Quentin Tarantino utilizes genre conventions and allusions to turn World War II into an alternate reality. Audiences would generally admonish his use of historical inaccuracies and often-unrealistic characters. Instead, a tragic history becomes suddenly malleable and light-hearted. Roger Ebert says Tarantino “provides World War II with a much-needed alternative ending. For once the basterds get what’s coming to them.” (1.)
Genre conventions play a very important role in Inglourious Basterds. Usually mixing in allusions to Westerns and film noir would seem insensitive and out of place for a film about Nazis. Inglourious Basterds manages to make the entire thing seem plausible. In fact, the use of different genre conventions is entirely what makes the film’s premise possible. It takes World War II out of its somber reality and places the film into a new realm. In this realm, good triumphs over evil.
The good guys become smooth talking gun slingers. Aldo Raine walks into the film straight out of an old Western. The film even includes campy lines reminiscent of films like Once Upon a Time in the West.
Aldo Raine: You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’.
Also, Jewish people in the story are no longer victims. They become hardened individuals seeking revenge with a calm and collected mind. Sgt. Donny Donowitz, known as the Bear Jew, is shown bashing in a Nazi’s skull. The way he is spoken about by high level German officials is reminiscent of the mysterious Harmonica. Both manage to evade capture and get vengeance swiftly. This scene shows Aldo Raine building up a picture of the highly revered “Bear Jew” before he makes himself seen. Sgt. Donowitz then finally reveals himself and kills his enemy with little emotion.
Shosanna is a Jewish woman taking control of her circumstances. She manages to escape from Landa, and then plots the downfall of the Third Reich with a cool head. She enters each scene like a femme fatale from the film noir genre. Particularly walking around in her red dress during the movie premiere, Shosanna proves to be a beautiful woman with cruel intentions. By making both Jewish characters smooth operators under pressure, Tarantino turns the underdog into the hero.
His characterization of Hans Landa also helps to take Inglourious Basterds into a new realm. Landa manages to both be terrifying and ridiculous at the same time. One particular scene undermines him as a goofy German trying to keep his head above water. He finds himself at an advantage point with Raine, and gleefully shouts “That’s a bingo!” Rather than being a fully terrifying villain, Landa becomes someone we can poke fun at. This takes away his power in history and makes it more plausible that such a far-fetched plan to end the Third Reich could actually succeed.
Using genre conventions takes the film to an entirely new place. By reframing the characters in a fictional, whimsical setting reminiscent of Hollywood, Tarantino is able to make his new ending to history feel more organic. His plot gives World War II a more traditionally happy ending. The good guys win and the villains can’t escape what they’ve done. It gives closure to such a horrific event and takes away some of the power it has over us. We would all feel a lot better off if such horrific events in our real lives ended more like a Western: with fast talking, charming cowboys whisking in to save the day from evil.
By: Alex Fulton