-mission WWII movie. I would imagine that at least 90% of the film could be adapted for the stage with only minor changes, and still “work.”

    After ‘Basterds’s’ release, several critics/bloggers criticized the film’s marketing campaign for solely showcasing the American/Aldo Raine part of the story. (Such as the iconic/scary series of posters of Brad Pitt et al.) I see where they’re coming from, since ‘IB’ has almost no “process” type of scenes of men-at-arms doing stuff, a la ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘The Hurt Locker,’ which someone expects from that kind of movie.

    But I’m not sure how one WOULD more accurately market/promote IB, given it’s unconventional narrative. Maybe showcase Shoshana and the British guy more?

    What’s interesting to me is that apparently audiences didn’t mind IB’s post-modern approach. I seem to remember it earning more than $100 million domestically.

  13. ja_samonikla says:

    Few and far between do I see a movie that has me saying “fuck yeah!” during it, this movie does every time I watch it. Though Nazi’s are truly sons of bitches, I really enjoyed Landa’s character. It gave so much more depth to the typical “I hate Jews” Nazi that is typically portrayed in movies.

  14. protomodo says:

    Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until it is almost a relief when the tension explodes

    “Over and over, Tarantino slowly ratchets up the tension until it is almost a relief when the tension explodes into violence. Which is, as it turns out, one of the things that elevates Basterds to the level of high art — Tarantino repeatedly uses the audience’s desire for release against it. The movie doesn’t merely use violence, it’s about violence, particularly violence in movies, or in popular culture anyway, and the way it can be used to manipulate an audience, or a populace. It repeatedly gets you longing for violence and then, by the time it shows up, it’s not what you wanted or expected it to be. The movie as a whole doesn’t offer up easy answers, rather it asks extremely uncomfortable questions.”

    I am in total agreement with Todd’s proposition. Basterds is itself a demonstration of the power of movies to manipulate audience reaction violence. There is the theme of movies as propaganda – the inclusion of Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich; the references to Leni Riefenstahl, its unofficial High Priestess; the fame and glory attendant upon the premier of “Nation’s Pride”. On the surface, Basterds can be seen as another WWII story of the good guy Americans and Allies, against the evil Nazi’s. There is a resemblance to the Dirty Dozen story line. But below the surface, QT seems to be digging deeper. When used against innocent victims, violence becomes unjustifiable and intolerable. But when violence is used in revenge, even to the point of acts of terror, is violence an instrument of justice? Is it merely a question of from which perspective you view it? I see that as one of the uncomfortable questions Basterds raises.

  15. No words can describe how much I’ve been digging QT lately. IB totally rekindled my infatuation with that mind of his. Thank you so much for adding more interpretation into the mix. It always adds more. Wouldn’t have liked No Country For Old Men if my loser brother didn’t go into the whole literary/film analysis beforehand.