This is my 'bunch of guys on a mission' movie. You’ve got to make a movie about something, and I’m a film guy, so I think in terms of genres. - Quentin Tarantino
Ways to see it:
- As sheer or mere sensation. It's a diabolically entertaining thing. "Hurr. Oh-hoh no! Eee! Hahaha! Ooooooh. (Christ this music's loud.)" It is easy to treat it as if its violence were its content and purpose.
- As perfect token of a style. "Hmm. Revenge is the sole motivating logic; there are many converging plot threads; the 'good' guys are psychotic; the 'bad' guy is utterly charming; protagonists are massacred in deadpan fashion. I wonder who the director is?" All of his films are (or contain) simplistic on-a-mission plots; it's the various subversions that elevate them. This one's obv the Dirty Dozen subverted with blaxploitation, Spaghetti Western, and modern spoof ingredients.
- As comedy at the extremes. Sensationalism and the baiting of film archetypes are the first things - who's the director again? - but the sheer giddy humour of the thing shouldn't be passed over. The maximal irony - 'Italian' hand gestures; Christoph Waltz' eyebrow control; the 'STIGLITZ' cheese; that pipe - make this Tarantino's funniest film. (Who else could distill British class awkwardness out of a typical Mike Myers cartoon?) The Shosanna scenes lack this humour; QT's appetite for Female Revenge Fantasy fills them with tension instead.
- As deconstructive. "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France..." IB has a heavy postmodern overlay, e.g. its title, taken from an Italian film with which it has almost no connection; the abrupt Samuel L Jackson voiceovers, lecturing the audience on plot devices (the Stiglitz flashback, the inflammability of nitrate film); tooltips names floating over obscure Nazi ministers; and a general 1970s aesthetic by which to approach the 1940s (David Bowie on the soundtrack, and, again, "STIGLITZ"). This is so slickly integrated that you have to scramble to realise it happening. It is easy to see this as not about war, not even about revenge.
4.1. As moral. A number of scenes (such as the scalpings of relatively blameless rank-and-file Germans, or the total pulping, by machinegun, of Hitler's face) are so excessive, they actually suggest a moralistic QT observing us. His tittering audience. As if to say: "I have made a very enjoyable film; how dare you enjoy this?" This is righteous, because to revel in the murder of Nazis, even the representation of the murder of Nazis, is to display exactly the same lack of human sense as them.
A challenging dynamic is the Marx-Brothers-meets-torture-porn antics of the Basterds. In particular, recall Eli Roth's and Omar Doom's Jewish characters, the ones that remain in the burning cinema. They don't even stop to remove the exploding dynamite strapped around their legs, instead gleefully gunning down the trapped Nazi sympathisers - who are doomed anyway. They're more fanatical and inhuman than any of the Nazis portrayed here. But the music is behind them, as is Action Movie Rule #1: revenge justifies anything, so never mind, eh?
(Note that the Shosanna scenes lack irony as well as humour. This could be construed as a kind of tact on QT's part, sincerity being required for the Jewish . Again: they are refilled with a different kind of schlock.)
- As comment on contemporary Jewish masculinity. "So all I want to say is that testosterone has become a very big deal in some corners of modern Jewish culture, for reasons that are not hard to reconstruct, and you could think of Inglourious Basterds as playing into this, by projecting an IDF-style masculinity back into the 1940s." - Christian Thorne
- As grand self-parody. One delicious symbol: the climactic scene takes place in a cinema showing a gory and self-important film, and is interrupted by the detonation of the cinema and the slaying of the whole audience by a film-maker. Anyone who criticises the film as a sick appropriation of unimaginable tragedy, or as an inexcusably aestheticised picture of the least funny period in human history might benefit from seeing Tarantino's critique of himself and his audience within it. "You know something, Utivich? I think this might just be my masterpiece."
- As scholar's film. Wanted: nerdy, frame-by-frame analysis of his homages and allusions, the technical and visual puns. (A group of 300 people once spent four days doing this to Pulp Fiction(!) This twenty-five part blog is no doubt representative.) If only one had a working knowledge of the film theory of GW Pabst...