What, an excuse to talk about Inglourious Basterds, my favorite movie of the year? Why thank you!
This article, by the way, will contain major spoilers for the film. Since this is its third weekend, you should have seen it by now, unless you’re some kind of asshole.
When Basterds premiered at Cannes (to a raging bunch of butthole critics, it seems. How was this not hyped to the high heavens back in May?), there were some who wondered how people would take Quentin Tarantino’s serious historical revisionism. After all, this isn’t U-571, which has the Americans accomplishing things the Brits accomplished in real life – this movie has Adolph Fucking Hitler getting machine gunned to death by a Boston Jew in 1944, pre D-Day. There was even a CHUD message board poster who was having bizarre conniption fits about the film in advance, worrying that Tarantino was going to disrespect the war and not treat the soldiers seriously enough (this guy has managed to stay blissfully ignorant of about 60 years of WWII movies, some of which are comedies, I guess).
But it turns out that people love the revisionism. Especially Germans, according to an article in The Global Post. Paul Hockenos says that the film is playing to sell-out audiences in Berlin, and that Tarantino’s picture has won over even Deutschland’s critics, who can be notoriously harsh on Nazi-themed movies.
Hockenon presents a number of reasons why he thinks the movie is working for German audiences, but I think that besides the fact that Inglourious Basterds is so damn well made and, I think, surprisingly fair to the rank and file Nazis, is the fact that it isn’t just Jews who need some closure from WWII and the terrible shadow of Adolph Hitler – it’s young Germans as well.
I imagine it’s complicated being a young German. There are Germans today in the workforce who came of age not just long after the fall of the Third Reich (hell, their parents were born well after the fall of the ‘Thousand Year Reich’), but after the end of Communism. WWII is prehistory to these people; I think my generation may be one of the last with any personal connection to the war and the Holocaust (growing up in Queens I knew many older people who had numbers tattooed on their arms; likely all are long dead by now), so these kids know just the shame, detached from all else.
For Germans there must be something transcendental about seeing Hitler not just die but die savagely, being made to pay for his crimes and his sins. It must be liberating to see that monster slain, and to feel that, even in the world of fiction, they’re momentarily free from the weight of that shame. If Hitler had not escaped justice at the end of the war by taking his own life, things might be different and catharsis on a major, global scale might have occurred, but he never stood before the tribunal at Nuremberg, and the movies never saw fit to make him really pay. Until Tarantino’s stroke of genius.