by Noah Buschel
By jumping genres, Quentin Tarantino has made three straight revenge films without anyone really noticing. He’s been making his version of One-Eyed Jacks over and over, using different costumes to make it seem like different movies.
But a revenge movie is a revenge movie is a revenge movie. It provides a very limited emotional palette. George W. Bush showed us just how monotonous and silly a revenge movie can be when one tries to drag it out over a number of years. It’s a real narrow way of being, looking for payback blood. And as time goes on, and facts and connections come to light, revenge only becomes harder and harder to justify. It may indeed be best served cold, but it’s usually just stale. And stinking of lunacy and fear.
Kill Bill was a martial arts movie. Death Proof was a slasher/muscle car movie. Inglourious Basterds is a World War II film. Whatever. They’re all centered around the settling of scores with a bad man. And by the time Basterds comes along, with Tarantino standing up for Jews, African Americans, Native Americans and presumably all wronged people everywhere, it feels like a little kid with just one balloon, blowing that balloon up as big as he can. But like all balloons, Basterds is fragile, filled with hot air. It can be popped with a prick. I think the filmmaker knows this, somewhere, and the more vulnerable Tarantino feels, the more he lays on the bombast, raises his voice, and, of course, seeks revenge!
Revenge against who, I ask, wearily, for who can even think of more killing in today’s fucked-up world? Well, it doesn’t take Freud to see that Hitler, Bill, and Stuntman Mike are all father figures. And while Tarantino wants us to believe he is taking on fascism and evil for all of us, isn’t QT really just trying to get back at his old man? I mean, isn’t that what all these movies are about? Anger at Papa T? I don’t know their story, but it’s hard to miss.
I understand The Wrath Of Khan. I can get down with Death Wish. I’ve had nights with my cousin Ben when we thought we were vigilante heroes outside the 7/11. But these are moments. And ultimately, one has to pass through them. That, or get an army jacket, handgun, and stack of Xbox games.
America is filled with 40-year-old Charles Bronson wannabes clutching their Frank Miller collections, confounded by their own anger, man-boys who never served in Vietnam, but think they did because they have seen The Deer Hunter three hundred times. They act tough and detached, but mess with their 1970s G.I. Joe collection and you will see just how precious they can be. And these guys love their mothers. Hell, they often live with their mothers. But the father, that’s a different bag.
Robert Bly has told us all about how the American man is lacking in tradition, poetry, and wisdom. Our version of a vision quest is watching Avatar in 3-D. But who’s gonna have the patience for Rainer Maria Rilke or Antonio Machado when you can just mosey down the street and instantaneously fulfill your bloodlust for twelve bucks or so? You can even go back in time and kill Hitler. And you get to do all this with really snazzy dialogue.
In the meantime, in the present time, the confusion just builds. The confusion about war. The confusion about fighting. And there’s some 12-year-old kid out there in some Minnesota mall who actually sees through Inglourious Basterds, sees how weak and befuddled a film it is. But his friends are all yelling about how awesome it is and how cool Tarantino is and how rad Brad is. And that kid gets drowned out. Hopefully not forever.
When Tarantino does try to reach beyond vengeance in these films, it comes out corny. Like the scene with The Bride convincing a female assassin she is pregnant in Kill Bill. Or Shoshanna sitting quietly at a fancy restaurant with the killer of her family. Rather than being poignant, these scenes feel manipulative and contrived. It seems the more Tarantino seeks revenge, the less he is able to honestly convey any other human emotions.
I remember being in Nepal, practicing meditation with all these monks. On the weekend, we would go down into Kathmandu and drink orange soda and watch movies. There’d be like four movies back to back. First we watched The Jackal, with Richard Gere. And then Pulp Fiction came on. Mind you, the movies are playing in tiny dark restaurants, projected onto cracked walls. But still, Pulp blew us all away. The sheer movie magic of it. And it wasn’t all about getting even. And it wasn’t all about hate. There was violence in it, for sure. Even some revenge (Zed’s definitely dead). But there was so much heart that the violence meant something. It became like the violence of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. When Vincent Vega is shot down, it’s a shock. We were just hangin’ with him in a diner. We were just rolling cigarettes with him, falling in love with him, and now he’s gone. The monks, most of them refugees, all nodded.
— Noah Buschel