Inglourious Basterds part 2

Lt Raine is huntin’ Nazzis.  Hitler is, predictably, upset.

Something kind of unusual happens about 20 minutes into Inglourious Basterds: the movie starts.  You can feel it as you’re watching it, after the slow-burn suspense of "Chapter 1," here’s a scene you recognize and understand: a tough, take-charge army officer barks out the details of a secret mission to a cadre of elite soldiers.  Hooray, the viewer thinks, now I’m oriented, now I know where I am, this is going to be a "men on a mission" movie, like The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare.  The first scene was just a long setup for the Col Landa character, now we’re going to meet the dog-faced American soldiers who are going to kick Landa’s ass.

Well, as it happens, no.  No, what’s going to happen, actually, is that the next chapter will introduce Lt Aldo Raine and his team of "Basterds," and then, amazingly enough, the movie is going to start over, yet again, before it finally circles back around to Raine and his Men on a Mission.  All of Tarantino’s screenplays are daring and challenging in their structure, and at first I thought Basterds was his most straightforward and conventional.  But how many screenplays introduce characters in indelible scenes, get the audience invested in those characters, then walk away from them for a half-hour or more, while it brings in another whole bunch of characters we’ve never met before?

Lt Raine gives his Basterds a speech, what appears to be a fairly conventional "Let’s get ’em boys" speech, except that it has disturbing parallels to the scene that just preceded it.  He tells his men that they will be hunting and killing Nazis — fair enough, nobody likes Nazis.  But Raine goes a little further: he saysthat it’s okay to kill Nazis because "A Nazi ain’t got no humanity."  He says they’re going to kill "anyone wearing a Nazi uniform," whoever they are, whatever their function in the army.  That is, he reduces the Nazis to something less than human, a symbol, just as Landa reduced the Jews to symbols in the previous scene.  The viewer cringes at Landa’s creepy anti-Semitism, but cheers at Raine’s blustery pride — he’s a plain-spoken mutt American.  He doesn’t pretend to be something, like Landa does.  He says who he is and what he wants to do without worry or shame.  He hates the Nazis in a way that Landa doesn’t seem to hate the Jews, and the viewer rejoices in his straightforwardness.  You know where you stand with Raine — he may be a bloodthirsty savage, but he’s on your side, and gosh, that’s how wars are won.

Or is Raine pretending?  Is his shit-kicking hillbilly persona who he really is, or is it a suit he puts on the same way Landa pretends to be a petty bureaucrat?  My guess is, what you see is what you get: Raine wants to kill Nazis, he says he wants to kill Nazis, and he then proceeds to kill Nazis — there doesn’t seem to be a conflict between his words and actions.  Even when he’s asked to pretend to be Italian later in the movie, Raine can hardly be bothered to try to conceal his hillbilly persona.

He compares the Basterds to "Bushwhackers."  To you and me today, "bushwhacker" may be any kind of surprise attacker, but to Raine, coming from rural Tennessee in 1944, the term would have had a very specific meaning.  Bushwhackers were, in the Civil War, small civilian bands who would skulk through the night, kill people, steal property and burn towns, all outside of any military jurisdiction, for the purpose of demoralizing the enemy.  They were, in fact, terrorists.  And Raine, here, describes his plan in purely terrorist terms: he plans to kill German soldiers in the most barbaric and freakish ways possible, so as to frighten them, demoralize them, terrorize them.

"Sound good?" he swaggers to his men, who all respond in the affirmative.  It does sound good!  We just watched what that no-good slime-ball Landa did to LaPadite and that poor Dreyfuss family, we want to see those no-good lousy Nazis get what they deserve.  Tarantino is, again, setting us up for what will be an extremely uncomfortable climax.

Now, having barely met any of these guys, we jump forward in time.  Hitler is upset!  The movie has cut from Raine laying out his plan to Hitler reacting to its effect.  Tarantino, for some reason, has decided to cut out the actual implementation of the plan, even though that’s what we most want to see after Raine’s speech.

