Genre Conventions and Alternate Endings in Inglourious Basterds

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

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Genre Conventions and Alternate Endings in Inglourious Basterds

  1. rpasser

    You’re spot on in your claim that this movie places World War II into a realm where evil is conquered by good. In essence, the movie itself seems to be a tale of Jewish revenge against the Nazis. I like how you mentioned that the Jews transform from victims to hardened avengers. I would take this up another notch and go so far as to say that the Nazis themselves transform from hardened oppressors to victims. Rarely in this film do we see the Nazis showing power. Instead, we see them being scalped, pummeled, stabbed, shot, carved, and burned.

    It is as if the Jews are doing to the Nazis the same thing that the Nazis did to them. They show cruelty and mercilessness. They strike fear into their hearts. They burn them alive.

    The alternate reality of the film certainly does serve to create a history where the horrific actions of the Nazis are undermined — a history where the Jews had the last laugh, and evil was clearly “beaten”.

  2. emroberts19

    I liked your take on this! I think that you definitely have a point about how the use of genre conventions, or more whimsical, fun elements adds a sense that this story is one that has a place in a fantasy world. Tarantino is playing with the audience’s perception of the action by making some of the theatrical elements so exaggerated. There are several scenes interspersed throughout the film in which there is a pause, or a slow motion in just the right place to make the scene a reference to another genre and let the audience in on the joke.

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