As I was watching Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds—or ‘Terds, as I affectionately call it—I found myself astonished by the number of critics who have accused Tarantino of making a movie that’s nothing more than a cinematic exercise, an empty mash-up of WWII war movies and Spaghetti Westerns. To be honest, I don’t find the likelihood that this might be true as foul as it appears to be for most self-respecting critics, but when I was sitting in that theater, surrounded by a demonstrably appreciative audience, I saw firsthand just how wrong those accusations are and how richly humanistic Tarantino’s film actually is.
Admittedly, I didn’t realize the depth of the film’s humanity until it was revealed in a scene toward the end of the movie. Up to that point, I had merely been having a rollicking good time. How could you not? What could be more fun than watching Brad Pitt “acting,” his jaw thrust out like a hillbilly caveman, speaking in a pronounced good-old-boy drawl, and casually scalping the corpses of the Jew-hating Nazis he and his men had just killed? Watching Eli Roth crush the skull of a recalcitrant Nazi officer with a baseball bat, that’s what! It’s the moment that got the movie’s biggest laugh in an evening awash with laughter. In fact, the audience was so giddy watching the movie, that even the mere description of torture was greeted with laughs. What fun!
I don’t want to suggest that the film was all lighthearted silliness, though. Oh, no. ‘Terds had many serious scenes, too, like the one where an SS Officer and a farmer drink a glass of milk together or when a heated debate about regional German accents breaks out in a bar or that time Pitt’s character carves a swastika deep into the forehead of a Nazi, so deep in fact that you can hear the tip of his Bowie knife scraping the man’s skull. Wait. That last scene was one of the funny ones. My mistake.
Regardless, there is one scene in particular that brought out Tarantino’s keen understanding of human nature. It took place in a movie theater where a select audience featuring some of the most prominent members of the Nazi regime—including Hitler—had gathered to watch a hilariously violent film set during World War II. And did they think it was funny! They especially enjoyed the scene in which scores of enemy soldiers were obliterated by a wounded Nazi sniper, who was picking off his enemies from atop a tower.
Each young body that jackknifed as its life was taken by the Nazi’s bullets was greeted with an eruption of laughter from the audience. Tarantino even went out of his way to show Hitler enjoying the carnage, practically pissing himself he was laughing so hard.
Wait a minute, I thought. That’s us up there. Those Nazis, Hitler, they’re responding to people being killed, wounded, and maimed just like the audience around me was: with torrential laughter. To be fair, the people around me laughed when the victims of the violence deserved it. When innocents were dying, nary a guffaw was to be heard. Instead, you could almost feel the audience biding their time for the moment the bad guys were going to be scalped or gutted or whatever. They weren’t savages, after all. But by explicitly connecting the audience with the Nazis, I’m sure Tarantino was trying to say: “Please forgive the Nazis for their crimes. After all, they were merely human, just like you.” Who would think that Tarantino could be such a deep Christian thinker! More to the point, I’m sure that after the credits finished rolling and they returned to their homes, the members of the audience at the Southdale theater that evening somberly reflected on the nature of humanity, perhaps snuggling more closely with a loved one for assurance, and then gently fell asleep, the invisible worm slowly turning in their ears.