Hitler is in some impossibly grand office, having his portrait painted as though he’s some 18th-century monarch.  The portrait is important, the public image of everyone in the movie is important.  Hitler was selling a dream to the Germans, and the props he employed were paramount to his sales pitch.  Film, unsurprisingly, was a big part of his public-relations arsenal.

Hitler complains, hysterically, about Raine and his men, and sends out an order that no one is to ever refer to Raine’s scariest man as "The Bear Jew" again.  Again, public relations: Landa lets his nickname, "The Jew Hunter," precede him in order to terrorize the French countryside, while Raine let’s the nicknames "The Bear Jew" and "Aldo the Apache" precede him in order to terrorize the German soldiery.

(HItler also vows to hang the Basterds from the Eiffel Tower and then feed their bodies to the "rats of Paris."  Whether he means to refer to Landa’s equating of Jews to rats or not, I don’t know.)

Meanwhile, Raine and his men have slaughtered a patrol of German soldiers in a ravine next to a road in the woods, and are in the process of scalping them — the better to terrorize them.  A Sgt Werner is brought before Raine, and Raine interrogates him.  The interrogation is disturbingly similar to the interrogation we just left between Landa and LaPadite: Raine wants Werner to give up his fellow soldiers, and Werner is reluctant to do so.  Raine threatens Werner’s life and Werner, unlike LaPadite, doesn’t flinch.  "I respectfully refuse" says Werner, which seems, under the circumstances, to be the most honorable way to respond.  Landa knows what people are capable when they have no dignity, but Werner seems to be hanging onto his dignity with no problem.

Raine points out Hugo Stiglitz, a "good German" who has joined the Basterds because he, himself, has killed 13 members of the Nazi High Command.  Has he?  I believe he has: first, we see him kill a handful of officers, in extremely brutal ways, plus we hear a voice-over tell us it is so: it’s not a matter of perspective: Stiglitz, like Raine, hates those goddamn Nazis and he wants them dead as badly as any of the Basterds.

(We Stiglitz in prison.  One of the guards reads a German newspaper, one with a racist cartoon condemning the Jewish menace in Germany: another example of the popular media being used to polarize public opinion and dehumanize the enemy.)

Just as the viewer is starting to think Werner might be a decent guy after all, he says to Raine "Fuck you and your Jew dogs."  So, now, do we like him better or worse than Landa, who hunts Jews like rats but doesn’t seem to feel any particular animosity toward them?  For that matter, does Werner actually hate Jews, or is he saying that in order to end his torturous situation, to bring swift death upon himself?  The Bear Jew asks him if he got his Iron Cross for killing Jews.  Werner shakes his head: "Bravery," he says, just before being beaten to death by that most American of weapons, the baseball bat.

A private, Butz, happily gives up his fellow soldiers and we chuckle: we like Butz, we kind of identify with him: he’s logical, sensible: he doesn’t like Nazis any more than we do, and he sees nothing wrong with betraying his fellow soldiers if it means saving his own skin.  But Raine has other plans for Butz: he says "We like Nazis in uniform, that way they’re easier to spot," meaning, in part, that he hasn’t given any thought as to who might be wearing the uniform, what counts is the uniform itself — the symbol.  Butz betrays his own men, just as Stiglitz has, but in a weak, passive way.  Regardless, Raine carves a swastika on his forehead, so that he might forever be that symbol he despises.  And he carves the swastika with a ridiculously large knife, which I find to be a visual analogue to Landa’s ridiculously large pipe.

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24 Responses to “Inglourious Basterds part 2”
  1. curt_holman says:

    Aldo / Bastard

    “Even when he’s asked to pretend to be Italian later in the movie, Raine can hardly be bothered to try to conceal his hillbilly persona.”

    Perhaps the name “Aldo Raine” isn’t just an homage to actor Aldo Ray, but a hint that the character has distant Italian roots.

