Through the use of exaggerated violence and blaringly eccentric characters Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds spawns a hypothetical world in which an American guerilla unit called the Basterds mercilessly executes WWII Nazis in retribution for their heinous acts against European Jews. If anyone watches Inglourious Basterds expecting to see a historical account of WWII and the Holocaust then they have missed the point of the film entirely. The purpose of this film is not to educate but instead to bring satisfaction to anyone who has ever been disturbed by the atrocities of the Holocaust—for anyone who would have liked members of the Nazi party to receive a punishment one thousand times more severe than the vile acts committed against the Jewish people. The film’s opening scene incurs the audience’s sympathy and disdain in order to draw the audience into an elaborate tale of revenge, which allows viewers to indulge themselves in a desire for violent retribution outweighing the moral ambiguity of the Basterd’s brutality, the viewers’ instinct to respect humanity, and their tendency to revile human mutilation.
In the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds the brutal murder of Shosanna’s family and Colonel Landa’s despicable attitude toward Jews demonstrate the cruelty of the Nazi regime, creating a basis for the film’s theme of violent retribution.A beautiful panoramic view of Monsieur LaPedite’s small dairy farm begins the scene. The wide open space, copious amount of vibrant green grass, and multitude of grazing dairy cows make this shot a picture of freedom, serenity, and prosperity. Though everything about this picture seems perfectly balanced, the dairy farmer’s dark stone house is out of place in such a bright setting; its gloomy walls and shadowy doorway break the optimistic mood of the image, foretelling the impending doom of its hidden inhabitants.
The arrival of Colonel Landa a.k.a. the “Jew Hunter” also disrupts the serenity of the shot, signifying an end to freedom and tranquility as well as a precursor to death. Col. Landa’s black coat and dark green Nazi uniform make his approaching figure ominous amidst the cheerful landscape. Although the film does not show the German occupation of France in detail, Col. Landa’s unannounced and unwelcome presence symbolizes the invasion and the abolished independence, peace, and opulence of its Jewish citizens. The cut away shot to Col. Landa and LaPedite’s handshake, with Landa’s hand positioned firmly above the farmer’s, displays Landa’s domineering nature and suggests that Landa’s courteousness is an act. The change in location, brought about by Landa’s desire to get into LaPedite’s home, completely destroys the vitality of the scene as the green pastures and light are left outside the dreary abode. When Col. Landa speaks, his smile and seemingly gracious demeanor cannot fool the audience when he clearly asserts his “pride” in his success as a Jew murderer and agrees with propaganda linking Jews to rats. During Colonel Landa’s elaborate speech about the imprecise cause of Jewish repulsiveness, his hat, adorned with a black band and skull, sits on the table, looming in the background and forewarning his eventual discovery and murder of the Dreyfuses hiding beneath the floorboards.
When the camera view slides down to reveal Shosanna and the rest of her family forced to “abandon dignity” under the floor, the audience is able to sympathize with the Dreyfuses and despise Landa even more for his insensitivity. The shallow depth of field in this medium shot with Shosanna in the foreground brings her helpless form in focus while the rest of her family are nothing but blurs in the background. The tightness of the shot, shallow space, and the close proximity of the family demonstrates how the Dreyfuses are trapped in their situation like animals uncomfortably quartered in a cage. Since viewers cannot prevent the Dreyfus’ demise at the hands of Col. Landa, they are as helpless as Shosanna who silences herself with her hand for fear of discovery. The clear focus on Shosanna makes her the film’s protagonist and also initiates a connection between her and the audience. The distorted view of the remaining Dreyfuses foreshadows their imminent deaths. When Col. Landa brings in his men for a surprise attack, the ominous music builds to a crescendo as bullets from the Nazis’ guns create holes in the floorboards, and a billowing cloud of woodchips obscures the audience’s view of the Dreyfus’ tragic end. While a close up of Shosanna’s terror-stricken face covered in her family’s blood as she hastily escapes the dairy farm is the only concrete evidence of the carnage, the image is a prevalent reminder of the Nazis’ ruthlessness. The sight of Col. Landa’s smug face at the scene’s end incites a need for vengeance. The “murder, intimidation, and terror” exhibited in the opening scene support the Basterd Lt. Aldoe Raine’s subsequent claims of Nazi inhumanity, convincing the audience that the Nazis deserve no mercy and “need to be destroyed.”
Ultimately, Inglorious Basterds speaks to viewer who shares Lt. Aldo Raine’s sentiment—that a Nazi should never be allowed to “take off [their] uniform,”—but rather remain easily identifiable so that they may neither be absolved from blame nor able to escape the repercussions of their actions. As the film trailer’s typography purports the film is a war movie like no other because it allows the audience to indulge in thoughts of violence while maintaining a clear conscience. This is not a film for people who want to see the honorable heroics of its protagonists, or for people who want to woefully reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust. Why should viewers continue to endure the pitiful sight of innocent people tortured and dehumanized in concentration camps, when they can see the perpetrators of these crimes struck down and exterminated in a similar fashion? If the Basterds were honorable, they wouldn’t be “inglourious,” nor would their unethical actions reflect the viewer’s appetite for bloody justice, a craving that Inglorious Basterds satisfies like no other war film could.