Musings: A Jew on the release of “Basterds”

To fairly represent myself while sharing my thoughts on Quentin Tarantino’s seventh feature film release, “Inglourious Basterds,” I should be forward in mentioning that I’m Jewish, and if you know anything about this movie, it’s more or less a Holocaust revenge fantasy.

I recently watched Edward Zwick’s latest film “Defiance” starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber (read my review of “Defiance” here), a film a bit more based on truth than “Basterds,” to be nice, about Jews fleeing into the woods and arming themselves against Nazis. There were plenty of Jews putting guns to Nazi heads in that movie without too much reservation in pulling the trigger and now “Basterds” appears to bask in it.

As a Jew, I’ve always wondered, maybe even fantasized, about what the world would be like if six million Jews hadn’t been eradicated from the face of the planet at the hands of the Nazi regime; what if Americans or any of the Allies had gone in and stopped them? With “Defiance” and Bryan Singer’s Hitler assassination plot thriller “Valkyrie” having been released within a year of “Basterds” now, it appears that this subject has intrigued many filmmakers, not surprising given how often they revisit the Holocaust in general.

Knowing Quentin Tarantino’s style, however, I’m a bit apprehensive about seeing such a fantasy played out on the screen. Murder is difficult to watch, no less root for, even if these Basterds are playing its moral hand. Tarantino has always made good sport out of killing, with strong influences coming from kung fu movies (which inspired his last features “Kill Bill Vol. 1” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2”) and Sergio Leone Westerns, and from what I’ve read, both influence his filmmaking in “Basterds” once again.

It’s not that I’m afraid Tarantino will handle Holocaust themes without sensitivity, especially if one of the film’s main characters, Col. Landa aka “the Jew hunter,” shows off any of his skills, but the idea of Nazi’s killing Jews, then Jews killing Nazis brutally in return all mixed up in a film branded as part comedy makes me a little uneasy. I could guess with little hesitation that this film would not sit well with any of my grandparents.

I’m not prematurely labeling “Basterds” as offensive or making light entertainment out of the Holocaust. With the Jewish presence in the film industry, nothing minus Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” could get away with flagrant anti-Semitism. This is about me and about all Jews, many of whom have an affinity for film, going out on a weekend and considering this a couple hours of entertainment.

That’s where “Basterds” becomes a fine line. As a Jew I’m no stranger to guilt, and thinking about what my great-great grandparents would say if they knew their great-great grandchildren were going to see an action drama/comedy about Jews and Nazis killing each other … well, that’s a lot of guilt. Personally, the thought of watching that movie and really enjoying it, of being entertained by it, makes me uncomfortable. I don’t expect it to upset me, and it might even add to my perspective on the Holocaust, but the idea of “Basterds” is not a cinematic comfort.

Would all this stop me, no less a cinephile than Tarantino himself (ok, maybe a little), from going to see “Basterds?” I can’t say. I can tell you I’m not running to the theater like I was to see “Grindhouse” a year and a half ago, but having seen every Tarantino film minus “Jackie Brown” (moving higher up my list with all this buzz), there’s a definitely inevitability here. Film is also about challenging us, at least good ones should, and no one has bent genres with more success than Tarantino, so regardless how I feel, I’m curious to see what I’ll decide to do about this film.

1 Comment

  1. magoober says:

    I'm probably going to see it because of Til Schweiger. I saw that movie based on some book written by a guy who just came up with the idea about those two boys who became friends and the German boy thought the people in the camps were wearing striped pajamas. Awful.

    Also, the people involved in Valkyrie probably never stepped foot in Wolf's Lair where the assassination attempt took place ;) I guess that's why it's "based" on a true story.

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