Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino does it again. Cool movie.

In terms of verisimilitude, it's right up there with Hogan's Heroes.

I mean. Come on ...

Plot Thread #A: The Nazis cook up with a propaganda film called Stolz der Nation. True story about a Nazi Sergeant York -- a crack German sniper who mows down a human meat mountain of American GIs who try to storm his position in a tower. Said sniper plays himself in the movie, with that wacky auteur, Joseph Goebbels, directing. OK. So, gee, where should we premiere this movie? Hmmm ...

Well, why not Paris? You know, that city with that funny tower over in Vichy France. We could have Hitler, Goebbels, Goering -- hell, the entire German High Command could attend the premiere! Hey it's spring of 1944, the Allies haven't invaded yet, why not?

Naturally, we wouldn't need to bother with setting up troops in a security perimeter in the streets outside the cinema or cordoning off the city blocks around it. For that matter, who needs guards in the lobby? It'll be fun! What could happen? It's not like the smoking hot theater owner is secretly Jewish with a burning heart for revenge or something.

Plot Thread #B
The OSS drops a team of stone-cold killers into occupied France. Eight of 'em, all Jewish, led by Brad Pitt. (That wacky "Wild" Bill Donovan. Sure lives up to his name.) Anyway. Their mission: rip-off The Dirty Dozen. Well, more specifically, to inflict Apache-style torture and humiliation on the Nazis to demoralize the ranks. Eight guys, one with a baseball bat. Should be enough.

OK. Captain Obvious says ...

Faults with Plot Thread #A
The Nazis were evil, but they weren't stupid. They'd have !@# guards around the cinema and a ten-block radius of the city around it -- and clear out all the civilians for good measure. They'd inspect every square inch of the cinema. They'd pack every square inch of the cinema with human pit bulls from the SS. And have their own dudes running the projector and working the popcorn machine. Or they would if they decided to hold the premiere there. But they wouldn't. No way in hell. It'd open in Berlin.

Faults with Plot Thread #B
If a team of pseudo-Apaches from the Bronx were scalping and mutilating the Nazis, the Nazis would, of course, respond. They'd divide occupied France into a grid and begin a systematic, scorched-earth campaign, laying waste to Square G-7, Square G-8, etc. -- working square by square until they wiped out the team. But they wouldn't stop there.

The Nazis, would begin reprisals against the civilian population of occupied France -- and probably American POWS -- since the "Basterds" were, after all, violating the Geneva Convention.

The Nazis were in the habit of wiping out villages as reprisals for resistance. (Maillé, Lidice, a long bloody list) They'd do worse in this humiliating scenario. Say ...

A ratio of 10 dead French civilians for every German solider the Basterds killed. Or 100-1. 1,000-1. (Not only killing them. Probably replicating any torture the German soldiers received.) The Nazis would do whatever it takes, until the Basterds (or their superiors) couldn't stomach the collateral damage.

Over in China, the Japanese massacred 250,000 Chinese civilians for helping surviving airmen from the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo escape. Something like that.

And, as Sun Tzu pointed out in The Art of War, the Nazis would never surrender to the Basterds if they knew they'd be tortured, killed and mutilated. As Tzu noted, torture is a lousy strategy. You don't demoralize the enemy. You put 'em in a frame of mind where they'll fight to the death and never give up. The Apaches lost, remember?

OK, I had to vent. All that said, I don't have a problem with QT's wild violations of plausibility and logic.

His movies (especially the recent ones) are more like dreams than realistic narratives. Like dreams, they're a mix of granular realism and loopy violations of logic.

So, in Kill Bill, The Bride boards a plane to Tokyo, and they let her take her Samurai sword on board? It's hanging off her freaking hip while she's looking out the window?

Stuff like that.

Inglourious Basterds mixes its violations of logic with extremely believable stuff. The "Jew Hunter's" interrogation of the French farmer hiding a Jewish family under his house at the beginning of the movie, for example. It's not that QT can't do realism. He does, when he wants to -- and does it very well. But he doesn't always want to.

Inglorious Basterds is a dream -- more specifically, a revenge fantasy. The Jews Strike Back. They kill Hitler. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

Hitler gets shot full of holes and blown to pieces in 1944. For once, WWII has a happy ending. I know how the real story ended.

But I like this movie better.

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