According to Carl Jung, there are two judging functions: thinking, and feeling. (Teaser: our new website will dive further into this topic.) In my opinion, most of us tend to feel art more than we think about it. We feel that a movie is good or bad, but can rarely say why a movie is good or bad.
Movies touch our heart strings, make us laugh, or fulfill our lust for blood. This being On Violence, I think you know which we’ll be covering today.
What else, aside from gut emotional reaction or blood lust, could explain success of Inglorious Basterds? (314 million dollars grossed, 4 Golden Globe nominations.) It feels good as a movie; it satiates our collective blood lust. I mean, who can't cheer watching Hitler and Nazis burn to death? Especially perverted, one dimensional Nazis.
Nazis are the only real villains we have left in our post-modern, morally-relative society, a holdover from a more idealistic, black and white era. (You could also say naive.) We can root for them to die, cheer at them being tortured, and laugh as the Jew Bear bashes an officer's head in with a bat, all without having to feel bad. They’re Nazis, they might not even count as human.
But thinking about the film even a little tears the whole thing down. The Basterds carve swastikas into the foreheads of German soldiers so that Germans can't take their swastikas off, but weren’t there only 8 million Nazi party members out of 69 million Germans? Didn’t Nazi’s carve Stars of Davids into the foreheads of some of their enemies?
(This is, of course, if you can even get past the ridiculous plot. First, that Tarantino changes the ending to World War II, which I’m willing to accept. And two, that twelve men with virtually no language or culture training can stay behind enemy lines for months on end. It's stupid. Actually, just don’t think about the plot at all.)
The most damning way to think about the movie is to apply the “Golden Rule” to it, or as Confucious, Jesus and others said, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
Forget about Nazis. Forget about Hitler. Do we want our enemy's soldiers--be they Indian, Japanese, Nazi, Taliban, Communist, terrorist, Hun, Confederate or Union Jack--carving symbols into the foreheads of our soldiers? Would we want them beating our soldiers to death with baseball bats?
Is it OK to treat another country's soldiers the way the Basterds do?
The obvious answer to all of these questions, after even just a moment's thought, is no. But we don’t want to think about films this way. We dream of a simpler time, when there was a good and evil, and no gray areas. As Ralph McQuarrie says in an interview about his film, Valkyrie, "Somewhere along the way all war movies became a meditation on war. Because somehow it was like the filmmaker is saying I know you came here to see people get the shit blown up on Normandie but..we can't feel good about it." No, you shouldn't feel good about watching someone get blown up.
So, as my dad told me, "don't think about this movie too hard." Because if you think about it, it all falls apart.