Inglourious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino, satisfies and excites the part of me that wants to see Jews kicking ass and taking names against Nazis—not pure victims of evil aggression perched on the moral high ground, but viscerally taking control of their destinies.
The revelations about Tarantino’s on-set behavior towards Uma Thurman in Kill Bill—not to mention how he knew more than he let on regarding Harvey Weinstein, potentially putting hundreds of young actresses at risk—raised the painful, sickening question in my mind: how can someone seem to understand this need for a revenge fantasy, of the oppressed triumphing over oppressors, in his filmmaking, but completely miss the point in real life, going so far as to physically and/or psychologically harm the actresses who depend on him for their careers?
Reframed by his off-screen behavior, Tarantino’s insistence on acting out the violent scenes he’d written with his actresses increase my sense of unease and betrayal. It’s not Christoph Waltz’s Oscar-winning hands strangling Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds, but Tarantino’s.
As a Jewish woman, then, I’m torn when I think about Inglourious Basterds. Can I enjoy that magnificent movie theater sequence at the end of Inglourious Basterds, where secret Jew Shoshanna burns down the building with Hitler and other top Nazi officials in it, knowing that merely minutes earlier, Tarantino voluntarily stepped in for the movie’s villain as he commits a heinous, violent act against one of the movie’s heroines?
The best I can say is that perhaps having to grapple with this kind of uneasy realization—that a great work of art can be made by a person who hurts other people; that what we love and hate about an artist are often intertwined; that the truth is often put fully on display if only we pay attention—is ultimately a gift.
DEBORAH KRIEGER on the Lilith Blog.