    One of the weird things about the film is that it’s titled “Inglourious Basterds,” and some of the main characters are a group of Jewish-American soldiers called “the Bastards,” and yet some of them we never “meet” and scarcely even glimpse on-screen. It’s not like ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ in which we get to know a little something about the distinguishing character traits between all the GIs on the mission with Tom Hanks.

    Has anyone heard an explanation as to the spelling of the title? I know it’s an homage to ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ the Italian Bo Svenson/Fred Williamson WWII men-on-a-mission movie from 1978. I’ve always assumed that title derived from the line in Patton, when George C. Scott says something to the effect of ‘Rommel, you glorious bastard, I read your book!” Supposedly Tarantino is coy about the spelling and says he won’t give it away because that would rob it of its mystique.

    Fun factoid: Apparently versions of the 1978 were edited to emphasize Fred Williamson’s role, and were titled ‘G.I. Bro’ to cash in on the blacksploitation trend.

    • Re: Aldo / Bastard

      Patton’s line is “Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I READ YOUR BOOK!”

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Aldo / Bastard

      Has anyone heard an explanation as to the spelling of the title?

      The title is misspelled on the butt of Aldo’s rifle, where he (presumably) carved it after hearing it. Like Landa’s later denunciation of his nickname, I think it’s meant to be seen as “a name that stuck.” It’s also funny to see how word travels – the Brits just call the group “the Bastards.”

      THAT SAID, I think the misspelling tells us something very important about Aldo: he’s semi-literate, at best. He confuses subject and verb agreement constantly (“when the German closes their eyes at night”) and he speaks in cliches, and I think it’s important to have that in mind when comparing him with Landa, who’s (probably) the smartest character in the film. It may be a stretch to suggest he’s a subtle critique of the typical American hero audiences might want, but then again, maybe not (remember, Bridget knows it’s dumb before she asks to see if they speak any languages “besides English”).

      “a ridiculously large knife, which I find to be a visual analogue to Landa’s ridiculously large pipe.”

      At the end of the final act, Landa tries to take Aldo’s knife to emasculate him, like he did LaPadite with the pipe. And Aldo, to borrow a phrase, “don’t play that shit.”

      -Le Ted

    • Todd says:

      Re: Aldo / Bastard

      The carving on Raine’s rifle butt, like the font on the title card, are both taken from Tarantino’s handwriting on the title page of his screenplay. As for the spelling, I have no idea.

      • Re: Aldo / Bastard

        I believe it started from the fact that QT can’t spell worth a damn — really. He writes his scripts longhand, with horrifying spelling, and they are cleaned up by typists. Jan e Hamsher, a producer on Natural Born Killers wrote a book and included a shy mash note QT wrote to her in it, and then made fun of his horrible spelling, which I thought was pretty low.

        When the script for IB first leaked, including screencaps of the title page, he once again got a lot of shit for his spelling. I wonder if, like the last line of the movie, it’s a bit of a “fuck you” to the people who are snobbish about QT’s work, basically critiquing his own personal persona rather than his work.

        As for ultimate meaning (which is often different from intent), was it a previous commenter here (when the movie came out) that suggested “An alternate spelling for an alternate history”?

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: Aldo / Bastard

          I think it’s partly for pragmatic reasons: with “Bastards” misspelled, theaters can’t refuse to put the title on the marquee for being profanity.

          And I think it’s also an homage to the movie’s roots as a remake of an Italian exploitation flick.

          • Re: Aldo / Bastard

            Back when the movie was first announced as “Inglorious Bastards,” I remember wondering if “bastard” was a word that movie theatres were allowed to put up on signs and posters.

        • Re: Aldo / Bastard

          ‘As for ultimate meaning (which is often different from intent), was it a previous commenter here (when the movie came out) that suggested “An alternate spelling for an alternate history”?’

          Aye, that was me!

