Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kindling Temperature

Inglourious Basterds (2009) / Quentin Tarantino
2009’s World-War II magnum opus, Inglourious Basterds, founds itself completely on small points of contact between two alien cultures. It is a global film for a globalised world about a time when the world wasn’t so globalized. Each character in the film is a new ‘fish’, challenged by the prospect of adoption of a new custom (represented in the film, more or less by spoken language. It’s Tarantino, what else?), and the chances of survival of a new character depends entirely on how well it can adopt to the world outside its ‘water’. Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), the primary antagonist of the film, does it the best, and so he survives the longest. Tarantino being Tarantino, cannot relinquish entirely the debt the cinema of the present owes to the cinema of the past, and therefore, he cannot help but try to construct a few classical Hollywood type gags based on the uneasy interaction between members of two different cultures (uneasy because clearly, they would much rather be sitting at home than fighting the war); but almost always has to follow it up with great urgency an event of a clearly more sinister intent.
Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) messes up his Italian pronunciation and it is funny, but it also results in giving away Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)’s identity to the Nazis. The point of contact between two vastly different cultures resulted in a short gag earlier, but in contemporary cinema, it is the game-shifter. A second of hesitation on the part of the alien can result in complete anarchy. The narrative does not break for snacks (as it would, in case of a gag), but is entirely and utterly annihilated and replaced by a newer one. In this regard, the narrative no longer remains a tangible coherent idea, but only a notion – meant to be replaced by another notion. Each major event in the film (mostly an all-consuming shootout) is a result of some character or the other committing a single mistake and revealing his/her true identity. It is funny because for a film set in a period of vast ideological disparity, it is completely about more tangible differences; and thus, in a rather bleak manner, declares humanity incapable of internal reconciliation.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're absolutely right. I'd noticed the play on identities before but hadn't expressed it in my mind as clearly as you have here : a new fish making one mistake. I like too how you point out how this battle of great ideological separation comes is played out in the film in simple human differences

    I'm enjoying reading your mini essays.