I’m going to come out in my first Mockingbird post ever and just say it: Inglourious Basterds was the best movie of 2009 (Yes, better than Hurt Locker). Say what you will about Tarantino’s violent films, but Basterds is about as masterful of a film as any made in the past decade because it posits a fresh answer to the age old question: are Nazis the exception to the human condition or are they more normal than we’d care to admit. [Spoilers ahead!]
When you watch the movie, you see, the joke is on us the viewer. Basterds revolves around the premiere of the newest Nazi propaganda film. All the head Germans–including Hitler–are in attendance, along with a team of Jewish-American commandos. Throughout Basterds, we see clips of the propaganda piece shown at the premiere: Americans and Brits dying left and right to the marksmanship of a patriotic German Sniper. The Nazis in the theater of the movie world cheer and shout–the Americans in the real world boo and hiss. “It’s all propaganda,” we tell ourselves. “Wait till the commandos at the movie premiere strike! Then the good guys will show ‘em!”
It’s not long before the Americans strike. The theater is set on fire; the commandos pull out bombs and machine guns and proceed to massacre the audience at the packed premiere. The Americans in the real world cheer and clap as the good guys mow down the Germans. In one rather dark moment, the Americans pour bullets into corpse of the already dead Hitler. The Americans win. The Germans die.
And it is here that Tarantino presents us with the startling truth: we watching the movie are no different than the Nazis sitting in the premiere of the movie world. We both cheer and clap when our side slaughters the bad guys. We both boo and hiss when the bad guys get their way. And when we review the rest of the movie with this lens, we find that the Americans (and, in a very non-PC way, the Jews of the film) we’d been cheering all along are actually no less brutal, no less fanatical, and no less innocent than the film’s Nazis. We look at ourselves in Tarantino’s movie, and in our reflection, we see Nazis.
Nazis are the prototypical bad guy in American Cinema [see every WWII movie, Casablanca, Indiana Jones, Hellboy, Schindler’s List, Blues Brothers, The Sound of Music, shall we keep going?] but Basterds does not let us live with simple Nazi bad guys designed to make our heroes look more heroic. Tarantino would very much agree that “there is none righteous, no, not one.” [Romans 3:23] This is, of course, the same argument that Paul makes in the beginning of Romans- that when it comes to the standards that God has set up (i.e. the Law), all are without excuse–Nazis and Allies alike.
Tarantino has officially pulled the rug out from under the feel good patriotic American self-righteous WWII movie genre. And for us here at Mockingbird, that’s really not a big deal. Our God is not the sort who accepts the Allies because they’re better than the Nazis. The scandalous truth is that, unlike Brad Pitt’s character, Jesus is in the Nazi saving business.