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Ten Years Later, the Nazi-Killing Gore of 'Inglorious Basterds' Resonates More Than Ever

While Quentin Tarantino's Holocaust revenge film may not be historically accurate, it's hard not to revel in its barbarity.

by Alex Zaragoza
Aug 20 2019, 1:02pm

Photo credit: A Band Apart; The Weinstein Company; Universal Pictures

When Inglourious Basterds premiered in 2009, it was billed as the revenge story of every Jewish person's darkest fantasies—a tall tale of a group of Jewish American soldiers hunting down Nazis in World War II-era France. During the film's initial promotional push, director and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino told Ella Taylor at the Village Voice, "Over the years, when I was coming up with the idea of the American Jews taking vengeance, I would mention it to male Jewish friends of mine, and they were like, 'That’s the movie I want to see. Fuck that other story, I wanna see this story.' Even I get revved up, and I’m not Jewish."

As anti-Semitism and hate crimes have increased in the U.S. in recent years (assaults against the Jewish community doubled in 2018 alone), empowered by the racist rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration, Tarantino's revisionist opus carries even deeper resonance than it did when it was released in 2009.

Debuting 10 years ago today, the film follows a troop of eight soldiers, known as the Basterds. Brigade leader Aldo "The Apache" Raine (Brad Pitt), a Southern-drawled lieutenant with Native American blood, directs the unit to carry out one mission and one mission only: Kill Nazis. That means finding and eliminating every person with a swastika on the armband of their uniform, and also removing their scalp for good measure. And that's exactly what the Basterds do, often with flourish in the hands of their most effective and infamously vicious member, the Bostonian bat-wielding Bear Jew (Eli Roth). Simultaneously, Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a French Jewish cinema owner who narrowly escapes the slaughter of her family at the hands of "Jew Hunter" and S.S. officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), plans wicked and righteous revenge against the Nazi officers who rent out her theater for the screening of a propaganda film. The end result is a fiery blaze and explosive shootout in which Shosanna proclaims to be "the face of Jewish vengeance," culminating in the satisfyingly savage massacre of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and a cinema full of members of the Third Reich. Tarantino is no stranger to violence in his films, but in Inglourious Basterds, he leveled up even by his standards: The film is rife with Nazis being burned alive, getting their brains bashed in, scalps sliced off, bodies penetrated by bullets, and swastikas carved into their foreheads so they can never hide from the atrocities they committed. While the film's portrayal of history may not be accurate (or even remotely true), it's hard not to revel in its barbarity, considering who's on the receiving end.


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As our country devolves into a resurgence of white nationalism and Nazism, some have taken it upon themselves to deliver their own vigilante justice, illustrating how much Inglourious Basterds scratches a real itch for revenge. In 2017, when protester Jeffrey Winder rushed the stage at a press conference held by Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler and clocked him on the head, he was barely punished (he was fined one dollar) for his act. The punch that sent Richard Spencer running scared during an on-camera interview following the 2017 inauguration protests was remixed to everything from 00s dance hit "Sandstorm," to Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight," and watched over 3.5 million times (on one video alone). While some ethicists assert it's wrong to knock the grin off a Nazi, others fervently believe it's a moral imperative that we send a fistful of fury into their skulls. Hell, even Billy Joel thinks they're begging for it. Regardless of where someone stands on the morality of attacking a Nazi, Tarantino's film perfectly encapsulates what it might feel like to do so—to squeeze your fists into a tight ball and rain some pain down upon them so they feel, even briefly, the fear, injustice, and violence they perpetrate.

Watching a revisionist history of the Holocaust and World War II that ends with the gruesome death of Hitler and others who aided in the genocide of millions of Jews makes it a little easier to muster up the strength to fight those who are inflicting hate-fueled atrocities in our current era. We need Inglourious Basterds now more than ever, both to give us a place where the bloodlust we may feel can run free and unburdened by morality, and to help us luxuriate, even momentarily, in an escapist alternative reality where justice is served.

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Alex Zaragoza is the senior culture writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Tagged:
Quentin Tarantino
Anniversaries
Inglourious Basterds
Nazi
White Nationalism