  2. Why do you think Tarantino felt it was important to cut from the action and show us Stiglitz’s backstory rather than just having Raine or one of the other Basterds relate the story? I had thought that we were eventually going to get similar bios of all the Basterds, but that turned out not to be the case.

    • chrispiers says:

      I can understand why we saw Stiglitz’ background, to know how volatile he is and help heighten the tension in the later underground bar scene.

      I tend to think we didn’t see anyone else’s background because most of the Basterds unit weren’t very important. I think the trailer for the movie gave a lot of us the mistaken idea that it would be a WWII men on a mission movie, when the film itself barely presents that as an option.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think we are shown Hugo’s exploits and Samuel L. Jackson narrates them because we are meant to be sure he really did the things ascribed to him. In a movie, where public perception is constantly being manipulated, if the audience were merely told about what Stiglitz has done, we might not be as readily able to believe it as when we are shown a stylized and fun piece on him.

      • ninja_gamer says:

        I’ve been wondering, why Samuel L. Jackson? His voice is instantly recognizable. Are we supposed to trust his voice more than any of the actors in he film? Is it simply using one bad ass mother fucker to describe the actions of another bad ass mother fucker? Or maybe it is not supposed to be a narrator but Sam Jackson himself, explaining to the audience the things that Tarantino wrote for back story.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love the fact that QT skips from Aldo’s speech to AFTER most of the Basterds’ terror campaign. As you mentioned, WE REALLY WANTED TO SEE THAT SHIT, but that’s kind of the point.
    All the marketing for this film was selling it as “It’s like Kill Bill 1, but it’s Brad Pitt fucking up Nazis so it’s even awesomer!”
    I hate trailers that miss the point of the movie they’re selling (i.e. every trailer ever), but in this instance, the wildly misleading marketing actually contributes to the actual themes of the film in a crazy meta way.
    – Doctor Handsome

  4. voiceofisaac says:

    I just finished watching this not five minutes ago, so I wanted to post while everything is still fresh in my mind.

    I have to hand it to Tarantino; this movie had me on edge from the first shot of the cars coming down the country road, and never really let up. It may be a small detail, but in the climax in the theatre, the soundtrack seemed to echo the rapid beating of my own heart, tense and agitated and revved up. I would like to think that the soundtrack was composed with that effect in mind, but maybe I’m reading too much into things.

    Tarantino does like to make his audiences squirm, doesn’t he? I sat through the blood and violence of Kill Bill without flinching, save for the live burial in volume 2, but I was biting my lip, flinching, wincing at the spilled blood, you name it. The final scene in particular.

    Here’s the weird part for me. I am Jewish, and I have to say that if I had gone into this movie with no idea as to who Tarantino was or what else he’d done, I would’ve come out of this movie thinking that the director was a Jew himself. Not because of the Basterds being vengeful Jew soldiers, but because of Shoshanna’s final act. It was so epic, so vivid, so deep in its hatred it felt like a very personal act of catharsis for the filmmaker as well as Shoshanna the character.

    …Then again, the Weinsteins ARE Jewish, so maybe that’s their fingerprints. Or Tarantino just really, really, really gets a rush from Nazis getting shot in the face.

    • Todd says:

      I have a theory that Raine is Tarantino’s stand-in, shepherding Shoshanna’s plot along, shepherding the Jewish vengeance plot. A lot of people don’t know that Tarantino, like Raine, is from Tennessee.

      • voiceofisaac says:

        That is very interesting, and raises another question. What’s the last line of the movie? Raine stating, “You know, this one just might be my masterpiece.”

        When I heard that, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was Tarantino throwing in a bit of metacommentary about the movie itself. Now that there’s reason to believe that Raine is his stand-in/self-insert, that *really* makes me wonder.

      • Anonymous says:

        If Raine is the Director, then Landa is The Actor. All smiles and mask and performance, nothing inside.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Highly interesting analysis, I’m looking forward to the next part!

    One of the things truly impressive to me is how Tarantino manages to include nods to so many different perspectives on the war in the film: Todd, you mention Aldo’s visceral impact on what you describe the “American audience”. VoiceofIsaac notes the catharsis-through-hate in Shoshanna’s revenge, which resonated with myself, as well, though I am not Jewish. I and the other German moviegoers I discussed the film with picked up most strongly on the movie’s ambivalence. You discuss this in the two interrogation scenes, and I think it becomes most obvious in the underground bar scene and the romance plot.

    Basically, it seemed to us that the movie’s statement is that, no matter on which side the character stands, if he or she is ‘human’ in the sense of mundane semi-innocence, the character will not succeed. Landa, Rayne and his boys, Soshanna and Ido – whatever their motives, their actions are monstrous. Each of them is an inglorious bastard.
    LaPadite, Hicox and Hammersmark or the enlisted Nazi soldiers in the underground bar are humans, who fail. Zoller is an interesting character in that he is sitting on the fence – and all his successes in the movie can be brought down to his aggressive, monstrous side.

    To me, the film doesn’t seem to be called Inglorious Basterds because of the Allied commando operation.

    • sheherazahde says:

      Who are the Inglorious Basterds?

      “To me, the film doesn’t seem to be called Inglorious Basterds because of the Allied commando operation.”

      Good point. As was mentioned by an earlier commenter, we don’t learn much about the individuals in the group called the “Inglorious Basterds”. Which implies that the people we do meet are the Inglorious Basterds referred to by the title.

    • re: Monsters

      A key contrast between Landa and Raine is in their ways of squaring their brutality with their consciences: Landa by viewing the world with far too much nuance, and Raine by viewing it with far too little. Soshanna seems a more balanced person, and thus understands the monstrous nature of her actions. This is presumably part of the reason she locks herself in the theatre.

  6. samedietc says:


    That Landa-Padite is replayed by Aldo-Werner/Butz (replayed with a difference: LaPadite’s initial refusal is played by Werner, his eventual cracking by Butz) seems right in several ways: just as Landa won’t get his hands dirty, so Aldo calls in his man to do the deed.

    (Differences abound–but a lot of them are reversals, which make the scenes more connected: the soldiers come out of the open into the darker cabin; Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz comes out of the darker cave into the open; his entrance is menacingly telegraphed, the soldiers’ entrance is secret. And, of course, there’s some survivor(s).)

    But what about language? I mean, with Landa, what starts as a joke about American movies about Europe (“I will speak English with a German accent, so you don’t have to read subtitles”) is actually part of his hunting. What about the need for translation with the Basterds? Are you saying that Donny Donowitz doesn’t know at least a little German? Or at least some Yiddish, which has some German in it?

    No, these Jews are all unabashedly American–just look at Donny with his baseball bat, how can you get more American than that?

    Well, you can be part Apache, that is, Native American.

    I don’t have a point here–I’m not entirely sure where these observations are leading, but I think there’s something interesting to be said about the use of language in this scene.

    (And in others: speaking of strange flashbacks, as with Hugo Stiglitz’s, what about the part where someone (the narrator?) says that the German-speakers are useful for ambushes, and then we see them ambush a group of Nazi without ever speaking any German!.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    By the end of the movie, I was fairly convinced that Aldo’s persona was both completely natural to him, and a put on. Much like a backwoods fella who is, on some level, aware that he’s seen as semi-literate, and uses it to his advantage, Brad Pitt evokes the same knd of reaction-my mom, out in the Canadian prairies, knows a salesman who can expertly play the ‘dumb ol’ farmer’ to the hilt, suckering one into thinking they got one up on him. Pretty much the same way Aldo is portrayed. Taratino focusses a lot of attenton on ths detail. By the end of the movie, I was convinced that Aldo was showing his real orders, al la Operation Paperclip-and we already know that Landa is thoroughly capable of taking care of himself, even with a great big swastika carved into his forehead.